WHARTON, Texas -- Hinze's Bar-B-Q, a longtime Wharton institution burned down Monday night, when a grease fire in a barbecue pit got out of control. It was a roadside staple for 41 years, where travelers passing on Highway 59 could find
"Ribs, ribs were my favorite," said longtime customer Nigel Heath.
Another devoted customer, Lisa Allen, added, "The pies were to die for, oh my gosh."
But mostly it was the feeling you got when you stepped inside.
"You walk in and it's like home, smells like home," said Allen.
That's because to owner Michael Hinze, it was.
"This is my whole life, everything I got. My family, it's a family-owned place," said Hinze.
So seeing it a burned shell is like watching all those years, the work, up in flames.
"All of my employees, I feel, what is everybody going to do now?" said Hinze.
Heath added, "I'm getting goose bumps. It's sad, it's very, very sad."
It started as a grease fire in one of the barbecue pits out back.
"It got out of control and it spread to some other flammable liquids that were in the kitchen area," said Chief Anthony Abbott of the Wharton Fire Department.
It happened during a busy dinner hour Monday night. Workers cleared all the customers out and tried to get it under control with fire extinguishers.
"They did the best they could, with the heat and the smoke they could not stay back there any longer, they wanted to but they just couldn't, they tried their best," said Hinze. "Thank God nobody got hurt, that's the main thing."
So now, Hinze is left picking through charred timber and whole loaves of bread covered in ash, looking for anything he can salvage, like the mural above the front entrance, showing the restaurant's humble start.
"That's a picture of my dad in the middle, with the red apron, and that's how we started," said Hinze. "He started the business just cooking at the house."
It's an image that will now be an inspiration as they rebuild from the ground up.
"I've been barbecuing since I was 8 years old, and that's all I know," said Hinze. "I better get it back going because I don't know how to do anything else. That's all I know."
Hinze said his main priority is to reopen quickly, so he can start paying his 45 employees again. He wants to rebuild the exact same way and says he doesn't plan to change a thing about the restaurant.
To help him toward that goal, friends started a Go-fund-me account where they're accepting donations to help pay to rebuild.