When Jack McKinney was named president and CEO of the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute in August 2000, he was just the second person to hold that position since the museum was first organized in 1991. McKinney will retire in August, after working there for 18 years and 40 years in the museum industry.
McKinney began his museum career at the Dallas Health and Science Museum in 1978 and also worked at the Don Harrington Discovery Center in Amarillo; as a consultant for the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio; and as executive director and CEO of the Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Explora underwent an $11 million renovation during McKinney’s tenure there, and he raised $2.5 million in donations for exhibits and construction.
Since McKinney’s joining, the Dr Pepper Museum has expanded by 36,000 square feet, and McKinney has raised more than $6 million for the museum. Attendance has grown steadily since 2000, topping out at more than 140,000 last year and estimated to be more than 150,000 in 2018. McKinney readily admits that the museum’s neighbors, Magnolia Market and Silos, have helped tremendously with those numbers. Still, the growth of the museum hasn’t gone unnoticed by those in the industry.
“As the previous owner of the Dr Pepper Bottling Company of Texas, which included the Waco Dr Pepper franchise, I have been involved with the Dr Pepper Museum since its inception,” said Jim Turner, who has also been a member of the Baylor Board of Regents and recently purchased a Chevrolet dealership in McGregor. “When Jack became the director, he had a vision of what he wanted the museum to become. He worked tirelessly toward that goal of making the museum one of the top soft drink museums in the country. If you look at the museum today, he has accomplished that goal, and bottlers like me and my family are proud of what the museum represents for bottlers like ourselves.”
Chris Dyer, CEO of the Arts Council of Brazos Valley in College Station, will take over the role of president and CEO of the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute July 23. He graduated from Baylor in 1998 with a degree in museum studies.
McKinney, a native of Dallas, graduated with a degree in history from the University of Oklahoma. He and his wife, Linda, have been married for 35 years. They have four children: Mario, Nick, Marlene and Kathleen; and eight grandchildren.
Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley recently sat down with McKinney in his office at the Dr Pepper Museum, a space filled with, naturally enough, Dr Pepper memorabilia. Their talk meandered from McKinney’s career to food and books and music.
WACOAN: So when is your official last day?
McKinney: The board meeting is on August 16. I came on August 15, 2000, and so I’m going to be 18 years and one day it looks like. That will be the way it works.
WACOAN: What prompted retirement?
McKinney: My 70th birthday this year and 40 years in the museum business. I could have gone on, but other people want to do more here. It was just time for me to do that and step aside.
WACOAN: You still seem like you have your health, in good shape and everything. So how are you going to spend your time?
McKinney: I’ve got a couple of volunteer things that I do. I’ve been involved in scouting for a very long time, Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow [the National Honor Society of Boy Scouts of America] and all those kinds of things.
And I’ve been on the national committee for the National Scouting Museum for several years. It’s being moved from Irving to Philmont, and I’m part of a task force that is determining what to do with some of the collection. They’ve got huge amounts of duplicates and things like that, that we’re trying to reduce the collection just to the very best stuff. So the committee’s working on that. And we do some temporary shows and exhibitions at the national jamborees. So I have some volunteer work to do with that.
I may do some volunteer work up in Irving. A friend of mine who’s in charge of the city museums in Irving wants me to come up and help with some stuff. There will be several projects like that.
WACOAN: The scouting museum is moving from Irving to where?
McKinney: Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. They have a couple of libraries and things up there already, and they’re building a new building to house the collection of things. It will be nice.
WACOAN: Let’s talk about your 18 years here. When you started, the museum had one building and a parking lot, and that was it. And so, there’s been a lot of change.
McKinney: There has been. The previous director, Joe Cavanaugh, really was a hands-on kind of guy, and so the renovation of that old building and tearing out the old parts and putting in new stuff and getting it ready to open in the early ’90s was right up his alley. He did very good at that.
He was here until 2000. So I think he had been there about 12 years. And then he went down to Fredericksburg at the Museum of the Pacific War, which is spectacular. It’s really very nice.
I was over in New Mexico, and my dad [in Dallas], who was getting on in years, started having some physical problems and really needed more help. And this was the closest I could get on short notice.
I had been here before at some of the museum meetings in Texas and visited here. So when it became available, I knew Calvin Smith who used to work at Baylor and kind of started the Mayborn [Museum] project. He was the Strecker Museum director for years. I bumped into him at a national meeting of museums, and he said, ‘We’ve got an opening there at Dr Pepper in Waco. Are you interested in coming back to Texas?’
And I was happy in New Mexico, and my wife was very happy in New Mexico. It was beautiful over there. But the needs of the family were outweighing that. I had to be close enough to where I could drive up and take him to the doctor when he had his appointments and things. And then the last couple of years of his life, he lived down here in Waco with us. He lived to be almost 88, just a couple months short of 88. So I hope I have his genetics. We shall see. But at least he was healthy most of his life.
“I knew Jack from Texas Association of Museum meetings. I had known him for a while. When Joe decided to head to greener pastures, I talked to Jack at an association meeting about what he was planning. I started talking to him about Dr Pepper and the potential there and how much good he could do at Dr Pepper. He said, ‘I like that.’
An incredible amount of progress has been made. [Cavanaugh and McKinney] have contributed not only to the community but to my students at Baylor and subsequent students who have interned there and been a part of the program. It’s been a very mutually beneficial association the whole time.
— Calvin Smith, who established and was chair of the museum studies program at Baylor and was director of the Strecker Museum and Mayborn Museum Complex.
McKinney: But I made the move back over here, and I had a lot of friends because I had been in Texas museums for several years. I was the director of the science center and planetarium in Amarillo and was over in the Children’s Museum and Science Center in New Mexico when I decided to move back. The Science Place in Fair Park, which merged with another museum to become the Perot [Museum of Nature and Science], I was there for a great many years.
I have a history degree from the University of Oklahoma, but I never had used it particularly. It was always science and children’s museums. I thought, ‘Wow. A history place, a history degree.’ It’s been a lot of fun, because the board here was willing to expand and had that need to make things bigger, and when they looked at my resume, I think they saw that I had added to each institution that I was in. There was always a new wing or a new building involved in that. So that’s kind of what makes me happy I guess is doing that.
And so, we sat down and revised the plan that they had earlier fixated on, that they were going to buy another building. We’ve really created a campus with the parking lot on one side of the street and the courtyard that’s between the two, which people use all the time. We’ve got some canopies out there that people can sit under, especially in cooler weather.
WACOAN: So this building, across the courtyard from the original museum, used to be Caritas. When did the museum acquire it?
McKinney: 2002, I think. And then it was a couple more years before [Caritas] got the funding to where they could start on the other building and move. So we gave them that time. There was asbestos abatement to do in here. The building was actually in very good shape.
The building over there, the original museum building, was built in 1906, and it was built as a bottling plant, which was very rare, that the business was big enough to accommodate a plant like that. But Dr Pepper kept getting bigger. The syrup factory and the bottling, growing and growing, and they really couldn’t do it in a barn anymore.
They wanted a building where they could actually make the syrup and do the bottling and purify the water all in one place and do that. And so they took the vacant lot and built that building. It stayed there until I think the mid-’60s when canning became bigger, instead of bottles, and they didn’t feel like they had room in there for a canning lot, so they went out on Franklin and put a facility there for canning and bottling.
[The original building] lay vacant for a long time until Wilton Lanning and some other people said, ‘Let’s make a museum out of this.’ And it took several years for them to get Dr Pepper’s attention and get them motivated to doing it. But they put it all together.
So we started taking a look here and said, ‘What do we need?’ And the traditional sort of fountain that was in there was the 1800s and 1890s, and we decided to go to more of a ’50s soda fountain over here. The soda fountain wasn’t really native to that building. It was a bottling plant, so we didn’t feel like we were violating history or anything by not putting that in there. And then it gave us a lot more room for the gift shop. And they were separately located in two different rooms, so it was easy for the customer, if the kids say, ‘Dad, I want a T-shirt,’ for Dad to say, ‘Let’s just go get an ice cream.’ That’s what they did. Now, with it all together, it’s a better sales thing.
If you look at any traveling exhibit like ‘King Tut’ or anything like that, they always exit through the gift shop. It’s always set up so that you go through the whole thing, see all this stuff, go out, and get a King Tut T-shirt or whatever you want. So, we were just employing that strategy there to do that.
Our collection was in closets over there in several places and scattered throughout the building. We took the back 8,000 square feet of this building and put the collection storage all in one continuous area there. And that has served us very well. And we have a basement beneath this building that I think is about 8,000 square feet.
And we have added more collection stuff from Dr Pepper Snapple because they finally realized that their core business was selling soda, not taking care of objects, and that they had a museum that would take care of stuff for them. And so, they moved their entire collection down here in, I think 2007, early 2008. I made a proposal to the CEO in 2005, I think, that they get out of the museum business themselves and let us take over. It took them a while.
But that’s when Cadbury Schweppes out of London owned Dr Pepper. Everything was slow. They had to go over to London to make decisions and everything. But in the end, the British like museums. Who would have thought? You go over there, and there’s about a billion museums in Great Britain. So, they liked it, and they gave us a major gift for our expansion to help pay for that and move the collection. That was a good move on their part.
We had a pretty good collection to begin with. They added theirs to it. We’ve acquired some other things. Our collection is not as big as Coke. Coke has 2-3 million objects I think in their collection, but it’s all Coke. It’s all their brands. We collect Coke, we have Pepsi, we have Mountain Dew, we have the 50 brands or so that Snapple Group owns, and tons of miscellaneous stuff. So in terms of being broad, we probably have the best collection in the world.
WACOAN: Of soda …?
McKinney: Soda pop memorabilia. Cans, bottles, cartons, crates, posters, advertisements and stuff like that. We have stuff from the breadth of the industry really.
WACOAN: Do you have any idea how many objects the museum has?
McKinney: Guessing at it, I would say 200,000 to 250,000 objects.
WACOAN: How many are on display?
McKinney: Five percent probably at any one time. But that’s typical of the natural history museum or any others. A very small percentage is what’s on display. You’ve got to rotate your exhibits and be able to come up with different things.
We just did an exhibit last year on the World’s Fair, for two reasons. One, because many major soft drinks were introduced for the first time at world’s fairs. Highers was I think in Philadelphia in the 1870s I believe. Cherry Coke was in Knoxville [in 1982]. Dr Pepper in 1904 in St. Louis.
Plus, our free enterprise institute. Our thing there in entrepreneurship that we teach in our programs. Many inventions were premiered at world’s fairs. The Ferris wheel. The first Ferris wheel was in Chicago I think in the 1890s. But different things like that. So, it fit into entrepreneurship as well.
We’re doing an exhibit right now called ‘Eat Well, Play Well,’ which is from a science center in Oregon, and it’s very hands-on. It’s got a lot of things for kids to play in, which fit my background, coming from science centers.
This fall, we’ve got an exhibit coming on clean water. But the logic behind that is, Dr Pepper gives a lot to the nature conservancy. It’s one of their biggest places and a couple others because the more they have to do to clean the water, the more Dr Pepper costs to make. Clean water’s essential to soft drinks, and the right pH and everything else. Polluted water doesn’t help anybody. So that’s one of the big things, and we’re doing that in the fall. It’s just a feature to why that would be important to the soft drink industry and to everybody really, for human beings to have clean water.
We try not to do everything about a soft drink. But, for instance, next year’s the 75th anniversary of Sunkist. We want to do a Sunkist display. Last year, Vernors, which is out of Michigan, it’s in the [Dr Pepper Snapple] portfolio now, which is a ginger ale type of drink. We did a display in one of our cases on the anniversary of Vernors, and we pulled out all our Vernors stuff that we had and did that. We try to hit those highlights of those things.
WACOAN: You talk about your collection. Is there a holy grail of something that the museum doesn’t have that you want? Or do you have pretty much an example of everything that’s out there?
McKinney: The 10-2-4 Collectors’ Club is kind of a support group of the museum, but they’ve been around a long time, and they have a lot of collectors. They have a few things. Guys will have stuff from the Old Corner Drug Store, things like that, that we may not have, from the very birth of Dr Pepper.
Our relationship with them allows them to loan things to us if we need it. But there are some things that they definitely have, rarer stuff that we don’t have particularly. It’s good to have that relationship with them. Now several of those people, as they’ve gotten older and downsized, have moved a lot of their collection to the museum and given it to us, which is a good symbiotic relation with them. They meet here in Waco, over in the Hilton hotel, they have their annual meeting. And we host an open house here. Our staff does seminars and things for their members, so it’s worked very well. A lot of their older members now have given stuff back to us. It’s wonderful.
WACOAN: I read that a few years ago, a gentleman found this ledger that was from the drug store that had a recipe in it that might have been Dr Pepper, might not have been. Do you know where that ledger ended up? I know it went up for auction once and didn’t sell.
McKinney: Yeah. It didn’t sell for what they wanted. He may still have it, or he sold it privately if he didn’t.
What that looked like to us, and we saw some of the pages out of it, photo scans of them, someone was mixing something that could have been similar. It could have been [pharmacist Charles] Alderton. Some of the handwriting didn’t look the same. They had us try to authenticate some handwriting in there, and it didn’t seem to match for either Alderton or Wade Morrison, who owned the place. But it was definitely a concoction of some sort to make medicine taste better.
We don’t know all the 23 flavors. Dr Pepper keeps that in the vault. But our collection is pretty fantastic, and it’s something we don’t really toot the horn about as much as we could, I guess. Because when you’ve got something that’s the best in the world, it would be good to let people know that a little more. But we’ve certainly got a lot of brands and a lot of examples of bottles and cans and posters and art. A lot of it original art too. We’ve got boxes and boxes downstairs of sketches and drawings and layouts for magazine ads and things like that that were hand done.
WACOAN: Do you have a favorite item in the collection?
McKinney: We’ve got four oil paintings that are by an artist named Gil Elvgren. He was a pinup artist in the ’30s. And he did some commercial work though, a lot of them. His work is very, very nice. We keep one of them on display in the Treasures of Dr Pepper room over there, and it’s of Orange Crush. I grew up drinking Orange Crush, and I saw and liked that particularly well too. That’s just a very, very nice piece. I don’t get tired of going over there and looking. We rotate the four of them around. But I still don’t get tired of looking at those particularly.
Pedal cars. I like those because those were something that were in the early ’50s, my childhood, and I remember going down to the grocery store and putting your name and address in the hopper, and if they called your name, you got the pedal car. Of course, they did that to get names and addresses and send out coupons that the store did. It was a great attraction there. And then later bicycles and wagons, things like that. But the pedal cars, always a great collectable, always fun to see that.
“I’m very pleased with the leadership Jack has brought to the museum. He came in at a time when we had a very popular previous leader in Joe Cavanaugh. Jack followed and brought a fresh view. I’m really pleased with Joe and pleased with Jack. The board was really fortunate to have Joe and to have Jack, and I hope our new leadership can carry on what Joe started and that Jack has led, with the growth and stepping into the new expansion.
~~Jim Hardwick, who was chair of the board of directors of the Dr Pepper Museum when McKinney was hired. Hardwick was on the board from 1990 until he recently moved into a role as adviser to the board.
WACOAN: Before you came to the museum, did you drink Dr Pepper?
McKinney: Oh yeah. I actually have a picture of me from the 1970s drinking a Dr Pepper. And I knew who Mr. Clements was. W.W. “Foots” Clements, who was the CEO of Dr Pepper. I think everybody growing up in Dallas knew where the Dr Pepper plant was on Mockingbird [Lane] and knew who the head of that was and everything else.
That was just one of the best things about my career here was getting to work with him the last two years of his life. When I came here, he was on the team that interviewed me. So by the end I think he was emeritus of Dr Pepper. He still had an office there in Plano. A guy that had helped me do some fundraising in Amarillo and Dallas and was on my resume as a reference had, unbeknownst to me, done the same things with Mr. Clements, I think with maybe Easter Seals or something else. And so when he saw this guy on my resume, he picked up the phone. He knew one of my main boosters on my resume, and I think that helped me a lot to get the job.
That’s been a long 40 years in doing this. I came out of college and, like a lot of college kids, I thought I knew what I wanted to do in life. And then I did it, and it didn’t work out as well.
WACOAN: You’ve been in the museum business for 40 years, and you said your 70th birthday is this year. So what did you do between college and 30?
McKinney: Rock show security.
WACOAN: Rock ‘n’ roll? Really?
McKinney: When I was in Boy Scouts, before I even went to the University of Oklahoma, my scoutmaster was a deputy sheriff and a bailiff in Dallas, both. But we’d go in uniform and do the Harlem Globetrotters and roller derby and Ringling Bros. circus. We’d be ushers, and they would pay the troupe and that money would go for our summer camp.
When I went off to college, that business kept going. And when I came back, they were doing a much broader thing and using a lot of the older scouts, Explorers, and people like that, in their teens and 20s. And we did most of the ushering. They had some men that were in scouting at one time and likely had been scoutmasters, and they did the ticket taking, and then we did the ushering. Occasionally, we did backstage security, patrolling the backdoor and sometimes by the front of the stage so that people couldn’t mob the stage and things like that.
I have a famous picture of me that some lady snapped with Elvis standing behind me. It’s hard to tell it’s Elvis, but he’s in a white suit, and it is Elvis. We’re saying, ‘Stay back, stay back,’ and this lady put her camera up and snapped the picture. So, she takes it to Eckerds [Pharmacy]. And Eckerds, in those days, when you developed the picture, if it was blurry, they would throw it out. You only paid for your pictures that were good. But my mother worked at Eckerds, so she’s going through this lady’s pictures and sees me standing in front of Elvis. So, she runs more copies and prints it out for me. But what are the odds of that?
WACOAN: Where was that?
McKinney: That was in Dallas in Memorial Auditorium, I believe.
WACOAN: What year?
McKinney: Boy. That would have been ’72, ’73, ’74, in there. Elvis was a little paunchy in those days. He was getting a little older. But he still drew a crowd. He drew a huge crowd.
One of the more interesting ones was Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin. They were practicing for a tour, so they rented Memorial Auditorium, was about 8,000 or 9,000 [seats], somewhere in there I think. And they set up their stuff, and they would come every evening and play. And we had to have people there guarding their instruments all night. Two or three of us had the evening shift for four or five days in a row. And we’d get down there and relieve the other guys around 5, and then we’d spend the night.[The band] would show up at some point in the evening, all of them. Evidently, one of them was slower than the others, and they would get mad. But Robert Plant would stand up on stage and kick soccer balls out into the seats, and we would chase them down and throw them back to him. That was a fantastic.
And they had in their contract rider for this enormous buffet every evening in the dressing room. After it was over, we would go in there and eat it because they barely touched it. There were cookies, there was brownies, there was salad, there was roast chicken, all this stuff. And they didn’t even mess with it. They went out to dinner somewhere. But according to their rider, they had to have all this stuff. Perrier water and all that kind of stuff was in there. So, we’d go in, eat, sit there, and guard their instruments the rest of the night and just tell stories.
WACOAN: What got you out of the rock ‘n’ roll security business into museums?
McKinney: My health. [Laughs.] Because our typical day was to sleep and not get up until noon or 1 o’clock and then be down at the venue by 4:30 or 5 o’clock, work until midnight or 1, usually until the show was completely over and stuff was hauled out, and then we’d go out and eat breakfast somewhere, you know, at the pancake house.
But the wife of one of the partners in the company was a teacher at North Dallas High, a biology teacher. And she got tired of teaching, I guess, and went to the Dallas Health and Science Museum as their educator, and that was there in Fair Park. And she was there for just a couple of months, and she came to me and said, ‘Jack, didn’t you work at summer camp?’ I said, ‘Yeah, all my way through college and everything. I worked for Boy Scouts as summer camp staff.’ She said, ‘Well, would you know how to organize a summer program? I have to organize one for the Health and Science Museum.’ I said, ‘Well, OK.’
So I did that for a couple years for her for the summer program, and then she had hired me to be the education assistant, and a year or so later, she moved up to be the director of the museum, and I became the education director, and I did that from about ’78 to ’87. So about nine years there at Fair Park in Dallas. And then I decided, well, it’s time to get out on my own and make some more money. I did OK at the Science Place. The money was fine and everything, but I wanted to do more. And so, I interviewed for the director’s job in Amarillo and got it. And I spent about eight years there, and then onto New Mexico and then back over here.
It’s been an interesting career. I finally get to use my history degree here. But mainstream science and stuff like that, that’s all in the Boy Scouts. We had things like that. It worked the same as a summer camp.
WACOAN: So, you’re an Eagle Scout?
McKinney: I’m an Eagle Scout.
WACOAN: How old were you when you got Eagle Scout?
McKinney: Just a month or two before I turned 12.
WACOAN: And you met your wife at a museum?
McKinney: We did.
WACOAN: Which museum?
McKinney: The Health and Science Museum. They had a preschool, and my wife had two children and was divorced. She brought them to the museum and decided to volunteer at the museum while they were in classes there. I think she really didn’t like me the first time she met me. She thought I was a little arrogant perhaps, or whatever.
Like every mother who brings their 3- and 4-year-olds to an early preschool experience, if they cry or something when mommy hands them to the teacher or the teacher aid, it’s always, ‘I’ve got to go check on my kid to make sure he’s all right.’ Well when you’ve got 150 mothers then, and it was a big program, it’s hard to let everyone go. And I said, ‘Ma’am, your kid is all right. There’s nothing wrong. He’ll be fine.’ And she kept bugging me and bugging me while I was trying to solve payment problems and things. And so finally, I said, ‘OK, we’ll go down there.’ And of course, he was sitting in the lap of the teacher just laughing and having fun. And as soon as he saw her, he started crying again. So, I said, ‘See, that’s why we don’t do this.’
So she shows up for the first day several months later to volunteer and lead tours for the school groups while the kids are in preschool, and there I was the teacher for that. And she said, ‘I almost quit. I decided I wouldn’t do it because it was you.’ But over time, nature takes its course.
WACOAN: So somebody told me that you’re a fan of barbecue. Is it eating barbecue or cooking barbecue or both?
McKinney: I can cook it. Eating it is much more fun than cooking it. But I can cook it pretty fair. Ribs and brisket. But I’ve eaten at a lot of different places over the country. And not just Texas. I try barbecue in Chicago and Memphis and St. Louis and different hubs of barbecue like that.
WACOAN: What’s your favorite?
McKinney: I think the beef brisket here in Texas is awfully, awfully good. But Memphis has some very good ribs. Now, St. Louis and Kansas City are both OK. They’re not exactly my favorites. But I was once in St. Louis, and we went to an area of town that was a little bit seedy, like most barbecue areas, and I had snouts.
McKinney: Which is the pig nose smoked and sliced into rings, about like a silver dollar with two holes in it. And it was dipped in sauce and everything else, but they smoked the whole hog, and they sliced up the nose. Now, that’s pretty interesting.
WACOAN: How was that?
McKinney: A little chewy, but tasty. They had a little bit of texture to them, and it was pretty tasty.
One day, I was here and the phone rang. It was the other building. They said, ‘There’s somebody over here who is a barbecue guy, and we told him that you liked barbecue, and he wants to talk to you.’ And it was Daniel Vaughn, who is the barbecue editor for Texas Monthly.
I knew of him prior to Texas Monthly because he wrote this book and he had a big website that was Full Custom Gospel BBQ. And at that time, he was writing a book called the ‘Prophets of Smoked Meat,’ which is what propelled him to Texas Monthly. And if you look on page 241, I’m there. ‘I met Jack McKinney, the director of the Dr Pepper Museum. We went out on the porch and was sipping a Dr Pepper and talking about where the best barbecue in Central Texas was.’ So, I’ve got that book, and I’m very proud of that.
WACOAN: As you should be.
McKinney: But yeah. I’ve gone out and visited some of them. The little ones and the big ones these days. I know where Franklin [Barbecue in Austin] is, and I’ve driven by it and seen that line. A guy that I trust told me the other day that I really need to go do the line and go ahead and do it because he said that barbecue has changed all the barbecue in Texas.
WACOAN: Have you gone to Guess Family Barbecue?
McKinney: Yes. It’s over across the street there in that little place, and he brought over a tray for the museum people, and we sat here and ate ribs and beef, and I’ve tasted it all. I’m waiting for his permanent location. He’s getting ready to go permanent now.
Now, the Honky Tonk BBQ, they were operating out of a trailer for a while, and they were across the street in the lot right there and set up there several times, and we ate his barbecue too. And now they’ve got a permanent location in that new shopping area there by Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. My best around here that I like is the Bunkhouse Barbeque in Clifton if you’ve ever been out there.
WACOAN: I have not.
McKinney: I like what they do there. I like their ribs particularly. Sometimes, I tell people the best barbecue in Waco is not in Waco. It’s in Clifton. But there’s so much around, and so much of it’s opinion, but I do love it.
WACOAN: Are there any recipes you like using Dr Pepper?
McKinney: Baked beans. And of course, here, I have access to the syrup because we make our Dr Pepper from concentrated syrup here at the fountain. And we sell it in little bottles here too. So you use that syrup concentrate in with baked beans, instead of maybe so much molasses or honey or whatever you put in your baked beans. I kind of blend in the Dr Pepper syrup, and it’s got some good flavor to it.
WACOAN: Did you get the recipe from a book? Did y’all come up with it?
McKinney: I think I’ve seen the recipe in a book, but I just used it, added, tasted, until it got to what I want. And depending on how many cans of beans I’m cooking, I vary the amount. I try not to overpower but with the fruitiness and the flavor, it comes through.
And I’ve used 7UP concentrate to make vinaigrette dressing for salads. It’s got that lemon-lime flavor. And I’ve added in a little oil and a little more vinegar, tossed up a little bit on salad. And Big Red syrup is very good on grilled chicken. I put a little on there to begin with, let it sit for a while and soak in. Salt and pepper seasoning. We put it on the grill and kind of brush it. After I’ve turned it a couple of times and then brush it and bring it in. Then it’s got kind of a teriyaki kind of flavor there.
WACOAN: You sell all those syrups or just the Dr Pepper?
McKinney: No, we sell all of them here at the gift shop there. There are some toppings you can buy for ice cream, and you could use those too. Yeah, I like all of that stuff. I enjoy cooking. I can do most of the cooking. I just never clean up. So, my wife limits my cooking at times.
But one of the biggest weaknesses I think here in Waco is chef-owned restaurant type of places. We’ve got restaurants and enough decent food and good food here. But the difference in us and Austin and Dallas is such-and-such person as a personality chef. They have Stephan Pyles and Dean Fearing. And those guys started small. We need to publicize, I think, more who the chefs are here in town that are really chefs, that are really trained people because we just don’t have that personality here that would draw people to come and eat so-and-so’s food.
I go eat like at Alpha Omega. Great food, great place to eat, and everything else. But if that person had a chef persona, right, that would make the restaurant stronger to have that. And I think that’s the only thing we’re lacking here in the food arena is having named people building a reputation here.
WACOAN: Your neighbor is Magnolia. Since they went into the TV business …
McKinney: We topped 140,000 visitors last year. I think we’re on pace to do 150,000 this year.
WACOAN: Previous, you would have about how many a year usually?
McKinney: Sixty-five thousand. I think the record was 75,000 one year. I think it was mostly in the 60,000s. That’s a big impact financially for us. We were careful to go see them right as they opened to tell them that if they needed additional parking, we would welcome people to park in our lot as well. Because we knew that if they parked in our lot, 90 percent of them would come to us.
Anyway, it was pretty tight over there when it opened. The [Veterans Affairs] Regional Office is on one side, and it has a lot of parking, but it’s all numbered. And the church at that time had parking, but I don’t know that they perceived what Chip and Joanna were necessarily, and so they were fencing off the parking a little bit more. So, they directed people over to our lot and passed out coupons for us, and that was very, very helpful. I think now that First Baptist Church gets more in parking than they do in the [offering] plate.
WACOAN: The church has embraced the parking.
McKinney: And they’ve been able to fix the roof. They’ve been able to remodel this and that. That’s just good money for them. It’s an opportunity, and they finally seized it.
“Jack is definitely a mentor to me. I wanted to work in a museum, and I wanted on-the-job training while I was in school. He gives people the chance to prove themselves and grow, and I grew a lot in the different roles I had there. He allowed a lot of room for growth and experimentation with different things. I was at the museum when social media became a thing. He trusted me when I said it was important for us to use those for the museum. He gave me a chance at a job when he literally had no reason to.”
~~Mary Beth Farrell, who has worked at the Dr Pepper Museum for 14 years. She previously worked in collections and is now the museum’s communications manager.
WACOAN: Are you reading anything good right now?
McKinney: I read Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, ‘Born to Run.’ He wrote it himself, and you can tell it. It’s sort of lyrical in places. If you’ve ever heard him talk, it’s kind of stream-of-consciousness type of thing like that. And I really enjoyed it. We really enjoyed it. And the reason — he’s not my favorite all time. I like his music. I think he does a good job, but I got into a drawing through Ticketmaster Verified Fan and was selected to be able to buy two tickets for his concert on Broadway. I said, you know, Bruce Springsteen, 900-seat theater by himself, solo acoustical, it’s probably worth doing.
So my wife and I flew up there just before Memorial Day. Lots of [the show] was taken from the autobiography, but his delivery of it was as emotional as it could get. It was one of the more emotional things I’ve ever seen on Broadway. And he really made a connection with people.
The passages he had written about his dad and his dad’s depression that he struggled with most of his life and how it affected their relationship right up until he died and his mom and how she never divorced his dad, or anything. She stayed with him forever, how much he loved his mom, and the Catholic church down the street that they went to. Incredible, incredible show. I’d say the autobiography is worth reading. It’s definitely worth reading.
WACOAN: Who do you like to listen to? If Bruce isn’t your favorite.
McKinney: Jackson Browne is probably my favorite all-time. But I never thought that at my advanced age I would find a young group I actually liked. But there’s a group called Dawes, that I am really, really into and love their work. They’re just getting started, but over the last couple or three years, they’ve moved up.
WACOAN: What kind of music are they?
McKinney: Hard to define really. It’s not folk at all. There’s an electric guitar and drums, piano and everything else. Maybe indie rock is probably what you would call it. But the guy that writes most of their songs, Taylor Goldsmith, he and his brother [Griffin] are both in the group together. He writes most of the songs and the lyrics. And the lyrics really, really speak to me, which I thought, wow, this is crazy. And he’s 34, 35, something.
But, they’re going to tour this fall. It’s really a different, it’s just surprising. It’s very surprising that I would even like them with the age that they are.