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The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Sharing smiles at Grins: Customers reflect on San Marcos’ long-time staple

Marisa Nuñez
Business management junior, Bailey Stewart checking dishes, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023 at Grins Restaurant.

The sizzle of the grill and aroma of fresh cheeseburgers, fajitas and onion rings fill the air as glasses of lime margaritas and sweet teas are poured to the rim. Customers are found laughing, studying, asking for another round of beers and reminiscing about old memories while actively creating new ones at Grins, the longest-running local restaurant in San Marcos. 

What started as Mr. and Mrs. Lightfoot’s house, built in 1948, turned into a local establishment dedicated to Texas State students and the San Marcos community. Originally opening on Feb. 14, 1975, Grins, founded by Lyndon Herring and Tom Wassenich, started off with a menu of just nachos, two burger assortments and draft beers. Nevertheless, the San Marcos community took a love for it from the start, allowing the business to grow quickly and not only expand the menu, but also expand the restaurant three times before the year of 2000. 

Grins being open for nearly 50 years, Texas State and then Southwest Texas State students have enjoyed and reflected on college memories, accompanied by a trip to Grins. 

“When I attended Southwest Texas in the early 90s, San Marcos was not as big as it is today, so you were limited on your dining selections that were in town,” Olivia Pinon, Southwest Texas State alumna, said. “But [Grins] was a place to go where you can just break away from what you have going on in your life to enjoy a meal with friends… It was a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere for students and families that were residents of San Marcos and of course, students of Southwest Texas.”

Paul Sutphen, co-owner of Grins, began his Grins journey on March 1, 1975 as the first cook hired at Grins. After attaining a bachelor’s degree in business at Southwest Texas in 1976, Sutphen aspired to call something his. In 1977, he took co-ownership of Grins with Wassenich and never looked back.

“I’ve just grown with the business,” Sutphen said. “And just in the last 10 years, San Marcos just exploded, so many bars and new apartments and it’s really grown. But [Grins] is the oldest profession in town. We’ve got a passion for hot food, good food so we’ve held a consistency for years and years.”

Another Southwest Texas State alumnus that wanted to call Grins his was Johnny Ferrell. Ferrell, co-owner of Grins, also started out at Grins as a cook in 1978 while he was in school and wanted a place to make money while also staying in San Marcos post graduation. When Wassenich seeked to give up his partnership with Grins, Ferrell took his spot in 2000. 

With more than 40 years of memories under his apron, Ferrell said his favorite thing about his time at Grins is seeing former employees come back to thank him for giving them a fun, memorable job as college students. 

“I just had one come in today, a guy was a cook in the kitchen that worked here in ‘98,” Ferrell said. “That’s what makes me feel best is when people come back and they tell me what a good job they had when they were in college, the best job they ever had. I think that I might have made some kind of impact on it since I hired them.”

What also makes both Ferrell and Sutphen feel good is when customers come back to spread their love for Grins to their new loved ones. Jack Russell, a computer science senior, went to Grins for the first time as a high school student after his dad, a Southwest Texas State alumnus, made the visit a necessity after a day at Schlitterbahn. 

Russell’s first impression of Grins was similar to others, with a cheeseburger in hand and an ear full of memories that his Dad had while attending Southwest Texas State. 

“You know how some colleges have that legacy, you know, kind of atmosphere where children of people who went to college go to that college,” Russell said. “I feel like Grins has that same kind of legacy. Second or third generation Bobcats are now eating at the same place that their parents and grandparents ate at when they were there.”

With Russell close to graduation, he has made it his goal to go to Grins every Thursday after class with his friends to take advantage of his last college days and happy hour. 

“I’m a big proponent of having a spot at home,” Russell said. “There’s a lot of spots in my hometown that I really like to go to where I can get the same thing and I know it’s going to be great and we’re going to have a good time when we go. Grins is that for me here. It’s the place that I really love here in San Marcos.”

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  • Outdoor recreation junior, Isabella Curtis serving food, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, at Grins Restaurant.

  • Grins cook Tom Madden (left) and Grins co-owner Johnny Ferrell celebrate Madden’s going away party, 1981, at Grins Restaurant.

  • Grins architect and designer Ron Balderach walks into Grins to enjoy a meal, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, at Grins Restaurant.

  • The Dill family enjoying lunch, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, at Grins Restaurant.

  • Mr. and Mrs. Lightfoot’s house before being converted to Grins, 1948, in San Marcos.

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    LanceSep 19, 2023 at 9:09 am

    Excellent article that brought back many fun memories. However, I would use the word “sought” instead of “seeked”. Life is a university, but make your third grade teacher proud of you! ‍