‘Radical hospitality’ drives Woodlands-area food truck park
February 14, 2017
Deacon Mims’ image watches over Deacon Baldy’s from a tower next to the pavilion facing FM 1488. Photo by James Ramos/Herald.
MAGNOLIA — Above a row of dozens of craft beer taps, a handwritten line from the Rule of St. Benedict declares a mission that is both shared and challenged: “Hospites Tamquam Christus Siscipiantur.”
Translated from Latin: “Greet others as if they were Christ,” or “All guests have been received as Christ,” this mandate motivates both Kevin Mims and Joey Muckenthaler, co-owners of Deacon Baldy’s Bar and Food Truck Park, to serve all who visit their newer Magnolia business venture as if they were Christ.
Northwest of Houston, Deacon Baldy’s features a rotation of several gourmet food trucks with a curated selection of 40 craft beers from breweries in California to neighboring Conroe (among dozens of others), and was named after the late Deacon Mike Mims of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in The Woodlands. Deacon Mims, who was Kevin Mims’ father, died in a helicopter accident in January 2015.
According to Mims, he and his father were already developing the idea for a food truck park in the area. And when the deacon passed away, Mims brought Muckenthaler, a high school friend, on board to make the dream a reality.
Just outside the pavilion, a lofty tower bears a stylized image of Deacon Mims himself, a pair of glasses seemingly keeping watch over FM 1488 and the families who pass by and through Deacon Baldy’s. Mims said the Deacon Baldy’s team did a lot of work, building the long community-style picnic tables, as well as the bar’s hanging door. Back inside the pavilion, small crosses, images of Mary and other signs of faith pepper the structure, almost organic symbols of the duo’s faith lives.
The question can be obvious at times: “Who is Deacon Baldy? The face on the tower?” Dozens will ask Muckenthaler and his staff behind the bar this question. This is how conversations about faith and life come up organically on both sides of the bar, Muckenthaler said.
Not long after opening, a couple asked Mims about the cross on one of the walls, which spurred a conversation between Mims and the couple about the Catholic Church, Jesus Christ and faith, in the middle of one of their busiest nights.
For Mims and Muckenthaler, life before Deacon Baldy’s revolved around faith: Mims’ father was an active deacon and businessman, Muckenthaler was no stranger to catechesis, serving teens for nearly a decade as a youth minister in Houston and Austin.
Truly a business venture, the two dealt with the tough learning curve of opening a new business in a burgeoning area like Magnolia, which often includes some negative online reviews. But soon the staff quickly learned how to handle the bumps of business, how to have conversations like Mims’ and how to keep going.
Muckenthaler said that while he doesn’t minister to teens anymore, he finds himself ministering to his staff. “People in the hospitality industry are very special people,” often times many struggle with alcoholism, drug addiction, broken homes and a paycheck-to-paycheck living.
“Everyone needs help, love and advice. My staff knows they can talk me, and I hope to introduce Christ in conversation.”
From friends to strangers
Muckenthaler said that after a month or so, they finally stopped recognizing patrons. After their soft opening in October 2016, more than half who visited were family, friends, or people who knew Deacon Mims.
Father Tom Rafferty, pastor at nearby St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, where the deacon served, said Deacon Mims was “all about family.”
“He was completely devoted to his personal family, his parish family and the family of the Church world-wide,” he said. Father Rafferty said a clear example of this devotion was seen in the medical and sacramental mission in Honduras that the deacon helped lead.
“Deacon Mike was a valued friend. He gave me unconditional support as a priest and as a person. I miss him but I know he continues to bless me and the parish he served.”
That unconditional love falls right in line with the Christian hospitality that drives Mims and Muckenthaler.
Faith is “how we run our lives,” Mims said. “It’s a factor in everything we do.” The team hopes to serve a beer whose profits will go directly back to charity, in addition to the number of charity events already hosted at the venue.
“Being able to serve people, whatever capacity that is — serving a beer, or serving a charity — it’s the little things that we can do,” Mims continued. “I don’t know that we’re going to change the world with the donations we can give, but being able to have that as part of what we do, it’s visible to those who come here enough to notice it.”
Muckenthaler said the Biblical understanding of hospitality is very different than other faiths.
“Christian hospitality should be different, you should treat people differently,” he said. “People should say ‘I feel loved when I interact with them.’ We try to do that here, it’s something I try to stress to my staff, making people feel not like they’re at home, but like they’re being invited into your home, and you treat them that way.”
The intention of family
In a wood chipped corner of the park, a few kids aimlessly throw bean bags in the general direction of a cornhole box. A few steps away, their mothers lean into conversation over cake and gifts during a pastel baby shower celebration.
“We built this place this to be family-friendly intentionally,” Mims said. Both he and Muckenthaler have families with small children, and Deacon Baldy’s provides ample space and time for families big and small, young and old, he said.
“We love seeing it. There are kids birthday parties, all the way up to big kids — 40- and 50-year old guys — having birthday parties here. We love that.”
The community-style seating, which prompts conversation with strangers, was motivated by experiences shared between the two with close friends on Deacon Mike and his wife Kate’s back porch.
“For hours” they would talk “about politics, family, religion and life and everything in between,” Muckenthaler said. “And not all of us are Catholic — just a group of friends we’ve known forever. We wanted to create that environment here, that’s really calm and relaxed to hang out with some friends.”
More and more groups are finding a home at Deacon Baldy’s. A local Theology on Tap young adults group, as well as a nearby parish’s men’s group gather under the doting eye of Deacon Baldy himself.
“It’s a great place to come and hang out and bring the family, which is exactly what we wanted,” Muckenthaler said. “There are ways my faith has impacted the business directly and indirectly. It’s also enabled him to spend more time with his family, he said. “We have more time for family prayer.”
And while more new visitors meet at Deacon Baldy’s, both Mims and Muckenthaler agree that more people come up to share their memories of Deacon Mims than those who ask who he was.
People come up to them to share their memories of encounters with the deacon. Past coworkers, families with babies baptized by Deacon Mims, and even those with a single encounter with Deacon all remember when they met him.
“It’s amazing how many people he impacted,” Muckenthaler said. “And getting to continue on that legacy in his brand of hospitality, which was a radical hospitality... is kind of what Deacon Baldy’s is all about.”
For more information about Deacon Baldy’s, including location and hours, visit deaconbaldys.com.