DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
GRANITE SHOALS — Pat Heinecke still remembers the lessons she learned when she first began waiting tables years ago.
“It was always about service,” she said. “That’s what people appreciated, and still do. It’s not about giving something to somebody for free. No, they want good service.”
Throughout her life and career, Heinecke has worked hard at practicing that concept, whether she was waiting tables at somebody else’s restaurant, helping open Marriott hotels or operating her own businesses, which include the Farm House Restaurant in Granite Shoals and the El Rio Food & Fuel in Kingsland.
This summer, however, she noticed a big drop-off at the Farm House, and it raised some big concerns.
“I don’t know what happened,” Heinecke said. She admitted for the past several years she has been focused on El Rio and other Kingsland properties, but she has now returned her attention to the restaurant that got her started in the Highland Lakes.
“I want people to know I’m back at the Farm House, and I’m going to work hard to make it right,” she said.
The Farm House, located at the corner of Phillips Ranch Road and RR 1431, has offered diners a place to eat for almost 50 years. The barn-red building stands out.
While it’s been open for about five decades, Heinecke took it over 18 years ago after she and her husband, John, moved to the area from Houston. The couple had frequented the restaurant for many years during visits to the Highland Lakes, and it always struck her as a place worth owning.
“I’d always wanted to own my own restaurant,” she said. “I told my husband, when we were at the Farm House one time, that I’d like to own it if I ever got the chance.”
“Wanting” and “doing” are, however, two very different things. But Heinecke wasn’t somebody who feared putting a hard day’s work in.
Through her years at waiting tables and then helping open Marriott restaurants across the country, Heinecke not only had a good idea about the amount of work it took to run a restaurant but also ideas about how to make one successful.
The couple knew the previous owners of the Farm House, and, eventually, she purchased the iconic dining facility.
And then, the work began.
“When I first bought this, I was the one who opened it in the morning and was the one who vacuumed the floor at night,” she said. Between those two points, she tackled just about every part of restaurant work.
“I remember being in the kitchen where we’d have towels wrapped around our neck because we were sweating it was so hot,” she said. The only cooling mechanism at that time were a handful of window units. Since then, Heinecke has added central air and heat, expanded the kitchen and completed other upgrades.
The Farm House grew stronger. The restaurant gained a reputation for its great catfish, Mexican food, hamburgers and homemade sauces.
Heinecke expanded her business portfolio, eventually adding El Rio Food & Fuel, El Rio Cottages and several rental properties. Her attention shifted to the Kingsland area, where she began spending more and more of her time.
A severe storm in February 2010 ripped the roof off El Rio Food & Fuel, leaving some to speculate whether she would rebuild. But Heinecke, if anything, is a fighter.
She not only rebuilt it, she made it better.
However, the other businesses and reconstruction kept her attention from the Farm House.
Last Christmas, she closed the restaurant for its regular hiatus.
“When I was working for other people and had to work on Christmas, I told myself if I ever owned my own restaurant, I’d close it on Christmas so my employees didn’t have to work on Christmas,” she said. This time, she kept the restaurant closed until March to do renovations and other upgrades.
Since re-opening, Heinecke noticed business didn’t rebound. And she became concerned to the point she’s relocated her main office to the Farm House.
Though she’s not exactly sure what the future holds for the Farm House, Heinecke isn’t giving up on it.
“This restaurant made me who I am today,” she said. “It’s very special to me.”
And Heinecke’s ready to get back on the floor and wait tables if that’s what it takes because it all comes back to the lessons she learned early on: service, service, service.