Ross, 71, is retiring and will sell Ranchman’s due to poor health and the labor shortage, he said. Business has been strong for the rustic little back-road steakhouse that inspired late author Larry McMurtry and hosted celebrities from sports, TV and movies, including Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway
The restaurant has been open only for lunch. Ross has been unable to hire cooks and servers to serve dinner, he said.
“It’s for sale if someone wants to buy it,” said Ross, Ranchman’s owner for 31 years and an operator off and on since 1986.
In an emailed announcement, he cited the economy, “recent health issues” and the lack of staff.
“We made a gallant effort for the last 7 months to survive,” he wrote: “It is no longer possible.”
Ross was fresh out of hip surgery a few weeks ago, he said, but still taped an episode of “The Texas Bucket List” show about Ranchman’s legendary chicken-fried steaks.
The restaurant also has been featured on the Food Network national TV shows such as “FoodNation with Bobby Flay.”
Ranchman’s, 110 W. Bailey St. in Ponder, was remodeled and updated during the COVID pandemic.
It added a new kitchen and restrooms but kept the same wood-paneled front dining room — a throwback to 1951 — and the same menu, cobblers and pies.
Ross was the steakhouse’s second long-term owner. It was founded by Grace “Pete” Jackson and her husband, R.L., in the late 1940s and became a gathering place for the county and a stopover for motorists taking a shortcut to Ponder, then a dwindling Denton County farm town 30 miles north of Fort Worth.
Ranchman’s was originally known for T-bones and rib-eyes cut in-house, including a 32-ounce T-Bone.
But ever since the Food Network came to town, Ranchman’s has been better known for chicken-fried steaks and burgers. The pies and cobblers were still made from 30-year cook Evelyn “Granny” Stack’s recipes.
Ranchman’s was never more small-town than on one busy Friday night in the 1970s, when an overwhelmed Stack strode into the middle of the dining room and waved her spatula until she commanded attention.
“Y’all!” she shouted. “Can’t y’all see I’m gonna have to have some help?”
Customers started pouring tea, clearing tables or baking rolls.
McMurtry, the quintessential Texas novelist, said that Ranchman’s was his favorite restaurant and that he would often make the 100-mile drive from his home in Archer City near Wichita Falls.
McMurtry told how he had just left the cafe in the early 1980s when he saw an old church bus marked “Lonesome Dove Baptist Church.”
“If ever I had an epiphany it was at that moment: I had, at last, found a title for the trail driving book” he was writing.
“Lonesome Dove” went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a TV classic.
That was 20 years after Beatty, Dunaway and other actors visited during the Denton-area filming of the movie “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Their photos still hang on the dining room wall, along with those of sports stars, racing drivers and other celebrities who found their way to Ponder.
Until the 1980s, Ranchman’s didn’t even have indoor restrooms — only an outhouse. But “what’s important about this place is the unique sense of community it brings,” Ross said.
“People at different tables talk to each other. People from across the country come here and say, ‘This feels like home.’ “