Places in Time

Waco's 'Waffle Wizard': Roy Bertrand Sr.

By Terri Jo Ryan , Waco Tribune-Herald -June 11, 2007

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Roy Bertrand Sr., in the early 1930s, about the time he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Roy B. Bertrand Sr. of Waco was known as the "Waffle Wizard" and as a statesman among the state's restaurateurs for his long career in the food trade here.

Born on ranchland near Eddy in 1909 to Alabama native Emma Lee Pouncey (1875-1950) and Peter Gabriel Bertrand of Matagorda, Texas, (1853-1932), the young Roy knew more about sheep-shearing than hash-slinging in his youth.

The family moved to Waco in 1920 when his father got a job as a night watchman for a textile mill.

But Roy had to step up to the plate when his father was injured on the job and could no longer work. To support the family, Roy got a job as a busboy at the old Elite Cafe in 1924, and later as a soda jerk in the Palace of Sweets in downtown Waco. Despite working nights, he still managed to graduate Waco High School with a B average and go onto 4C Business College.

In 1929, Bertrand got a job at the Gem Waffle Shop on South Sixth Street. Four years later, after Prohibition was repealed, he joined with brother-in-law Frank Nemmer to open the Night Owl, a honky-tonk roadhouse at 19th and Lou streets (now Park Lake Drive). After seven months, he left to run the luncheonette counter at Woolworth's in downtown Waco.

In July 1936, he opened the B-K Coffee Shop at 125 N. Sixth St. with business partner and one-time brother-in-law George Kouvas. Bertrand bought him out in 1941, and Kouvas started another coffee shop, the Victory, a block down the street.

The B-K operated until the mid-1950s and was known for its biscuits, Texas ribbon cane syrup and a breakfast sausage that Roy ground himself using a secret recipe he developed. He told the News Tribune in a 1950s interview that he served more than 800 biscuits and at least 100 waffles each day.

In 1951, the entrepreneur opened a second location, Bertrand's Restaurant, at North 25th Street and West Waco Drive, where a Skinny's gas station is now located. Publications of the time touted that end of Waco Drive as "the new superhighway through Waco."

Throughout all the busy years, Bertrand found time to marry, in 1932, Gladys Nell Nemmer and raise two sons, Roy B. Jr. (1934-2002), known as Brown; and John David Bertrand, born in 1950 and now a physician in Dallas. Brown went to work for his father in 1958 and started his own family. His daughter, Jennifer Bertrand Heinz, recalls donning a hostess's apron at a young age and learning customer service at her grandfather's knee.

"The waitresses all wore these aprons with 'Eating out is fun' embroidered on them," she recalled. "I felt very important. It's great when you are a kid and your grandparents make you feel so important — before you grow up and find out you're not."

"(Grandfather) was loud and gregarious and never knew a stranger," she said.    More pictures...

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For more information, contact: John Young • Waco Tribune-Herald