By Dana Goolsby
Grapeland, Texas- If you like your home-style cooking with a side of history, then you will love the Cafe and Creamery in the Queen City of the Sand Flats. Once a dry goods, grocery and furniture store, today the Cafe and Creamery is serving up groceries, rather than supplying them.
George E. Darsey came to Texas from Georgia in 1873. He worked for a general store in Crockett and carried the mail by horseback from Crockett to Centerville. Darsey made it a point to save part of his earnings, no matter how meager they were, and by 1882, he went into business in Grapeland with John R. Foster. In 1886, Darsey bought out Foster’s share and continued the business under his own name.
In the early days of business, daily work included selling mules, buying cotton, and selling whiskey by the barrel. Feed, crock, churns, well dippers, horse collars, nails, furniture, produce, high button shoes, Madam Alexandra Dolls, sporting goods, lumber, steamer trunks, coffins and Huffmobiles were all available at Darsey’s. In 1907, in the Augusta News section of the Grapeland Messenger, the local reported stated, “If you can’t find what you need in the Augusta stores then you should go to Grapeland because George Darsey sells everything from toothpicks to ocean liners.”
The original building was a frame building filled with a variety of merchandise with everything from dry goods, furniture, groceries, and farm equipment. As his business grew, Darsey replaced the small frame building with a brick building in 1898. According to the Crockett Courier, Darsey’s was the first brick building in Grapeland. His business continued to grow and in 1907, another brick building was added to his lot.
Darsey’s also functioned as an early day bank. There was a large brick vault on the premises in which he kept his personal information such a deeds and money, but numerous customers also kept their valuable papers and money in the vault. Farmers borrowed money from Darsey to plant their crops, and would pay in the fall after the harvest.
In 1913, Darsey lost six buildings in the town fire. Darsey managed to save some of his merchandise and was back in business the next morning. He rented box cars from the railroad and set up across the street. Darsey did not allow the brick vault to be opened for a week after the town fire because he was concerned the heat from the bricks might cause the valuable papers to ignite once opened. After the vault cooled and was opened, everything inside was found intact. That same year, Darsey rebuilt.
In 1917, a family partnership was formed. Generations of Darseys ran the store until the family closed the grocery store in the early 2000s and sold the building.
Today, Darsey’s is still intact, and has since taken on a new life as the Cafe and Creamery. Complete with shiny, pressed tin ceilings, and the original hardwood floors that still creak beneath your feet, if you had ever shopped at Darsey’s you would recognize it right away. Antiques and collectibles line the walls, along with some interesting white tail mounts. And although the store is no longer filled with shelves of groceries, the Cafe and Creamery serves up home-style cooking Sunday and Tuesday through Friday from 11-2pm, Friday evening from 5-9pm.
Since I grew up in Grapeland, it’s always a special treat to meet my family that still lives there for lunch at the Cafe and Creamery. The chicken fried steak isn’t bad either! This past Sunday I met my mother, sister, and niece for lunch. We met just before noon, which was a wise decision because after 12p.m., the church crowd began to flow in and the place filled up quickly.
The buffet was filled with home-style cooking that looked and tasted “just like mama made it.” Start at the potato, soup, and salad bar, then make your way to the main buffet. Chicken fried steak, fried chicken, cream potatoes, gravy, stewed okra, onions, and tomatoes, cream corn, and much more is laid out buffet style in the middle of the cafe. If you save room, you can take your pick of pie, cobbler or bread pudding from the dessert bar.
The Cafe and Creamery offers ambience, history, and great food! The service is good and the locals are friendly. Just remember, if you decide to try out the cafe on a Sunday, get there before the church crowd! The cafe is located at 140 S. Main Street in Grapeland. You can’t miss it!
For more information visit www.cafeandcreamery.com.