Monthly Archives: March 2007

Shepherd’s Dam

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[1913 Map of Houston]


[Shepherd’s Dam – HoustonHistory.com]

A 1913 Houston street map famously labeled Shepherd as “Shepherds Damn Road”, with the “n” crossed out (see photo excerpt above). While the “n” may have been an error, Shepherd was indeed known as Shepherd’s Dam Road for some period of time in reference to a dam once located on Buffalo Bayou just east of the current Shepherd Drive bridge.

The area around the bridge was once owned by Daniel Shepherd, the superintendent of the Southwest Telegraph Company. In the 1880’s, Shepherd apparently intended to build a sawmill and flour mill at the location, and built the dam to accommodate those plans. However, the plans were also contingent on state approval to divert water from the Brazos River into Buffalo Bayou, and Shepherd never received the required permission.

While the mills were never built, the dam did for a time create a stretch of deep water on the bayou that was used as a swimming hole as late as the 1920’s – even though the remains of the dam were likely washed away by floods before then.

Whether the modern-day Shepherd Drive is named for Daniel Shepherd is an interesting question. In his book Historic Houston Streets: The Stories Behind the Names, Marks Hinton attributes the street name to Benjamin Shepherd, an early Houston banker who gave the city the land for Shepherd Drive, and gave Rice University the money to start the Shepherd School of Music. Marguerite Johnston’s Houston: The Unknown City, 1836-1946 makes the same attribution. However, a lengthy November 5, 1922 article in the Galveston Daily News about the road’s name being changed from “Shepherd’s Dam Road” to “Shepherd Drive” at the request of residents of “Brunner (now called west end)” discusses Daniel Shepherd at length, and never mentions Benjamin Shepherd. (Brunner – which was annexed in 1915 – is defined in the article as the area north of Buffalo Bayou, south of White Oak Bayou, west of Patterson Street, and east of Reinemann Street.)

More information:
Aulbach, L.F., “Shepherd’s Damn Road”, Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2003)

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Hot Wells

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[Hot Wells, Harris County, Texas]

Some maps of the Houston area identify a location on Highway 290 – across 290 from the Compaq campus, and just short of Cypress – called “Hot Wells”. See, for example, this Mapquest map of Hot Wells (Hot Wells appears in the bottom right corner of the map). This map marking is a reference to a hot artesian well once located in Harris County.

The artesian well was discovered by wildcatters, in 1904, on the heels of Humble Oil’s major oil discovery at Moonshine Hill (near Humble). The wildcatters lost their drill bit and, in the course of a two-week search for the bit, chanced upon the artestian well. It didn’t take long for someone to see the well’s money-making potential, and soon there was developed on the site the Houston Hot Well Sanitarium – a hotel resort of sorts where Houstonians and others went to enjoy the allegedly theraputic hot mineral waters. The resort was conveniently located right next to the Southern Pacific line that still runs parallel to 290 in that area. In addition to large concerte basins of mineral water in which guests would soak, the sanitarium also featured an Olympic-size swimming pool and a dancing/bingo hall. The resort appears to have been the only one of its kind ever developed in the Houston area.

While today the site is occupied by the Hot Wells Shooting Range, there are still some vestiges of the old Hot Wells to be seen. Some can be seen in the above satellite photo – or by switching the above Mapquest map to satellite view, and centering and zooming in on the “Hot Wells” site.

More information:
CFISD.net, “History of CFISD”

Wolf Corner

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[Red Wolf – WildlifeScienceCenter.org]

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[James Audubon print, “Texas Red Wolf”]

Per Wikipedia:

Langham Creek High School is a high school located near Cypress, which is an unincorporated community in Harris County, Texas, near Houston. . . . The mascot is the “lobo”, Spanish for “wolf”, and the school’s motto is “The Power of the Pack is the Lobo. The Power of the Lobo is the Pack.” The “lobo” mascot may have been selected as an homage to the red wolves that were hunted for bounty in the area during the 1950s and 1960s. Carcasses of the wolves were strung along the fences at the nearby intersection of FM 529 and Texas State Highway 6, which became known as Wolf Corner.

Wolf Corner started with Charles Hans Grisbee. By 1958, dairyman Grisbee had been hunting wolves on the prairie outside the city limits for decades – first for food; but later as a hobby, and for a $5-per-wolf bounty paid by Harris County. He started hanging the wolf carcasses on a fence at Wolf Corner. Houstonians would make special trips to the spot in the 1960’s, just to see the dead wolves on display. Grisbee continued to hang carcasses at Wolf Corner into the early 1970’s.

There have since been questions raised as to whether there were any pure wolves remaining in Harris County in the relevant time period, with some speculating that Greer may have actually been killing coyotes or coyotes interbred with wolves. Wolf Corner and the area surrounding it are now heavily developed, and there is a “Wolf Corner Golf Course” not too far away, at Houston’s Hearthstone Country Club.

There are no wolves currently living in the wild anywhere in Texas. While once abundant in east Texas, red wolves had become at best very scarce in the area by the 1960’s. There were reports of a handful of red wolves killed in Chambers and Kenedy Counties in the first half of the 1960’s, but no red wolves have been documented in or near Harris County since. The red wolf was believed to be nationally extinct in the wild by 1980, though there have since been some releases of red wolves into the wild (but not in Texas) as a result of captive-breeding programs. Gray wolves were also once common in Texas. However, the last two authenticated sightings were in 1970, in west Texas. It is beieved that the disappearance of gray wolves from Texas has resulted in problems with overpopulations of deer in several areas.

More information:
Sablatura, B., “Big Bad Wolves No More”, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 29, 1998
HAIF thread re Wolf Corner
The Mammals of Texas – Online Edition, “Red Wolf” and “Gray Wolf”
Manning, J., “The Wolf in Texas”, The Wild World of Wolves

Japanese Rice Farmers

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[Seito Saibara]

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[1904 – Seito Saibara’s new house, on his rice farm near Webster]

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[1905 – Japanese rice farmers on a rice farm near Texas]

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[“Planting time on a Japanese rice farm near Houston, Texas”]

Per the Handbook of Texas Online:

An important event in the development of the Texas Gulf Coast rice industry was the introduction of seed imported from Japan in 1904. Seed rice had previously come from Honduras or the Carolinas. At the invitation of the Houston Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Pacific Railroad, Japanese farmers were brought to Texas to advise local farmers on rice production, bringing with them seed as a gift from the emperor of Japan. . . . Japanese rice production began at Webster in Harris County under the direction of Seito Saibara, his family, and thirty original colonists. The Saibara family has been credited with establishing the Gulf Coast rice industry.

Ironically, Saibara, while highly accomplished in other fields, had no prior experience growing rice.

While there are numerous postcards from the early 1900’s showing Japanese rice farmers wearing traditional clothing in the rice fields, the farmers otherwise wore the same style clothing as their non-Japanese neighbors. Still, the presence of Japanese natives in rural Houston was noteworthy enough at the time that even Saibara’s son’s enrollment in school was noteworthy. In September 1904, Saibara wrote a letter to the Galveston Board of Trustees, asking if his son and his son’s friend could enroll in Ball High School. As reported in the Galveston Daily News, under the headline “Japs in Ball School”, the school superintdent stated in support of the application that he had met Saibara and his son and “[found] them to be of the highest type of their race.” The Board voted to allow the superintendent to handle the matter as he saw fit. (By 1928, the same paper was reporting, in a column called “Webster Personal Items of Widespread Interest”, that Saibara’s grandson was home from Texas A&M for the summer.)

Saibara hoped to establish a large Japanese rice farming colony in Webster, and had some success in that direction. However, in 1924, the federal government barred new Japanese immigrants from the United States.

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[Mykawa Rd. sign]

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[Shinpei Mykawa’s gravestone in Hollywood Cemetery]


[Mykawa School – photo posted by isuredid on HAIF]

Another early Japanese immigrant to the Houston area was Shinpei Mykawa, for whom the town of Mykawa and Mykawa Rd. are named. Mykawa began a rice farming venture in the area later named for him, but was killed in the rice field, by a mule-driven seed roller, just months after he began farming. Santa Fe Railroad officials subsequently named the local railroad station after him. (The town of Mykawa had 200 residents in 1914, and a post office until 1933, but had shrunk by 1986 to a trailer park and the abandoned railroad station.) Mykawa was buried in Hollywood Cemetery. During World War II, his gravemarker was temporarily removed from the cemetery because it bore Japanese writing, and was considered by some to be a “Japanese monument”.

More information:
Walls, Thomas K., “The Japanese Texans”, TexanCultures.utsa.edu

William L. Foley Building and House

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The building now called the Foley Building or Kennedy-Foley Building was built by John Kennedy, an early Houston merchant and Indian trader, in 1860. It served as a Confederate armory during the Civil War and was half-destroyed by fire in 1888.

Kennedy later gave the building to his son-in-law, William L. Foley, who has been referred to as the “dean of Houston dry goods merchants.” He was the “rich uncle” who, in 1900, gave Foley brothers Pat and James Foley the money to open the “Foley Brothers” store that would grow into the Foley’s department store chain.

Foley operated the W.L. Foley Dry Goods Co. in the building from 1896 until his death, in 1925. His children managed the business at that location until 1948. An advertisement in the November 20, 1897 edition of the Houston Daily Post announced a “Special Sale of Gloves and Hosiery” at “William L. Foley – 214, 216, 218 Travis Street”. The gloves listed are priced from 47 cents to $1.50, and the hosiery – “Quantity Limited. Only four pairs to each customer.” – is priced from 19 cents to 43 cents. The following day’s paper – a Sunday paper – contained a near full-page ad for the store, and competing ads from companies such as the Levy Brothers Dry Goods Company, Mistrot Bros. & Co., and Kiam Clothiers.

The Foley Building has more recently been home to the “12 Spot” bar, which closed in 2006, but is rumored to be re-opening in 2007.

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[Parasol Project at Foley House]

The William L. Foley House was built in 1904. The house was moved from its original location (704 Chenevert) to its present location on the 700 block of Avenida de las Americas. It sits next door to the Arthur B. Cohen house, built in 1905. Located between the George R. Brown Convention Center and Minute Maid Park, an area that has undergone considerable changes in recent years, the houses were at one time scheduled for demolition. In early 2007, however, the mayor announced plans to convert the two structures into a regional heritage tourism center.

The Foley House is pictured above during a 2006-2007 sculpture installation called the “Parasol Project”.

More information:
Texas Historical Commission entry for Foley Building
HAIF thread mentioning the Foley Building
HAIF thread discussing 12 Spot

Dean Corll, the Candy Man

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[Photo of Dean Corll in Army uniform]

Dean Corll was a serial killer who murdered at least 27 people in Houston over a two-year period in the early 1970’s. At the time the murders were discovered, it was the largest number of victims attributed to a serial killer in United States history. Most of his victims were boys or young men who lived in the Heights, where Corll had operated a candy factory (on West 22nd Street, behind Helms Elementary School) – hence the “Candy Man” moniker. His crimes came to light only when Corll was shot and killed by a teenage boy who had helped to lure boys to Corll’s home, and who ultimately participated in some of the murders. The “Houston Mass Murders” received considerable national and international attention in the 1970’s.

More information:
Wikipedia – Dean Corll
CrimeLibrary.com, “Dean Corll: The Sex, Sadism and Slaughter of Houston’s Candy Man”

Groovey Grill

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[Groovey Grill Mansion – AfricanViolet on 43Places.com]

In 1998, the Greater Houston Preservation alliance awarded Walter E. Strickland, owner of Distinctive Dwellings Inc., a “Good Brick Award” for the renovation of a stately mansion located at 2619 Calumet, in the Third Ward. The mansion is known as the “Groovey Grill Mansion” because it housed the Groovey Grill restaurant between 1967-1989. (It is now an events facility.) The Groovey Grill, which opened for business in another location, in 1942, was a long-standing institution in the African-American community, as is evident from the following articles on the restaurant:

Gina Seay, “Dishing up more than home cooking at the Groovey Grill”, Houston Chronicle, Sept. 7, 1987:

SINCE ITS humble snack bar beginnings in 1942, the Third Ward’s Groovey Grill has been more than just a comfortable spot to eat home cooking, and its owners, Faurice and Jessie Prince, have been more than just successful entrepreneurs.

One longtime patron declares it an “institution, no question about it.”

Before integration, faithful customers say the grill was the only nice eatery where Houston’s blacks could dine and mingle. Through the years it has remained a favorite gathering place for the community, thanks to the fried chicken and the owners’ hospitality.

“The Princes always represented something special,” said attorney Andrew Jefferson, who has been a frequent customer since his college days.

A group of those longtime fans and area business owners will host a banquet honoring the Princes’ 45 years in business Sept. 17 at Texas Southern University’s Student Life Center.

They’ve always worked as a team – with Jessie supervising the cooks and waitresses and ordering supplies while Faurice sits behind the register greeting customers.

The restaurant has been located at 2619 Calumet since 1967. It’s a stately-looking two-story house that’s hard to miss with towering purple columns at the entrance. Although the first floor was renovated to function as a restaurant, part of its charm is that much of the interior still looks and feels like home.

The decor isn’t fancy. Walls in the foyer are covered with plaques, photos of political heroes, certificates for community service and a mention from the mayor’s office commemorating the Princes’ 43rd wedding anniversary in 1980.

The back barroom, which once was the scene of frequent cocktail parties, has shelves of black and white autographed pictures of sports greats who have dined there through the years.

A few of the visitors have been former President Lyndon B. Johnson, boxing champion Muhammad Ali and baseball greats Willie Mays and Roy Campanella.

Asked to recall the names of the rich and famous who have passed through her doors, Jessie just throws her head back and says, “Oh, honey… ‘

She points to a table in the corner and says, “Ray Charles sat right over there two months ago.”

Jessie will proudly tell you this venture was her idea from the start. “He (Faurice) wasn’t too interested in it, but once the money was coming in, he got real interested,” she laughed.

“You really want to know how we got started?” she asked. “Across from the Forward Times, there was a dairy cup where blacks had to go to the back to get an ice cream cone.

“I said to myself one of these days I’m going to have a ice cream parlor so I won’t have to go to the back.”

So she opened Princes’ Hamburger Bar on Elgin Street, then catering to students attending nearby Jack Yates High School.

Faurice had a steady job at an oil refinery so he wasn’t too excited about sinking money into a burger joint.

But it proved a hit.

In 1947, they opened a larger restaurant at Tierwester and Wheeler Avenue. This location was the first to be called Groovey Grill. Jessie says she is often asked how the name was chosen. Her response: “I laid awake and thought about it.”

The land for this new restaurant was acquired from a friend who had borrowed $900 from them. As payment he gave the couple the deed to the lot.

In those days, Faurice says, he called the area Frog Alley because of the many unpaved streets that flooded constantly. Jessie says two years passed before her husband would visit the property.

But when construction on the newly established Texas Southern University began, the Princes realized they had a potential gold mine.

Students and faculty began arriving, and Jessie said, “That’s when it really started swinging.”

“Meet me at the Groovey Grill” was the slogan around the community, she says.

Dr. Jesse Gloster, a retired TSU economics professor who is organizing the tribute for the Princes, said, “You had to break through a mob to get in.”

The Princes worked to improve the entire area to protect their business investment. Jessie marched to the mayor’s office one day to solicit help to pave the streets. They once sold a family car for $450 to pay for street repairs, she says.

Their favorite cause quickly became TSU and the students. The Princes never had children, but they helped more than 300 students get through school by giving them jobs, offering an occasional free meal to those down and out and contributing to scholarship funds.

Faurice spent many evenings soliciting donations for the United Negro College Fund.

And the two were big fans of the school’s athletic teams, often preparing dinners for them when they arrived home from road games. Jessie says she remembers a tearful fan calling them once because the football team didn’t have uniforms to travel in. The couple gave them $600.

Jessie says almost every fraternity and sorority on campus has gathered in their meeting rooms.

“They were just like mom and pop,” said Daisy Hanna Proctor, a former TSU graduate student.

The university’s head golf coach and a 1955 football recruit, William Glosson, said, “Their food sold me on the university. I had my first meal there.

“It was super, everybody gathered there, it was like a family reunion,” he said.

Glosson recalled that students would say: “Mr. Prince, can I get a steak sandwich? I’ll pay you later.”

Glosson added, “He never wrote an IOU down; you just always felt you wanted to pay him back.”

City Councilman Rodney Ellis, who first met the Princes when he was a TSU sophomore in 1973, says they often fed him when he dropped by to collect money for the football tickets they sold to customers. He jokingly says they are responsible for some of the extra pounds he’s gained over the years.

“A lot of people who’ve achieved some measure of success, from Barbara Jordan to young campus leaders, were touched by them,” Ellis said.

Today’s breakfast, lunch and dinner crowds are smaller. Around 3 p.m. Faurice takes a seat behind the register, puffs on a cigar and watches an afternoon movie on a small portable television set.

Jessie sits at the counter eating a late lunch or goes back to the kitchen to talk with her cooks, Emma Phillips, who has been there 30 years, and Laura George, a 19-year veteran.

Waitress Lorraine Williams, who has been a favorite of customers for 38 years, also is still around.

The Princes, who will only say they are “50-plus” years old, aren’t sure how much longer they will hang on to the business. Jessie says she is ready to consider any good bids.

Faurice says modestly that they’ve survived this long by “just hanging on.”

Jessie adds, “The people like us; they just like the Groovey Grill.”

Rebecca Deaton, “Groovey Grill”, Houston Chronicle, June 18, 1992:

WHEN Faurice and Jessie Prince started their business at the height of segregation in 1942, success didn’t enter into the equation.

They just wanted to give members of their community a place where they could eat without feeling threatened or intimidated.

“There were very few restaurants in Houston at that time that catered to blacks,” Faurice Prince said. “We opened it up so our people would have a place to go.”

The Princes, now 85, made the Groovey Grill a Third Ward landmark by dishing up a combination of mouth-watering soul food and tender, loving care. But they made their business an institution by putting much of what they earned back into the community they served.

The couple lived by the credo they had printed on an early promotional flier. The handbill, once pasted on telephone poles throughout the community, read: “We don’t count the money as much as we count the friendship.”

Decades later, the Groovey’s 10-inch-thick walls are still solid, but the paint is peeling off the columns out front, and the tables and chairs that filled the first floor have long been sold.

The sounds of laughter and the smell of yams and chicken-fried steak have disappeared. Despite expectations raised by last year’s purchase of the building by the Black United Fund of Texas, hopes that the Grill can survive as a landmark also may have faded.

For the second time since 1989 when the Princes were forced to retire because of ill health, the Groovey is for sale and in the hands of the Small Business Administration. When SBA put the property up for auction last year, BUFT, a non-profit organization that supports community-based projects, purchased it for $240,000. BUFT President Cleo Glen Johnson said her organization wanted to convert the building into a community center and museum to honor the Princes.

But the deal fell through when a laboratory analysis commissioned by BUFT revealed the presence of asbestos. SBA authorities, who were not aware of the asbestos problem, rejected BUFT’s subsequent offer of $90,000 for the house and put the property back on the market in February.

Although the property was purchased “as is,” the SBA agreed to rescind the deal. SBA gave BUFT’s down payment back, and is considering all offers for the property. “There weren’t major problems, but we did not want to have a non-profit organization suffer any damage, and we thought we would be a good citizen by taking it back,” SBA Director Milton Wilson said.

Johnson remains disappointed that BUFT couldn’t work something out with the SBA.

“It’s hard to describe what the Groovey meant to this community,” Johnson said. “Everyone was able to come, and Mr. and Mrs. Prince made them feel special.”

Johnson, who describes the property as one of the area’s historical institutions, raised almost $50,000 toward purchasing it from a variety of contributors. More than $15,000 of the total came from individuals who had fond memories of what the Groovey was like in its heyday, Johnson said.

“We wanted to save it because so much of our history has been torn down and covered in concrete,” she said.

With almost half a century in the restaurant business, the Princes have earned their place in Third Ward history.

The native Texans met while attending college at Prairie View A&M, married and moved to Houston in 1932.

Their first restaurant was a hamburger stand on Elgin, where Jessie did the cooking. Business was so good that they moved to a larger location at the corner of Tierwester and Wheeler Avenue in 1947.

The couple called this restaurant the Groovey Grill and began to hire staff that would stay with them for the duration. Lorraine Williams waited tables at the Groovey for 39 years, Emma Phillips cooked for 31 years.

The first Groovey’s proximity to Texas Southern University gave the couple a ringside seat to observe the university’s growth and provided them with countless customers.

“At that time, TSU had just one building,” Faurice Prince said. “The GIs who were returning from the war all had to sleep in camping trailers while they were going to school.”

When their business became successful beyond their wildest dreams, the Princes returned the favor. The childless couple helped more than 300 TSU students get their degrees by giving them food, putting them to work or paying their tuition.

The Groovey became the place where people gathered to see and be seen.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, who graduated from TSU in 1975, said the restaurant was a source of inspiration and nourishment to many students.

“When I was a student, it was common to go in and see the likes of Barbara Jordan or Mickey Leland,” Ellis said. “Any time a major entertainer came into town, the Groovey Grill was one of the places on the circuit.”

The Princes still recall the day when the Rev. Jessie Jackson came in for lunch and the evening when then-heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali dropped by for dinner.

By 1967, the Princes were looking for a larger building. When they found the property at 2619 Calumet, they knew it was the perfect match. With more than 6,000 square feet of floor space on an acre of land, the aging mansion could accommodate their burgeoning clientele.

After a little remodeling, the move was complete, and the Groovey’s success became legendary. The restaurant’s popularity spread throughout Texas during the 1970s, when the couple added former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen to their list of customers.

The restaurant’s popularity continued into the next decade when the Princes were honored for their contribution to the community by a group of former TSU students and longtime customers.

But after almost half a century in business, the Princes were tired, their health failing.

For a while, they tried to keep the restaurant open by leasing it out and maintaining their residence upstairs. When the arrangement didn’t work out as well as they had hoped, they put the building up for sale.

After the house had been on the market for a couple of years, the couple deeded it to the Small Business Administration, an arrangement that allows them to stay on the property and gives them a little income for essentials.

Once the building is sold, the Princes have plans to move to a smaller house that was left to them by a relative. But the house needs extensive repairs, which takes money that the couple doesn’t have.

“We really don’t have the money to fix it up,” he said. “All our savings are gone because the bills are so high on this property and we’re on a fixed income.”

All the Princes have left now are their memories.

Faurice Prince points with his cane at the photograph of baseball Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron, who was there on opening night in 1967. And he recalls that there was always a table of politicians at the Groovey, talking shop or just enjoying the food.

“Everyone who went to Austin and Washington came through here,” Faurice Prince said. “But we never hear from them any more.”

Jessie Prince, who doesn’t get out much any more because of circulation problems, complains that old customers and employees avoid talking about the Groovey.

“They say that’s past, and they don’t want to talk about the past,” she said. “Times have changed and things are not like they used to be.”

Faurice Prince recalls that he was recently threatened when he tried to discourage a youngster from pulling green pecans off one of the trees out front.

“He threatened that he would go home, get his gun and shoot me,” he said. “So I told him just to go ahead and take all the pecans he wanted.”

Although they now feel like outsiders in a community they once were such a part of, Faurice Prince said they will remain in the property until it is sold.

“We were very successful in the business until we tried to get someone to take it over,” he said. “That’s when the people let us down.”