Brietzke Cafe

by Kathy Hale

            At seven o’clock on any given morning in New Berlin, I can tell you with reasonable certainty who is sitting up at Brietzke Station having coffee and exaggerating about rainfall, cattle prices, and how much their crops are or are not growing. Seven o’clock is the first shift: Bob Seward, Billy Shultze, Willie Esparza, Browns, Zuehls, Mr. K, Mike and I, and sometimes Frank Howell and Diana. Shortly thereafter, begins a steady flow of school kids, whose parents drop them off to wait for the bus at the Station. Mutsie has been putting local kids on the bus since the Station opened in 1977.  Eight o’clock brings the second shift of coffee drinkers:  Jim Lewis, Elsie Zuehl, Lula Mae Summers, Mr. and Mrs. Fowler (the honey people) and Dennis. Pinkie Faylor used to come in about 8:30. Pinkie always told the very best jokes.

            If a regular isn’t there, they are either sick or dead. You get a “bottomless cup” of coffee for sixty-five cents. That’s a small town perk. If you want breakfast, you can get it. If not, you can just catch up on the news and visit.

            There is a rhythm to the place, and that is comforting. Every day of the week has its own lunch special, and they don’t vary from week to week. Chicken and dumplings is my favorite. Mutsie makes the rolled out kind. She cooks like a mom who can really cook. You can get it to go, or eat in, or call in an order and pick it up. She calls a lot of us honey, and she means it. She knows the news first, knows who to call for every conceivable kind of rural emergency and will help you with anything. She is treasured out here.

            Brietzke Station is an institution in New Berlin. If you say you’re from New Berlin, people say, “Oh, you have that little café out there, Brietzke’s.” It is currently famous for the fish specials on Wednesday and Friday nights. Big John and Mutsie Bohannon have owned and operated the Station since 1977. I’ve been going in there practically every day since August of 1987, when we bought the Tewes house in New Berlin and began restoring it.

            The building that houses what is currently the café has a long and varied history. It has been several things, but it has always been of central importance to this small community. In all of its various incarnations, it has always been a gathering place. The owners have always been sociable sorts and have not objected to the locals hanging around. If you are old enough, you might remember what the building used to be—if not, here is the story.

            In January of 1918, Arthur Schubert purchased two acres of land in the village of New Berlin from Otto J. Muelder. The property stood on the Marion-LaVernia Road, right next to the Muelder Store, Cotton Gin and Saloon. It was on this land that Mr. Schubert built his house and then the structure that is now Brietzke Station. The original structure was about 32 feet wide and 48 feet long.  Big John says that in Mr. Schubert’s day, it was a Ford dealership. He sold both Model-T and Model-A Fords. In those days, the locals played cards and dominoes and drank beer. The Schuberts had two children, Vernon and Stella.

            According to Big John, if you go into the building today, the front portion, which is regular tile, is where the showroom used to be. The back portion, which has D’Hanis tile, is where the old garage was. For many years, it had a dirt floor and was where they did repair work.

            Schubert sold the property to Walter and Edith Brietzke in August of 1939. Walter and Edith ran the place as a gas station and garage. Walter sold batteries and tires in the front of the building. He used the back half of the building as a garage. He also fixed tires.  It continued to be a gathering place for the community, and on any given day you could still find between five and ten men, sitting around playing cards or dominoes and drinking beer. During Walter and Edith’s day, the locals who were most frequently present were Ben Stein, Leonard Bohannon, Alvin Pape, Walter Mattke, Charlie Koepp and Mr. Bolton. Later, people gathered to watch TV, especially wrestling and special sports events. Big John vividly remembers the community gathering to watch the Max Spelling and Joe Lewis fight. People gathered just to spend time together. Joyce Young told me she met her husband, Harold, there.

            Johnnie is Edith Brietzke’s brother. He lived with his sister for several of his school years. He says his brother in law, Walter Brietzke, was a fine man—one of the best. John was with him when he died on June 3, 1974 on his 70th birthday. His last words were the Lord’s Prayer—in German. Edith continued to run the Station until 1974. She sold a little beer, some gas and soft drinks.

            In January of 1975, Johnnie and Evangeline (Mutsie) Bohannon bought Brietzke Station from Edith. The move to New Berlin from San Antonio did not bring John and Mutsie to unfamiliar ground. Johnnie and Mutsie grew up in New Berlin. His family moved to the area before his birth in 1926. They were the only Irish family in the area. His parents were sharecroppers on the Baldwin land. They farmed 120 acres and grew “whatever they could grown and make a dime on.” His home place still stands on FM775. Mutsie was a Radtke; her family lived on Santa Clara Road. She went to school in New Berlin until she was about eight years old. Then her family moved to Karnes County. Roger Weyel was in her first grade class. (Roger sometimes comes to the café looking for chocolate pie.)

Mutsie and Johnnie were married in LaVernia on November 8, 1945. Otto and Josephine Radtke stood up for them. Afterwards, they went to Mutsie’s mama’s house and had a turkey dinner. Then the neighbors gave them a chivaree. (Mutsie had to tell me what that was.) The gist of it is that neighbors descend upon your house after your wedding and make a lot of noise. The family serves refreshments and everyone congratulates the couple. It is a way of acknowledging the marriage. They spent the years when their kids were growing up, in San Antonio. Johnnie worked at Butter Crust Bakery and Mutsie raised kids and later worked at the courthouse. They built their house in New Berlin in 1975 and renovated the Station in 1976.

            Not all predictions about the prospects for a restaurant in New Berlin were rosy. Mustie’s Uncle Otto Radtke told Big John, “You’re crazy. You won’t sell six hamburgers a week out here.” To the surprise of many, when the business opened its doors in early 1977, it was an immediate success.

            It remains so today, twenty-five years later. Johnnie says the reason for their success is quality, service and a fair price. All that is true, but it is also that the place holds over 75 years of memories. People remember being children here. They met here and married and brought their own kids back to this place. There is comfort in places that remain. Stepping through the door is like stepping into your own past, as well as a shared community past. People remember stories of the Schuberts and Walter and Edith Brietzke and Mutsie and Johnnie. Today, the food is “mom food,” ever comforting, and the people are familiar. And there is always Mutsie. After all these years, I’m sure Johnnie knows she is the real secret to his success.