“We were sitting down the other night, looking at all the numbers, and in the past 26 years, we figure we’ve made right at a million sandwiches,” Ruth Peterson said. But the sandwiches she made for her customers at Peterson’s Smokehouse on Friday marked the end of the line.
The restaurant/deli/catering business that opened on South Main in 1987 closed its doors for good, with Ruth and her son Steve getting ready to move on to the next stage in their lives.
Ruth Peterson said when she opened the smokehouse in June 1987, Steve and her other son, Troy, were both in high school, and both worked at the smokehouse with her. Troy graduated from high school, went on to college and then went to work for Kronos iSeries Solutions Group on Nolan River Road. Steve remained at the smokehouse.
But recently, Ruth Peterson said, “Steve got a really good job offer” from Fun Town RV, and together they decided it was time for them both to move on to something new. Shortly after, she said, a potential buyer expressed interest in the smokehouse. She said that the deal isn’t sealed with the potential buyer yet, so she can’t discuss any details.
Steve Graeve said that if the deal goes through, the location will still be a restaurant, but it won’t be the same kind of restaurant.
“It just all sort of fell into place,” Ruth Peterson said. “Steve’s job offer popped up. Then this buyer popped up. We just feel like the lord’s hand is in it and it is time to move on. I still love what I’m doing here, but it’s just about the timing.”
Ruth Peterson said she’s not sure what she will do now, but that she’s “looking for something part time, something interesting and fun.” She said she figures that when people hear she’s looking for a job, somebody will come looking for her, and whatever comes along, she’s confident she can handle it.
“I’m a quick learner, a hard worker and I am dependable,” she said.
Ruth Peterson also said that while she will miss the friends she’s made over the last 26 years behind the smokehouse counter, she’s ready to take the next step.
“Oh, it’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “And I love — absolutely love — my customers. They aren’t just customers, though. They’re friends really; some are like family. I will miss them. But still, it’s kind of exciting for me, to be moving on, moving up. I can’t wait to see what comes next.”
Some of Ruth Peterson's and Steve Graeve's customers are much less enthusiastic about what’s to come.
Gary Lillard, owner of Cleburne Lawn and Garden, said Friday he has eaten lunch at Peterson’s Smokehouse “every day since they’ve been here.”
He explained, “It’s clean and the food’s good. And it’s convenient — I work just across the street” from the restaurant’s location at 617 N. Main St. But he also admitted he ate lunch just about every day when it was still located on South Main and less convenient to his shop.
The closing of Peterson’s Smokehouse is also the end of an era for Lisa Magers, director of community relations for Cleburne ISD. Magers said she remembers the smokehouse opening on South Main Street before her son started school. Her son, she said, turns 30 this year.
“I usually eat there at least once a week, sometimes more,” Magers said. “They even know my order. It’s just wonderful food. And that apple pie! I don’t know how many apples are in that pie, but it is delicious.”
City of Cleburne employee Kristi Dempsey was also at Peterson’s Smokehouse Friday for one last meal. She, too, has long been a regular, and in fact, is one of those customers who has become like family.
“I’ve known [them] a long, long time, at least 20 years,” Dempsey said. “They do a lot of catering jobs for the city, and I come here at least once a week or so to eat. In fact, there have been times that they’ve been really busy and I’ve just gone on around behind the counter to help.”
Dempsey said the smokehouse’s closing is a “terrible loss for Cleburne. We just don’t have many other deli-style restaurants like this that do all the things they do. I am really going to miss this place.”
Carrie Graeve, Steve’s wife, brought their two children — 3-year-old Dylann and her 8-year-old brother Collin — down to the restaurant Friday for the last day. While the kiddos enjoyed their lunch and visiting with regulars like Lillard, Carrie Peterson stopped for a minute to acknowledge that for her, the closing is bittersweet. Yes, her husband is moving on to an exciting new job. But it is hard to say goodbye to the family business that brought them together.
“We’ve been married 10 years, but we’ve been together for 20 years,” she said. “And we met when I was working here.”
June and Smitty Smith were ensconced Friday at the table they have shared regularly with Lillard for, well, they aren’t really sure how many years. Smitty said he and his wife don’t eat at Peterson’s every day, like Lillard, but they have eaten there frequently enough to lay claim to their territory.
“This is our table,” Smitty said, patting the top of the table just across from the cash register. “Our’s and Gary’s table.”
On the surface, Friday seemed like any other lunch rush at Peterson’s Smokehouse. Ruth Peterson bustled about with a big smile for every customer as she put together orders. Steve G raeve stayed busy, steadily ringing up checks and refilling tall glasses of iced tea. Ruth’s grandson, Nick, stood in the background, waiting to help whenever his grandmother needed an extra hand.
But a closer look made it obvious this wasn’t like any other day. Customers stopped to shake Steve’s hand and wish him well. Others leaned over the counter to tell Ruth how much they were going to miss her. Bright flower arrangements sat in vases on the counter, with cards expressing similar sentiments.
Ruth, talking as she worked, glanced over her shoulder at Nick. “We moved here [to the North Main location] two days before Nick was born in October 1996,” she said. “He took off and came down here today to spend our last day here with us. He told me he wanted a baked potato for lunch, and I told him to go ahead and make it, and he said, ‘You mean you’re gonna make me make my own potato on the very last day?’”
She laughed, handing a plate to a customer and moving on to the next order. “Yeah, I’m going to miss this. But I really am excited to see what happens next.”