On September 14, 2008, Jeremy Niuman approached the debris-filled parking
lot of Clear Springs and Auntie Pasta's in Nacogdoches with high anxiety.
As general manager of both restaurants, he already knew there was damage
from the high winds and downpours of Hurricane Ike. The massive storm had
power-washed its way north the day before, after smashing into Galveston,
and was on track to wreak further havoc from St. Louis to Montreal.
He noted that one restaurant was apparently in worse shape than the other.
"The roof of Clear Springs had lifted off and landed on top of Auntie
Pasta's, where it knocked in some holes," Niuman recalled. "There was
ankle-deep water in the Clear Springs dining room. The whole place was
flooded. All the decor was damaged. I wondered if we would ever open up
Ultimately, the unexpected partial demolition kicked off needed repairs
and new remodeling that benefited the local eateries, with owners Richard
and Barbara DeWitt and other managers diving into the rebuild. "It ended
up being a Godsend," Niuman said. "The buildings and the business have
Because of the resilience of their operations and success through years,
the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce has named Clear Springs and
Auntie Pasta's as its 2015 Large Business of the Year.
Richard and Barbara DeWitt each have had an important role in the success
of the Clear Springs locations in New Braunfels, Nacogdoches, Midland and
Tyler, plus the Gruene River Grill in New Braunfels.
Richard's path started with his parent's decision to move to Texas to join
"We moved to Nacogdoches in the 1950s from Michigan," Richard DeWitt said.
"At first in the turkey business, then in raising chickens. That's how I
grew up - on chicken farms and hatcheries. Later on, when I was in high
school, my dad decided to open a Kentucky Fried Chicken store. The first
was in Lufkin in 1966, the second in Nacogdoches. He got up to 71
The decision to become KFC franchisees took place after a unique product
"We were in Galveston with our cousins," DeWitt said. "Dad sent me next
door to buy some Kentucky Fried Chicken. I bought three buckets, which
seemed like a lot of chicken. I went back two times and bought three more
buckets each time. Everyone was raving about it. I don't know if that was
when he made up his mind, but that was my first taste of Kentucky Fried
"I worked for dad for 20 years," DeWitt said. "I started in the Lufkin
store. Then I delivered supplies to all the stores."
He graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1971 with a
business degree. As a Lumberjack and a business owner, DeWitt appreciates
the many SFA students who have worked at his and Barbara's restaurants. "I
believe we have better employees now," he said. "Jeremy started as a
waiter. He is a valued employee. He has a family and is doing well. He has
six or seven assistant managers."
The name Clear Springs comes from the first store's central Texas
location. The building "is actually in the town of Clear Springs," DeWitt
said. "It was a dance hall built in 1874. George Strait played there. It
was all the beer you could drink plus George Strait for $3." The first
Clear Springs restaurant opened in 1985. But Richard was only getting
DeWitt is enamored with the Gruene River Grill location. "It is just a
really neat building," he said, "right over the Guadalupe River. It opened
up with the same menu you now see at Auntie Pasta's. Over the years it
changed to something entirely different, American eclectic. or American
Nacogdoches came along next, taking the space that had been a grocery
warehouse and a popular operatic-themed restaurant, Rossini's. "We had the
Nacogdoches restaurant open for several years before we actually moved
back," DeWitt said, "But that's why I did it, so I could get back to
Midland was the enterprise's first from-the-ground-up building in 1992,
with a similar concept in Tyler to follow.
Multiple locations might sound like a chain, but DeWitt insists it is not.
"It is a family owned restaurant," he said. "I think a chain has to be a
At Clear Springs, there are also several famous taste bud tantalizers that
"Our catfish is from Greenville, Mississippi," DeWitt said. The massive
onions for the big, breaded onion rings are "Texas 1015s, when available."
To make the popular rings, Clear Springs goes through "hundreds of onions
per day," Niuman said. For customers watching meals come out of the
kitchen, the plate "is a real head-turner," he said. The Texas-sized
orders use two or three of the super-colossal onions. "They look like the
size of your head - at least a softball or better," Niuman laughed.
Richard and Barbara credit the people who work day in and day out to make
the restaurants successful.
"Your business is run by your employees," Richard said. "It is not your
recipes. It is the employees who make you successful. We have basic plans
we go by. They make sure it happens every day."
In return, Niuman sees DeWitt as equally important. "He's Boss-Dad," Niuman
said. "He's a father figure to us all. I have learned a lot from him and I
look up to him."
The family atmosphere of the restaurants is a touchstone.
"I try to carry that on for our new employees," Niuman said. "When I'm
doing interviews I will say we are one big family. That shows to our
guests. We get along well and work together well. But we all know when it
is time to get down to work. It helped me through school, and the same for
my wife. There have been a lot of long-term friendships, relationships and
After 30 years, a hurricane and thousands of onions, the restaurant keeps
making special towns in Texas all the more special.
*The Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce 94th Annual Meeting and
Membership Banquet* begins at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 29, in the SFA Grand
Ballroom. The 2015-2016 board of directors will be inducted and award
recipients will be recognized.
The 2015 Citizen of the Year and the Gary Justice Business Excellence
Awards recipients are:
*Grace Handler*, Citizen of the Year -
*award sponsored by Tipton Ford, Inc. *
*Shelley's Bakery Cafe*, Small Business of the Year - *award sponsored by
Heritage Land Bank*.
*Mast Motorsports*, Medium Business of the Year *- award sponsored by
*Clear Springs Restaurant and Auntie Pasta's*, Large Business of the Year
-* award sponsored by R&K Distributors, Inc.*
Bronze sponsorships are available for $750 and include corporate
recognition and seating for eight or nine. Individual admission tickets are
available for $40. Contact the Chamber at 936-560-5533 for reservations.
Seating is limited, and the reservation deadline is Sept. 16.