The South Texas Journal
Bill Miller’s Bar-B-Que is s South Texas staple for the most part and since the 1950s the San Antonio based regional chain has been serving up smoked meats, pies, fried chicken and their sweet tea to patrons who are willing to spend their dollar with them. But with the bar-b-que competition so stiff, the question bears asking if the old orange and brown has lost its touch?
For years it seemed like the South Texas legend just couldn’t be touched and it appeared that they had a decent foothold on the fast, fresh and friendly bar-b-que market. But as time has moved on the emphasis for the company has seemed to change from the once firm customer focus towards profits—at least in some markets.
One note able change is to their signature sweet tea. If a person frequents Bill Miller’s and orders their sweet tea on a regular basis you likely wouldn’t notice much difference. But it’s certainly there and taste test experts who are very familiar with the small chain are able to tell and taste the difference.
“The tea is certainly not as sweet as it once was,” says Three Rivers resident and frequent Bill Miller’s consumer Trey Brown. “It’s good and most people can’t taste a difference but if you’ve been coming to Miller’s for years you can tell it.”
Bruce Copeland of near Floresville agrees with Brown saying that even he has noticed a difference at the counter. But for him it lies with the meat more than it does with the orange and brown’s sweet signature drink.
“The brisket certainly seems lower quality and not as smiley as it used to taste,” says Copeland. “And for the prices on say a family pack, you can get a much better deal elsewhere.”
Copeland might be right. It seems that one of the biggest complaints that people have is the quantity of the product—especially on family packs. The idea is that you end up with a pound and a half of meat and 3 quart sides with 2 loaves of bread, pickles and onions for $36. But on four separate occasions at four different locations we discovered that what you get is actually disgustingly less, at least in 3 of the cases.
On one occasion our Food Crew went into the Bill Miller’s located at 1604 and I-37 in Elmendorf. They ordered up a family meal and went on about their business. What we later discovered is that we ended up with around three-quarters of a pound worth of brisket with that particular meal. The further south down I-37 you went, the worse things seemed to get.
Two locations in Corpus Christi just don’t seem to live up to the quality reputation. In fact, they are really far from it and we aren’t afraid to say it, either. The locations on Texas 358 near Rodd Field Road and the Saratoga locations are far from being on point. In fact, a large family pack there will net you around a half-pound of meat and don’t you dare ask for chicken because what you end up with is more like a Cornish gamecock that forgot to eat for a week before getting tossed onto the smoker.
The only bright spot in this saga was when a Food Crew member stopped into the Pleasanton location and actually got what they ordered. A full pound and a half worth of flavor struggling smoked meat.
STJ Food Crew Spotter Rich Reynolds noted that while still lacking the once notable flavor, him and his guests at least got exactly what they ordered.
Meanwhile, down on the Coast in Corpus, things are still pretty messed up. Yes, the lines on Sunday are still long and the drive-thru is slow as Christmas, but it’s that quality and quantity that is lagging behind and in our humble opinion is just not cutting the mustard. Would you pay $4.50 or better for a single, greasy sausage wrapped in a flour tortilla? Of course not, nobody should. But go to Bill Miller’s and that is exactly what you get. A $5 sausage wrap that really tastes worse than a sausage from Stripes! In fact, Stripes sausage on a stick might actually have Bill Miller’s beat—at least down in Corpus.
We have asked managers at each location to go on the record and tell us what’s really going on? To no big shocking surprise they wouldn’t do it. But that’s ok, because we already have a solid idea about what kind of trickery is going on behind the scenes. The likely scenario is that the bean counters and corporate vendors have likely gotten hold of somebody and showed them where they can cut hardly noticeable corners and make “just a little bit more money” off of unsuspecting patrons. But while no one wants to question the legendary chain out loud, grumbling is certainly being heard from the loyal.
“It’s like an expensive McDonalds for bar-b-que,” says Corpus resident Louis Montalvo, who has vowed to stop eating at his once beloved Bill Miller’s Bar-B-Que until they bring back the quality.
And while we won’t go that far with it, we will give them a fair public lashing for their obvious shortcomings of late.
But what about customer service? With all that being said about short portions and bad quality, what about the service? From the counter workers making your cafeteria style plate it seems like they have it together. But don’t bother taking your gripe up with a manager because in every single case we investigated, the store managers just didn’t want to hear what we had to say and were eager to do little more than give us an extra side dish or a gallon of tea—which we wouldn’t drink these days anyhow.
So the short of it is that it certainly seems like the once beloved orange and brown Bill Miller’s Bar-B-Que has become just like the rest and is focused less and less on being great at their craft and more focused on their profit statement.
That’s our take about it. What about yours? Give us your feedback and tell us what you think!