McBirnie Family as seen in The Van Horn Advocate archives. This archive, dated June 28th 1994 shows the family right after they won a million dollars in a drawing of the Texas Lottery Game, “The Millionare” (L-R) Back Row – David, Mom (Adela), Dad (David), Christina, and William. Front Row – Michael, Anna and Julia.
By Lisa Morton
Van Horn’s beloved “Papa’s Pantry” will be no more and the closure takes a whole lot of emotion with it. David McBirnie, (Papa), presented his dear wife Adela with the keys to the building located at 515 Van Horn Drive, or Highway 90 East, in 1995. Although Adela expected a family business to evolve from the proceeds of “The Millionaire” wins won by her husband in July of 1994, she was certainly surprised at the size of the location she would manage. Mr. McBirnie had the utmost confidence in his wife’s culinary and baking skills. Mrs. McBirnie confesses to sitting in her tight little office in the rear of the restaurant and peeking out and thinking, “I have to take care of all of this?” But that she did as humble and gracious as anyone could be. She was grateful to her first employees when the location was popular donut franchise, Southern Maid Donuts. Her staff eventully approached her and said, “Mrs. McBirnie, you know we can cook too.” “Let’s serve breakfast,” they added. And that is how the carefully crafted menu of homemade delights was born.
“The business has had high peaks and low valleys,” Mrs. McBirnie said. The property had recently been set for sale on the steps of the courthouse but that was stopped at the eleventh hour. The McBirnie’s involved all their children, David, Jr., Christina, William, Michael, Anna and Julia in the business and worked them just as hard as the many, many employees that grew to the Papa’s family we know today. “The restaurant helped secure my children with educations and good careers,” she said. “For that, I am most grateful,” she continued. Mrs. McBirnie concluded, “It has not all been good and now it is time to just stop.” Mr. McBirnie insists his wife do absolutely nothing in the days, months, or years after the doors are locked once and for all.
In speaking with their patrons of many years, one cannot help but feel a sense of loss not only for the highly reputable meals the restaurant served, but for the nostalgia of a place to go where fellowship adorns its atmosphere. Papa’s staff themselves can only hold on to the memories of providing good customer service with a side of cheeky personality. “I’ve had so many nice experiences with my customers,” said Viola Luna. Just last week Viola had an out-of-town older couple that had been stopping in for the past three years or so asking for local Nell Haynes, drop by for their last chance to eat at their favorite spot in Van Horn. It was only by chance that Nell Haynes was also dining in the restaurant that day. This writer saw the look in the waitresses eyes as she spoke of the rekindled friendship she witnessed. A look that filled her heart for her customers. Wonderful memories in an establishment to be proud of.