Three months before Craig Joseph, the owner of Houston’s This Is It, was born, his grandparents, Frank and Mattie Jones, were on a mission to find a place that would turn their dream of a family restaurant into a reality. It was 1959, and the area was known as Freedman’s Town. When his grandmother saw an abandoned house on Andrews St. she said simply, “This Is It,” and with those words began a family legacy that endures today.
Joseph, and his wife, Georgette, took over the helm of the restaurant and have continued the legacy of serving home-style meals that his grandparents started more than half a century ago.
As Craig Joseph works to continue the legacy that was passed down to him, he gives a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant’s history and the hard work and commitment that keeps customers coming through the doors.
What motivated you to continue what your grandfather started?
Someone wanted to buy the business and my grandparents were getting up in age and decided they were going to sell it. A firefighter at the time, I said, you have labored too hard to give it away, and when I heard the type of deal that was constructed, I felt I could buy it from them rather than just losing it and just giving it away. So I asked my grandfather to teach me what he knew and let me take over, and he did.
What examples did you grandparents exhibit that contribute to your success today?
What really encouraged me is that my grandfather built this on a third grade education. It let me know that hard work pays off. He would tell me, I can’t read or write, but I now business and he knew numbers. My grandmother graduated from high school and she did the business side and did everything he needed as far as paperwork and reading– they just gelled.
What was your greatest challenge in assuming ownership of the restaurant?
I was turned down eight times by banks prior to getting funding, but it didn’t stop me. I kept pressing on and ended up meeting a guy, who I found out later belonged to my church, and he knew the bank lingo and got things going to get me approved for my first loan. I brought the property and built a metal building and let the restaurant do what it did, so eventually the banks saw that it was not just a normal mom and pop operation, that we had some strength and we ended up owning three-fourths of the block on Gray, our former location.
What has changed in the years since your grandparents started the restaurant?
When I was four or five dinners were 89 cents for a plate lunch, and for 89 cents they got the same amount of food they get today, back then. Of course times have changed and the cost of food has gone up.
Describe the secret to your continued success.
Ever since we have been in business, it was always impressed on me the need to be consistent, keep the taste, keep the same service, be prepared, be able to handle situations when they arise– don’t panic, consistency is the key. You also have to think of being in business beyond yourself, because you are serving the public, you are not serving your own needs, and without them there is no you.
What can customers expect, in terms of the variety of foods, when they visit ‘This Is It’?
We serve a variety of foods including oxtails, ham hocks, turkey wings, smothered pork chops, chittlin’s, gumbo, catfish to pinto beans, collard greens and a variety of desserts such as peach cobbler, sweet potato pie and bread pudding. We specialize in homestyle meals and offer our customers hearty portions.
How do you maintain your family-oriented focus, in terms of your staff?
It is all still a family effort, my wife and children work here and I have nephews and a sister who come and help out. There are 18 employees, and out of 18, there are three families that work here. It is all family and I grew up with most of them. I am helping them out as well, because they are an extension of my family. We don’t have a big turnover with employees, some have been here 20 years and one 35 years—so we have a history of longevity with employees. My wife Georgette does the catering, banking and also cooks and my mother still does comes in on Fridays to cook the gumbo, and it is “to die for. My youngest son runs the restaurant when I am not here and also my daughter when she is home from school.
Describe the customers that have frequented the restaurant through the years?
We have customers from all backgrounds that come to the restaurant. We get a lot of athletes, and politicians coming through on a regular basis also. When I was young, BB King would call my grandfather and put in his special order when he was going to be in town. Beyonce has three favorite spots in Houston: Pappadeaux, This is It and The Galleria and her favorite item is the hamburger pepper steak. She is my most memorable customer.
What do you think is one of the biggest challenges Black-owned businesses face?
Supporting one another. It would be awesome if black businesses united, if you can recall back in 1995, they had Black Friday in the month of May and if you brought a two dollar bill it showed that you supported black businesses. And every Friday that month black businesses were just off the charts, but why should it take designating one month, when it could happen every day.
I don’t know if you remember Black Wall Street back in the 1920s in Oklahoma. It was a five-mile stretch of nothing but Black-owned businesses and everything you wanted you could get in that five-mile stretch, and the Black dollar circulated out of the community once every year, and now the Black dollar circulates out of the community once every 15 minutes. The Whites didn’t appreciate that we had that dollar power, so they bombed and killed over 3,000 to 4,000 men, women and children and destroyed that whole five-mile stretch.
At the end of the day, are you fulfilled in the choice you have made to continue your family’s legacy?
I have had a great life, now it is jut about serving. It used to be an issue of how much I can make or how much I can gain. We have young tots wanting to have birthday parties to seniors who want to come to This Is It. When you can serve that type of age span, we are doing something positive. It is all about serving and showing faith in God in our business, so people see Him and not us. And that is my prayer everyday, as long as they can see a reflection of Him, and not who is behind the counter, it will make it all worthwhile.
Houston’s This Is It
2712 Blodgett St.
Houston, Tx. 77004
Phone: (713) 521- 2920
Restaurant Hours: Mon – Sat 11a.m. – 8p.m / Sun. 11 a.m – 6 p.m
Breakfast Hours: 7a.m -10:00 a.m (Mon – Sat)
Catering Hours: Mon – Sat 9 a.m. – 7 p.m | (281) 701-8955