RICHMOND, Texas — Long before fancypants barbecue joints became all the rage with foodies across Texas, folks in Fort Bend County were flocking to the Swinging Door in Richmond.
The local landmark on FM 359 opened on Labor Day back in 1973 and its "down home, back-to-basics" barbecue still draws crowds 50 years later.
Owner Steven Onstad said his unplanned relationship with barbeque began when he was just 20 years old.
"College flunkie, needed a job," he said. "My dad said, 'Get a job or join the service.' So I said, 'I'll take the job.'"
His mom taught him how to cook and his parents owned a pasture up the street.
"We had some horses and cows here. It was just an open field, needed to do something with it," Onstad said. "My dad and I physically built this whole building."
He described it as "a little one-room, twelve-seat shack."
Richmond gradually changed over the years and the Swinging Door grew with it, adding an adjacent dance hall to accommodate bigger crowds.
“Once everyone gets a table they don’t want to leave see, they sit back, having a cold beer, and everything else," he said.
Word spread and soon people were coming from all around to enjoy the pecan-smoked brisket, ribs, sausage and all the fixins.
It's been a go-to spot for five decades for family birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. People who grew up eating there now bring their grandkids.
From pro athletes to Hollywood stars, even a Saudi prince or two, Onstad is happy to dish up good memories with his "Bar-B-Que."
Back in the "Luv Ya Blue" days, the Houston Oilers came often, but it was QB Dan Pastorini's date who drew the most attention. Onstad said customers "like to fell out of their chairs" when he walked in with Farrah Fawcett one night.
"She was just as pretty in person as in her photos and so nice," Onstad remembers.
He said the Monday Night Football crew of Don Meredith, Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford dropped by and so did the famous singing family The Osmond Brothers.
But it's the Richmond community and longtime employees Onstad will miss most when he closes those swinging doors for the last time. He made the announcement recently on the restaurant's Facebook page, saying he's ready to move on to a new chapter.
"Being a huge part Fort Bend County the past 50 years I want to give a big THANK YOU to all of our wonderful customers, customers that became friends, friends that became family and especially all my employees throughout the years that created the backbone of this establishment.
"It has been a honor to be a part of the last 50 years of memories. We have been blessed to have been of service to this area. However, this old BBQ guy has decided to move on to another chapter in life, that being said Swinging Door is closing its doors. We do not have an exact date yet but within the next few weeks. Look forward to seeing yall soon."
Hundreds of customers commented on the post.
"This place is a core memory for me. You will be SO missed."
"I live in the UK but any time we come visit family in Richmond, you’ve always been on the “must visit” list."
"We returned many times over the next 35 years and will miss the food and all the fun times we have enjoyed. Thanks to Steve for all he gave back to the community over the years."
"My children were born and raised on Swinging Door Barbeque!!!"
"Growing up here, Swinging Door was a part of my childhood, and now my adulthood. You’ve been a part of such key moments in our family and I will always say this is the best BBQ around. Thank you for your commitment to this community Steven Onstad."
Onstad said the Swinging Door will close its doors for good after serving up a special Mother's Day buffet on Sunday, May 14. So there's still a little time to swing by to enjoy this "Texas BBQ legend."