Neither David nor Dorothy Mount had ever worked in, operated or owned a restaurant before opening Maw and Paw’s Kountry Kitchen, but they saw the need in the community.
“We felt like Kilgore needed a place like this. With going out to eat with our kids, it was hard to find somewhere,” Dorothy said, noting there were not many options outside for a family of six to sit down and eat dinner for less than $100. “I love southern home cooking food, so it kind of turned into a deal of what if we started a place and making the stuff more affordable.”
Before getting into the kitchen, though, the couple asked around and researched what it would take to open their own restaurant.
“A lot of it is we have our Facebook page and we read every review and every comment… We’ve learned a lot from the customers,” she said.
David acknowledges, though, “We know we can’t please everybody.” One example of not pleasing everyone is customers who have complained about there being too many lumps in the mashed potatoes. “They’re peeled, they’re cut, they’re boiled every morning. They’re hand mashed. There’s lumps that get missed … They think it should be done with a mixer, and that makes it too much like instant potatoes. With the lumps in it, you know that it’s real potatoes.”
The Kilgore and Sabine natives do most of the cooking, but that was not always the case.
“We didn’t at first. We hired cooks, and found out that was not the way to go,” David said. The two they have since hired understand the restaurant hierarchy. “We have worked side by side with them and shown them the way instead of them showing us how they’re going to do it.”
When it comes to the food, Dorothy said, she insists it be fresh.
“It’s going to be fresh. It’s going to be crisp. If I wouldn’t eat it, I’m not putting it through the window,” she said.
The recipes on Maw and Paw’s menu are a collection from different people and some online finds. The one true home recipe for Dorothy is the chocolate pie, which she makes using her great-grandmother’s recipe.
“I stick straight to the recipe,” she said. “I don’t ever try to vary away from her recipe. It’s nasty when you do. It doesn’t go right unless you go right along with it.”
“And the only person that makes it right is her,” David added.
Then, the daily specials allow the owners to try out new recipes and get customer feedback. Meatloaf is one special they found they must offer each week.
“We sell out of that every time we do it,” Dorothy said.
One thing people will not find on the menu, though, is alcohol.
“There’s no alcohol at all served here. We made that a big point,” she said.
One of Dorothy’s favorite things about being in the kitchen is being able to see everyone come into the restaurant and have the opportunity to interact with the customers.
“We want to have that feel of you’re coming home, so we want you to feel welcome. We want you to feel like you know us well and that you can easily talk to us,” she said. “What we love that makes us different is we’re not some big corporation. There’s not all these higher-ups that they do all the decision making. It’s us. Our family, our children depend on us to make this place work so that they are good.”
With their eldest child, along with other family members, already working in the restaurant, Dorothy said, she expects to cycle in their other three children when they are old enough.
“We started out family, and there are some employees that once they start working for us, they kind of turn into our kids,” she said. “I’ve even had some of them call me mother. We try to have the family feel even with our employees.”
Situated at 3503 US Hwy. 259 N Business, the former Kilgore Café location was not the couple's first choice. At first, it was going to farther south on the other side of Hwy. 31 near Skeeter Boats, but the owner would not lease the location to anyone without restaurant experience.
The night after hearing the news they could not get their first choice, they drove to look at the future home of Maw and Paw’s and got the number to call.
Although the condition was “horrible,” David said, he and Dorothy insisted on cleaning the place themselves.
“We cleaned this for two months before even opening… Two months of scrubbing,” she said.
“We want to do it ourselves so we know what it will take if it ever gets to that again, which is what drives us to keep it clean and keep it from getting there,” he said.
The building's history is represented inside, though, through menus from the Kilgore Café and its predecessor the Hot Biscuit, which Dorothy remembers going to with family, she said.
“We want to show the history, but yet make this our own,” she said.
For much of those two months between signing the lease and opening May 17, they worked late into the night cleaning and preparing.
“We couldn’t stay away. I came up here on Mother’s Day; I was supposed to have the day off. Even the Fourth of July. We were closed that day, and we still found ourselves – me and him – up here trying to go over stuff. It’s become our baby.”
The customers are what drive Dorothy to keep going and push through the setbacks and frustrating moments of being a restaurateur.
“It’s been a whirlwind of emotions and everything,” she said.