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Frisco STYLE Magazine

The Family Recipe

Nov 01, 2022 ● By Lisa Sciortino
by Lisa Sciortino

Family is at the heart of every plate of food that is served at Babe’s Chicken Dinner House and Bubba’s Cooks Country in Frisco. 

 From the creamy mashed potatoes and gravy and oh-so-crispy chicken tenders on the menu at Bubba’s to the tender buttermilk biscuits and decadent Chocolate Meringue Pie at Babe’s, every delicious, downhome dish holds a memory for members of the Vinyard family, who founded both popular restaurant chains decades ago. 

“Some memories go back even to great-grandparents,” explains longtime Frisco resident Paul Vinyard (aka Bubba), who established the eateries with his late wife, Mary Beth Vinyard (known as Babe). 

 Paul Vinyard traces the fluffy ambrosia salad served at Bubba’s “all the way to my grandmother and great-grandmother, really. When you got together with that group, you’ve got ambrosia on the table,” he says. 

The Frisco location of Babe’s, at 6475 Page St., is consistently ranked among the most popular dining spots in the city. It is common for lines to stretch out the door and outside of its rustic-styled building most nights. Meanwhile Bubba’s, at 4585 Preston Road, is the sister location of the Dallas original that opened in 1981.

 For years the Vinyards' children, Joel Vinyard and Tiffany Wheeless (who also call Frisco home), have served as co-owners of the family’s businesses, working alongside their father to oversee operations at the 10 Dallas-Fort Worth Babe’s locations and two Bubba’s restaurants as well as a pair of Sweetie Pie’s Ribeyes steakhouses in Decatur and North Richland Hills. 

“It’s like choosing one of your children,” Paul Vinyard says when asked which of the restaurant concepts and locations is his favorite. “Each one has its aspects that you like.” 

 A graduate of Texas Tech University, Vinyard has worked in the food industry for the entirety of his career. His first job out of college was with the parent company of Taco Bueno and the former chains Casa Bonita and Crystal’s Pizza & Spaghetti. He later spent nine years as director of operations and president of the El Chico chain of eateries.

Eventually, he and Mary Beth decided to go into the restaurant business for themselves, opening the first Bubba’s Cooks Country in a former Texaco service station on Hillcrest Avenue in Dallas’ Park Cities neighborhood. 

 “Interestingly, when I rented the location where (the original) Bubba’s is, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to do tacos … or pizza,” Vinyard recalls. However, the building only had four parking spaces for guests at the time, so he figured that “I was going to have to do a lot of to-go (orders). 

“The other one I was thinking about was fried chicken. Nothing travels home better than fried chicken. It stays hot and it's good the next day (when it is) even not hot … so that’s really how I got into the chicken business.” 

About a decade later, while searching for a second Bubba’s location in Roanoke, Vinyard said he “had in mind (an easier) concept, where you serve everyone a half of a chicken and refillable sides but (from) a limited menu.” 

 Babe’s Chicken Dinner House opened its first location in 1993. At the time, “All you could buy was fried chicken – period – on the bone and you could get corn and mashed potatoes with it,” he said. Freshly baked biscuits with honey, sorghum and butter was the restaurant’s dessert option. 

Items on the menus at Bubba’s and Babe’s (which, for the most part, have not changed over the years) are made from long held and cherished Vinyard family recipes, especially those that belonged to Mary Beth Vinyard. She and Paul were married 45 years before she passed away in 2008. 

“When mom and dad got married, she didn’t know how to cook,” Joel Vinyard explains. “It was really dad’s mother — our (paternal) grandmother — who taught our mother how to cook, and she was very natural. She’d just take things and make amazing food out of it, but she didn’t really … follow recipes.”

He says the large, fluffy Yeast Rolls served at Bubba’s are “special. Mom used to make that as a loaf of bread and then, when they were working on developing the recipes before they opened Bubba’s, we were having bread continuously” as Mary Beth baked to perfect the rolls for the restaurant. “She was making big batches … and then we never got to have it at home again. We had to go to Bubba’s to get it.” 

 The recipe for Bubba’s’ hearty cornbread is another that belonged to Mary Beth. 

“She used to serve it to us all the time” at home, Paul Vinyard recalls. “We quit serving it for a while (at the restaurant) and we brought it back and it’s been real popular. … To me, there’s just a tinge of sweetness in it, but it’s cooked just right. It’s kind of dark on the outside … yet it’s still going to be moist on the inside. … Cover it with some of that cream gravy — it’s heaven.” 

Tiffany Wheeless counts Babe’s Chocolate Meringue Pie among her favorite dishes served at her family’s restaurants. 

“Our mother would often make that on Sundays,” she says. “We were watching the Cowboys, of course, play and we would eat that chocolate meringue pie fresh out of the oven, so it was still warm, a little bit runny, which is how we serve it today at Babe’s. … She would often ask us, `What do you want for your birthday? Do you want cake?’ And I’d say, `Chocolate Meringue Pie.’ That’s one of my big memories.” 

The secret to the success of the Vinyards’ restaurants is consistency, Wheeless says. “If you ate with us last week, you want the mashed potatoes to taste the same as it does today. When you bring your friends in, you want the fried chicken to taste exactly the same as it did a month ago when you were there. … It’s a big job to make that happen.” 

Joel Vinyard says his family works together well.

 “We’re very hands on,” he explains. “We tend to really share duties … but we do a lot of it together and come to an agreement pretty easily on everything. … Mom and Dad, the way they set up (the business) and how we make decisions, we’ve already kind of been in alignment all along about what we want to do and how we want to do it. So, we don’t really have a lot of disagreements at all and that makes the business and how we’re doing it pretty easy.” 

Lisa Sciortino is managing editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.