Johnny Kopycinski, who owns Chappell Hill Bakery & Deli & BBQ with his wife Carolyn, is a man on the move. In addition to the restaurant, the family ranches under the banner of Oak Creek Farms. The best time to catch him is between 6:30 – 7:30 a.m. as he starts his day by picking up breakfast and touching base with his restaurant team.
The restaurant’s country casual atmosphere welcomes locals and travelers alike all day long. Some groups linger over heaping plates of homemade food and sweet treats. While others pop in to grab something good to go. Families are obviously welcome.
Early in the morning, I’m a coffee and klobasniky (or as folks say now sausage kolache) kind of gal. Later in the day, the broccoli salad and the secret-recipe pralines call my name so loudly that I can hear them at my house in Brenham. When I enjoy the crunchy goodness of the broccoli salad first, I can eat the pralines without an iota of guilt.
RTR: Where did your love of good food come from?
JK: The first in my family came to the area in the 1870s, when Polish people were being sought out to be farmers. The Poles were known as the best farmers in Europe.
My family has been in the farming, ranching and restaurant business for a long time. Right after World War II, my parents were the first people to make sausage to sell in Chappell Hill. The traditional sausage we sell in the store is based on that original family recipe.
During the ‘30s, they also had a café down the road toward Brenham. Bonnie and Clyde stopped in. They knew working people were too poor to be robbed. That’s why they concentrated on banks.
RTR: What’s your best-selling item in the restaurant? In the bakery?
JK: It’s hard to say. We offer a lot and it all sells well. It just depends on what people are hungry for on a particular day.
We pride ourselves on good food for a fair price. Our kitchen puts out a delicious Certified Angus Beef ribeye for $19.99 that you’d pay $50 for in the city.
RTR: What do you want people to say after they’ve stopped in?
JK: It’s a good, clean, country-style place where families and friends can relax. And we’ve got what they want whether it’s homemade baked goods, hot meals or steaks and ribs that are ready to throw on the grill when they get to the lake.
RTR: What’s the most challenging thing about the restaurant business?
JK: Having the people and place organized for those times it gets really busy. There’s so much to do in this area. Sometimes we’ll get three buses at the same time — and no one called ahead to let us know they’re coming.
We work really hard to keep the line moving; however holidays, spring break and local events such as the Bluebonnet Festival, Scarecrow Festival and Round Top Antiques Show can be really challenging, but most people say the food is worth the wait on these busy days.
RTR: What’s the most rewarding thing about the restaurant business?
JK: For me, I think it’s been building a business that provides more than 30 jobs — and helping young people get their start in the right direction. It’s a good feeling when employees who worked for me years ago, come back to say hello.
I like working and building things. I don’t care much for golf. The ball doesn’t go where you want it to.
RTR: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
JK: Hit life head on and don’t back off. See your cup as half full, but be realistic about it.
RTR: So what is the secret to the pralines?
JK: Not just one thing. It’s the technique. I could give you our very detailed recipe, but they wouldn’t turn out the same because it’s all in the technique.
The Recipe for a Restaurant
In 2011, Chappell Hill didn’t have a bakery, a deli, an ice cream bar or a barbecue restaurant. At the same time, Johnny and Carolyn Kopycinski owned a five-acre location with multiple driveways perfectly located on U.S. 290.
“I thought a business could be made to work,” said Johnny, a lifelong entrepreneur. “It all came together at Chappell Hill Bakery & Deli & BBQ.”
The multi-faceted business, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, offers the best of country casual dining with easy off-and-on access to U.S. 290. In addition to full meals, customers can purchase family barbecue packs to go, quick snacks, house-made sweets and fresh beef and pork as well as hot and cold drinks and wine.
“When we were planning the business a lady told me, ‘If you’re going to make it country, make it clean country,’” Johnny recalled.
And the Kopycinskis did. While plenty of polished wood makes the atmosphere warm and welcoming, the space is well-designed and clutter free. At capacity, the restaurant can accommodate 125 people.
“In today’s busy world, people appreciate a stop in the country, where they can slow down, enjoy good food and friendly people,” said Johnny, a native of Chappell Hill. “We’ve created a place where families and friends can really connect.”
When it comes to the food, whether it’s in the restaurant, the bakery, the fresh meat case or the mercantile featuring snacks, jellies and condiments, quality is paramount.
“We believe in making things fresh with only the highest-quality ingredients,” said Johnny, noting that even the most beloved recipes are subject to constant scrutiny. “Nothing is ever good enough. We strive to constantly improve because even the best can be better.”
Customers hungry for fresh, country-style favorites such as post oak-smoked barbecue and chicken fried steaks should pack their appetites.
“No one leaves here hungry,” said Johnny. “Large portions for a fair price is another way the Chappell Hill team takes care of its customers.”
Portion size is just one of many customer-directed attributes. Cleanliness is an obsession from the kitchen and restaurant to the spacious public restrooms.
“Our goal is to make sure our customers are comfortable,” Johnny said. “Keeping things impeccably clean is just one way we show our commitment to delivering a good experience.”
And for the Kopycinskis, exceptional customer service is the bottom line.
“My father told me the secret to business when I was a boy: Take care of the customers and they’ll take care of you,” Johnny said. “We do our best to take care of every customer who walks through our doors.”
Photos courtesy of Chappell Hill Bakery & Deli & BBQ some by Dixie Hamilton Brewster and others by Lorie A. Woodward