Creating a Legacy at Ramage Farms
For many, Ramage Farms is synonymous with the thick steaks or mouthwatering barbecue their restaurants used to serve up. On Oct. 5, 2011, however, the Hooks restaurant burned to the ground when a grease fire started in the barbecue pit. Since then, residents, customers and old family friends have wondered if Brent Ramage would rebuild and start all over again.
I visited Ramage Farms this week to find out what Brent’s been up to since the fire. When I arrived at the 600-acre farm and parked in front of the old red barn, Brent gave me a warm welcome and offered to show me exactly how he’s been spending his time. We stepped into the cavernous space within the barn and Brent looked around the facility proudly.
Built in 1931 by Mr. Cranfill, the Ramage family bought the place in 1955 when they relocated from Hico, Texas in the midst of a drought. Brent was only three weeks old at the time. “When we bought the place, the facility housed mules.”
Soon after the Ramage family moved in, however, they converted the barn into a granary, although it has had many purposes since then. It functioned as a hay barn, a processing facility for pecans and blueberries, an event center and eventually a steakhouse. “It was at that point we built the store on I-30,” Brent says.
The store was a phenomenal success, and customers visited the restaurant from around the world. “I’m still getting calls from friends that want to know what happened,” Brent says. “They’re heartbroken because every day was a family reunion at the store.”
Although Ramage Farms suffered financially after the fire, insurance allowed them to start over again at zero. “Sometimes zero is pretty good,” Brent says. But does he have any intention of rebuilding? “No, you can’t recreate what I had up there, no matter how hard you try,” he says.
Instead, Brent chose to end the retail era of his business on a high note. Now the family focuses on weddings, hosting one per weekend. The facility features a cozy bridal suite that can hold 10 comfortably as the ladies get ready for their big day. A wooden staircase leads down to the main floor that opens to the outside and lush, sweeping vistas, rolling hills and the pecan groves below.
“I’ve always said that if I could figure out how to sell this place one view at a time, I could make some money,” Brent says. “This is definitely the mechanism to do that.”
“People find out this is not a play pretty farm, this is the real deal,” Brent says, noting the reasons brides fall in love with his facility. “This is something that has evolved over the years. That’s the ambience and the feeling that I like to portray. It’s not a false feeling, it’s honest. This is what I do.”
Even though Ramage Farms no longer caters events or feeds hungry crowds, Brent is careful to make sure each wedding becomes the couple’s favorite day. He works with the best vendors, from florists and caterers like Flour Child Fine Foods to DJs like our very own Scott Mills. “I try to promote excellence. If [a vendor] does a lousy job the first time, they won’t come back out because I don’t want them exposed to my guests,” Brent says.
Still, Brent doesn’t pretend to be a wedding coordinator either. “I help the couples out as much as I can, but my guests are in complete control of their wedding out here.”
Now, Brent sees the facility in a different light. He doesn’t want to rely on social security checks from Uncle Sam. “I choose to make my own fate, and this is a fun retirement,” Brent says.
Eventually, Brent knows that he’ll pass the torch to his son Caleb and his two daughters-in-law who will take over the wedding business. But he’s not ready to do that just yet. “I tell him to keep his day job,” Brent jokes as he reclines in the chair in his small office inside the barn.
For the time being, Brent has a cup of coffee with his mom each morning before going to work, but now he doesn’t have to worry about the 16 employees he used to keep or the frantic pace of the food industry.
Instead, he spends his days greeting couples looking for a wedding venue and feels he has become a good judge of which marriages will work and which won’t. “It’s not up to me to tell these guys,” he says with a grin. “But it’s interesting.”
Sunni Cranfill was Miss Texas 2003, a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and a Ramage family friend. But she is also a descendent of the Cranfill family who originally owned the farm. When she got married, Ramage Farms was the logical choice for her wedding. Watch the video from CMT TV below.