Pitmaster helped seal family’s barbecue legacy in Lockhart

Central Texas barbecue scion Edgar Clarence Black Jr., who ran one of Lockhart’s signature restaurants for decades, died Friday of heart failure. He was 91.

The native of Delhi, in Caldwell County, ran Black’s Barbecue, the restaurant his father founded in Lockhart in 1932, for about 60 years. During his time at Black’s, which he ran with with his wife, Norma Jean, the restaurant gained national attention and landed on countless Best of Texas barbecue lists.

It was the second barbecue restaurant to open in Lockhart and the one with the longest operating tenure by one family, according to Edgar’s son, Kent.

Edgar Black Jr. attended Texas A&M University, from which he graduated as a distinguished student with a degree in accounting. His time at A&M was interrupted by World War II, during which Black was stationed in Corpus Christi while serving in the Navy.

After his graduation from A&M, Black received an offer to work as an accountant at Exxon in Houston. But his father had other ideas. Edgar Black Sr. asked his son to fill in for him for a couple of weeks at the family business while he tended to other matters. Those two weeks turned into 60 years, during which both of Edgar Black Jr.’s sons, Kent and Terry, worked for him.

Black’s Barbecue added locations near the University of Texas campus and in San Marcos in 2014, said Kent Black, who is district manager for the three restaurants. Edgar Black’s grandsons Michael and Mark Black run the unaffiliated Terry Black’s Barbecue, named after their father, on Barton Springs Road.

Kent Black said that his father’s educational background was one of the keys to the success of the business side of Black’s Barbecue, but it was only part of the recipe. Edgar and Norma Jean Black’s care for their customers, a principle they passed down to their children, was paramount.

“He always taught us that if you take care of the customer, the customer will take care of you,” Kent Black said. “The customer is your boss.”

Edgar and Norma Jean Black worked together through most of their 69-year marriage.

“It’s amazing they kept a restaurant open that long together and still liked each other,” Kent Black said, adding that his father always considered his marriage a greater accomplishment than his business.

In addition to being an entrepreneur, Edgar Black played a major role in the social and cultural evolution of Lockhart. Black’s Barbecue was the first restaurant in Lockhart to integrate and hire minorities, and Black also helped integrate the Lockhart Little League and advocated to integrate the public schools of Lockhart, Kent Black said.

Kent Black said his father showed a lifetime of resiliency in the face of major health problems. He survived major surgery in his 20s and 30s and a brain tumor at 41. Each time, he was told he had only six months to live. Each time, he defied the odds. When Black faced open-heart surgery at age 86, his doctor asked him if he wanted to forgo the procedure.

“I still got more living left to do,” Black said, according to his son.

Services for Black will be at 3 p.m.Tuesday at First United Methodist Church in Lockhart.

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