Bernard's Creole Kitchen's History
Bernard McGraw recently moved his restaurant Bernard's Creole Kitchen from a tiny two-room building to spacious new digs on the campus of the Baptist University of the Américas.
McGraw now runs the lunch program for the university in its cafeteria, as well as running a full-service restaurant in the same location.
“It's an unusual setup, but it has not stopped us,” McGraw said. “They needed someone to take over the lunch program, and I needed more space.”
The Baptist University of the Américas (BUA) is a four-year school dedicated to educating church leaders, located off Interstate 35, between South Park Mall and Palo Alto Road.
University officials said they were thrilled to get McGraw's services on their campus.
“Baylor University (in Waco) has a Subway kitchen, we have a good Creole kitchen,” said Craig Bird, special assistant to the president and assistant professor of English and missions at BUA.
“The students are very happy, now they are eating better and paying the same price,” Bird said. “Bernard's food adds so much to our campus.”
McGraw said he serves about 100 students daily — along with the university's teachers, staff and maintenance employees — as part of the campus lunch program.
“People can come in for the lunch program, and chose from gumbo, jambalaya rice or etouffee,” McGraw said. “A lot of planning has to go into it.”
McGraw has around 14 employees and in addition to the cafeteria has eight tables set aside for his restaurant.
“Now, I just need to let everyone know we are here,” McGraw said.
Finding the restaurant on the gated campus just off the Interstate 35 access road, between Navajo and Barlite streets, could be a challenge for customers.
On a recent day, several patrons said they did have a little difficulty finding the place, but said it was worth the search.
Dianne O. McAllister was a recent guest at the restaurant, and ordered fish tacos.
McAllister said she discovered Bernard while he was still on Palo Alto Road.
“I had trouble seeing the new location from the road, but the food is still excellent,” McAllister said.
McGraw and his family have come a long way — figuratively and literally from the day in 2006, when they lost virtually everything they owned in Hurricane Katrina.
Bernard and his wife Charlene and their children lived in New Orleans until the huge storm displaced them. While many cities were turning down evacuees, then-Mayor Phil Hardberger encouraged Katrina evacuees to make their way to San Antonio.
McGraws said he'll always remember standing in a New Orleans airport, deciding what city to go to — and seeing Hardberger on CNN telling Katrina evacuees they were welcome in San Antonio.
“He invited us to San Antonio, so this is where we came to,” McGraw said.
Once the McGraws settled in the Alamo City, they realized there weren't many good Cajun/Creole eateries, especially on the South Side where they were living.
The McGraws scraped together around $1,500, rented a small two-room house on Palo Alto Road near I-35 and launched Bernard's Creole Kitchen. He bought his restaurant equipment at Wal-Mart and flea markets, and had enough room for around three tables.
Through word of mouth, Bernard's Creole Kitchen soon developed a strong following as folks talked about McGraw's collard greens, gumbo, fried cat fish and dirty rice.
“We spent 4 ½ years in the old space, it got us over the hump,” McGraw said. “But we outgrew it.”
McGraw said partnering with BUA has enabled him to stay on the South Side, as well as allow him to start taking college classes. He is studying theology at BUA.
“Once my story hit the papers, developers from the North Side came and asked if I wanted to move to that part of town,” McGraw said. “The Food Network contacted us about maybe doing a show. We have been tremendously blessed.”
McGraw added he never thought of leaving the South Side.
“The South Side has been good to me, these are everyday people down here,” he said.
This Story is a reprint courtesy of the SouthSide Reporter by Reporter Noi Mahoney and Photographer Marvin Pfeiffer/Prime Time Newspapers / SA