1/18/21 & 1/25/21
(In three parts from
“Human Interest Tales from the Little Town That Almost Was”
The Paper Trail News, page 1, and other print media)
(Some photos are missing from original article)
To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Texas Shoreline News runs historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. Each edition features the stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days. The Paper Trail News is making the stories available to its readers so that you won’t miss any of these amazing stories.
Ralph and Rachel Krause, owners of Pick-a-Rib, a very popular eatery in Flour Bluff from 1949 to 1980, offered more to the community than those famous fruit bars and barbecue beef sandwiches. The restaurant sat on Lexington Boulevard, where Packard Tire is today. According to Ralph Krause in a 1987 Flour Bluff Sun interview, “Before the building was destroyed, it was the oldest building on South Padre Island Drive. That building withstood all the hurricanes, and the man who tore it down said it was kind of stubborn when they tried to push it down.” This building and the two people who turned it into perhaps the most memorable eating establishment in the history of Flour Bluff were of the same spirit.
In the same interview, Ralph told the reporter, “When we went into the business, there wasn’t any development west, north, or south of Menger School at Six Points. From there out there wasn’t anything. There were cotton and onion patches from there on out to the Naval Air Station. There was only one service station out there.” Rachel added, “We didn’t have a bank out here. We had to go all the way to First State Bank at Six Points.”
Ralph Krause passed away in 2011, but his wife Rachel still resides in the home just a block from where the restaurant once stood. She recalls how hard but how rewarding the work of a restaurateur could be. “When Ralph started the Pick-a-Rib, he didn’t know anything about running a restaurant. When he was working at NAS [Naval Air Station] as an electrician’s helper with his father-in-law, he heard about the swing bridge going in to Padre Island. He got the idea that he would buy land on Lexington and put in a barbecue stand,” said Rachel. And, that’s what he did.
“I didn’t even know how to cook a hamburger!” Ralph told the Flour Bluff Sun reporter. However, that did not stop Krause from becoming a successful businessman who gave back to his community at every turn. This native Pennsylvanian had a keen understanding of what it meant to serve others and work hard, characteristics of his generation. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 to serve his country. Then, he went to work for Knolle Dairy Farm and Corpus Christi Army Depot. While working hard to offer great food and excellent service to his customers at Pick-a-Rib, Ralph somehow found the time and energy to serve people on the base at his Sandy Cove Café and on the beach with his ice cream truck. During this time, Ralph also served on the Flour Bluff School Board and City Board of Adjustments, as a Goodwill Ambassador to Mexico and Mason Shriner 32nd degree, and even as President of South Texas Bee Keeper Association. Having a wife who also had a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn the business certainly must have helped him as he strove to make Flour Bluff a better place for all who came after him.
Rachel, like many women in the 1950s, married young and became a true helpmate to her husband and a devoted mother to their children, Charles, David, and Deborah. Within a few weeks after they married, Rachel went to visit Ralph at the restaurant. He was cooking, and there was a problem; the dishwasher had walked out. “Why don’t you put on an apron and help me out?” he asked his young bride.
“I was there from then on,” said Rachel. “I started in the sink. I bused tables and waited tables. Ralph taught me to cook, and he even talked me into baking when I was expecting. I learned to run the register and handle the money. He taught me how to do it all.” Having a wife as capable as Rachel was a true asset since Ralph was called to be active in his community, and someone needed to know what he knew about the business. Ralph worked the day shift, and Rachel took nights.
Rachel interrupted the interview to ask her son, Charles, to sharpen a shovel for her. When he asked why, she simply said, “Well, I use it a lot.” This is not a woman who is afraid to do manual labor. Rachel went on to talk about the day her husband wanted her to learn to bake. “Ralph had just gotten the contract to run the Sandy Cove Cafeteria on NAS, and he told me that I was going to have to take over the baking. I did not want to bake. I was used to working the night shift,” said Rachel. “He told me that the first thing I had to do was be at Pick-a-Rib at 4:30 in the morning! I fought it the whole way!”
However, Ralph told her she would have to do it so that he could run the Sandy Cove, so she did it. “You see that big bowl down there?” Rachel asked pointing at a large stainless-steel mixing bowl. “He gave me that bowl and a recipe for the donuts. It called for so much flour, so much sugar, and all, but then it said to ‘stir till warm.’ So, I took that whisk, and I was stirring and stirring and stirring trying to stir till warm, and I was making him so mad,” Rachel said with a laugh. “He said, ‘Put the blankety blank bowl on the stove!’ I was probably twenty or a little older, but I did what he said. That was my first day as the baker.”
Tasty donuts and giant cinnamon rolls that covered a plate were known far and wide, but it was the famous fruit bars that so many people remember even today. “John Meadows came by the house recently, and I gave him some of the fruit bars to be nice. He held on to them like dear life. He told me he was hiding them from his wife,” Rachel said with a smile. “My son has tried to get me to bake them and sell them again, but it costs too much to make them with the price of natural gas.”
Pick-a-Rib was the place where the men gathered for coffee and some of those wonderful baked goods each morning before heading to work. Both military and civilian personnel frequented the restaurant, as well. “Sailors used to come in and say, ‘Look at the bottom of the glass! There’s sand!’” said Rachel. “It’s because we were using well water in those days. But, they always said it was the best water. We were on well water until the city fnally brought water to Flour Bluff in the early sixties, I think. There was a humongous tank near where the Stripes store is at Flour Bluff Drive and SPID. We paid the water bill here in the Bluff.”
The sailors were just some of the customers who loved dropping in at Pick-a-Rib. “Mr. Harris came into the Pick-a-Rib every morning for a cup of coffee,” said Rachel. “Now, I had been bugging Ralph to take me and a couple of the waitresses to Big Shell to go beach combing. One morning when Mr. Harris was having his coffee, Ralph asked him what he’d charge to take me about 50 miles down the beach. Mr. Harris looked up, got a serious look on his face, and asked, ‘You mean leave her there?’ Everybody started laughing!” she said chuckling at the memory.
That was the way it was for the Krause’s. They created a place where people came together to visit, poke a little fun, and learn about what was going on in each other’s lives. It was a place for friends and families and community groups. But, Ralph, a man who could make three businesses work at once and who eventually became a master beekeeper and avid cattleman, did something that might have been missed by average person who dropped in for a barbecue sandwich or a fruit bar or a home-cooked meal. Just as he taught his wife Rachel how to do everything in the business, he also taught his employees a few invaluable lessons.
Rachel told of a day when a new dishwasher showed up late to work. Ralph didn’t get angry though. When the fellow arrived and started to go to work, Ralph said, “No, go on home, and we’ll try this again tomorrow.” The man looked at him and left. “Ralph washed all those dishes himself that day,” said Rachel.
The next day, the man showed up late again. Ralph looked at him and said, “No, go on home, and we’ll try this again tomorrow.”
On the third day the man arrived on time, and Ralph put him to work. “Ralph taught all his workers something,” said Rachel. “Sometimes it was how to cook or clean. Sometimes it was how to be a good employee.”
According to Rachel, the day of the opening of the causeway (July 4, 1950), Ralph made dozens of sandwiches and stood along the road out front of his restaurant, which sat on the north side of what is now South Padre Island Drive and tried to sell them. “He didn’t sell a single one that he could remember,” she said laughing. “No one wanted to get out of that line of traffic to get a sandwich.” Still that didn’t stop Ralph. He kept building and developing over the next 30 years, creating a gathering place for the tired, the hungry, the lonely, and the gregarious. Pick-a-Rib was the café where people of all walks of life came together to talk about the news of the day, catch up on the local sports and politics, and just spend time together.
“When we started out, we didn’t have any money, so we got a small loan and went to a marble machine operator. He handled marble machines – that’s what they called pinball machines back then – and juke boxes, and through him, we were able to get our start,” Ralph was quoted as saying. “Marble machines paid off then. We got a percentage of the take, and this is what helped us get our business going. If it hadn’t been for marble machines and the jukeboxes, the cigarette machines, and the draft beer, I don’t know if we would have made it or not.”
Pick-a-Rib was the place that Congressman John Young frequented, as well as other state and local officials. Luther Jones, before he became mayor of Corpus Christi regularly stopped in for a bite, as did Judge Bob Barnes, Justice of the Peace Johnny Roberts and Flour Bluff’s first constable, Jewell Ross. “[Mayor Jones’] wife liked to eat lunch there, too,” recalled Rachel. “There was even an article in Texas Monthly once that said, ‘If you want a good meal, go to Pick-a-Rib’.”
Of course, the food was a major draw, too. Krause started with a simple barbecue sandwich with onion, pickles, and jalapenos. Then, they added to the menu and offered a full Mexican dinner on Wednesdays and a fish dinner on Fridays, each for the very reasonable price of $1.99 a plate. “Those guys off the base would fill the place up for those specials,” said Rachel.
Though Ralph was quite the busy entrepreneur, he made time for his family, his community, and even his hobbies. Perhaps longtime friend John R. Meadows said it best in a letter he wrote to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times after Ralph passed away:
Recently an icon of Flour Bluff and Corpus Christi passed away. It was my privilege to have known him and to have had a close friendship with Ralph Krause. Ralph and his wife Rachel were the longtime owners and operators of the Pick-a-Rib restaurant in Flour Bluff.
Ralph spent many years offering his help to the community in many ways. He had served on several boards and committees downtown, in Flour Bluff, as well as several years on the Flour Bluff ISD board. He was a World War II disabled Army veteran. He raised cattle in the San Patricio area, enjoyed painting and creating things with his hands, such as driftwood figures. He also spent many years as a beekeeper, taught by Mr. Reid, another Flour Bluff icon.
Although having strong beliefs in many areas, his was always the voice of reason. I believe that this was his greatest asset to the community. When he and I had long discussions, he could always bring us back to the point of the discussion with sage advice and a vast amount of historical facts in the area under discussion. Ralph was a humble, gracious gentleman.
Ralph Krause, a man of many interests and talents was seen as a candle of hope by many in his community, by his friends and family, and especially by his wife Rachel, his loving and loyal partner in work and life. He taught his employees to be the best they could be by holding them accountable. He set the example for others in the community about meeting the needs of the people. Yes, Ralph Krause was a man who indeed could serve up a great meal or mouth-watering cinnamon roll, with some good advice on the side, but he will always be remembered as the man who owned Pick-a-Rib, the place where people came together to start their days and solve the problems of the day.
*The author of this article, Shirley Thornton, retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor). Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Flour Bluff, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer a glimpse into the past and present of the little community of Flour Bluff. She wrote for The Flour Bluff Messenger, wrote and edited for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper that existed from December 2017 to April 2020, served as copy editor on three books, and continues to tutor students of all ages in the lively art of writing.
Stories about, Photos of, & Links to our Texas Krause Family
submitted by Cindy Krause Leonhardt, niece
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Last revised 2/15/21)