To Lee Bankston, recipes are just “general guidelines.” She grew up cooking in her grandmothers’ and mother’s kitchens, always trying out new ideas. Sometimes successfully. Other times less so. But even today, she still enjoys deviating from recipes and making the food her own. After years as a stay-at-home mom, what started as the occasional home-cooked meal for a friend in need, Bankston turned into a home catering business and eventually a restaurant, Butter My Biscuit, which shares its location with the family’s game store, King’s Landing.
Like many business owners, when the pandemic required Bankston to pause eat-in service at the restaurant, she had to adapt. Bankston recently shared what it’s like having her kids in the kitchen, why church cookbooks are her favorite and how she’s sharing her rustic pot pie recipe with Wacoans.
WACOAN:: How did your restaurant come to be?
Bankston:: Funnily enough, I’m really supposed to be a teacher by education. I was an elementary teacher and then just a stay-at-home mom for like 17 years with my little kids.
My pastor’s wife, I always give her flak because she’s really the one who started all this. You know how we do when somebody has a baby or something happens, you always take people food. I just brought her food for several things, and everybody in church, I would always bring them food. She was like, ‘Lee, people would pay for your food.’ And I was like, ‘That is just ridiculous. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ She kind of put the idea in my head and kept harassing me about it. So, I just randomly started making tamales. Why not?
I started selling tamales. We called it Tamale Tuesday. My first daughter, who was in college, that was my little contribution to help pay for college. I would send out texts to my friends, and then they’d be like, ‘OK, my friend so-and-so wants on your text.’ OK. Sure. And so that kind of grew and grew. I had this big list of people.
I got bored with tamales and went, ‘OK, so this week I’m just going to see if people will buy something else random.’ I forget what meal I came up with now, but I texted out, ‘This is what I’m going to make this Tuesday.’ And they were like, ‘OK.’ People would just come by my house and pick up food and take it home. That started that, and then people would be like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a Christmas party. Would you do this?’ It just kind of started out with friends and family.
Then Brent, my husband — we own Bankston’s — he was looking at the spot where Butter My Biscuit is now. It was right after Pizza Patron closed, and he was looking over there just to have another gaming facility for his business. He wanted a place to host tournaments and things. So, he looks over there, and they had the stuff you have to have for a commercial kitchen, and he just calls me, ‘Hey, I think I have a kitchen for you.’ And I was like, ‘What? Oh, OK.’ Initially, I was going to feed gamers on Friday and Saturday nights while they had tournaments. Then the next thing you know, people wanted to come more often than that. We started opening up during the week for lunch, and this is where we’re at. We really never intended to open a restaurant.
WACOAN:: If you started with tamales, how did you land on biscuits as your main item?
Bankston:: I kept looking at all of the foods I was cooking. One of my favorite things, obviously, is Mexican food, and I loved it, but I also would cater hors d’oeuvres, eggplant parmesan, lasagna or stir fry. I thought, ‘There’s no way you can put all these things on a menu and do them all every day. So, what can I do?’ We’re from the South, and biscuits are yummy. You can put anything on a biscuit. It was my thought that it will go with everything, and it was just kind of a common thread. I don’t know why I landed on biscuits to be 100 percent honest, but it made sense at the time.
WACOAN:: What’s your favorite thing to put on a biscuit?
Bankston:: My very favorite thing to put on a biscuit is when I make the Texas biscuit bowls. The Texas is the jalapeno cheese biscuits, and my favorite thing is to make a biscuit bowl and then put Fritos and homemade chili and all the toppings on there and have a biscuit bowl, Frito pie.
WACOAN:: That sounds delicious.
Bankston:: It’s very good. I’m trying to be better now. These are crazy times right now, and so we haven’t done dinner specials for a while, so I’ve tried to do a few things for lunch so people can have something besides breakfast. We started doing Fried Chicken Fridays, and it’s just a deep-fried chicken breast, and you put that on the biscuit like a big sandwich, and you can either cover it with gravy, or we do the spicy style with our Fierce Pimiento Cheese, but girl, I just love food. If you get me going, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, you can eat this or this,’ which is how I ended up here. I dream in food.
WACOAN:: Where did your love for food and cooking come from?
Bankston:: My grandmothers and my mom were all great cooks. My whole family cooks. I don’t really feel like I’m that exceptional. We all cook. That’s what we’ve always done.
I started cooking dinner for my family when I was 14. My mom was a working mom, and we had to have dinner on the table by the time she got home at 5:15. I was just always creating random stuff, looking at cookbooks or trying to come up with things on my own.
I’ve always liked to just play with food. I always thought that was fun. There’s been some failures along the way. My ideas don’t always work, and my family will still tease me about things that I served when I was 14 and 15, and they laugh about it. I’m like, ‘You know, I was trying.’
WACOAN:: From either growing up or now, do you have any favorite cookbooks, cooking shows or celebrity chefs?
Bankston:: I loved looking at cookbooks all growing up. I kind of have a cookbook obsession. I just love them.
To me, the best cookbooks that I still use with recipes that I do over and over are ones that are put out by churches. It’s just local people and what we really cook. It’s what you see on people’s tables all the time. They’re just real. I love all those for banana bread and all the things these little old ladies have been cooking in their family forever. You just find some really true recipes of things that people love to eat.
We’ve all looked at Pinterest, which is so much fun. You can lose hours of your life on that, but then you make some of the recipes and you’re like, ‘That’s not what that was supposed to be.’ And you never do that, I feel like, with those little old church cookbooks. I feel like they’re always good. I do have a tendency to not follow them very well though, so that’s probably on me too somewhat.
I look at recipes, and I’m like, ‘These are just kind of a general guideline,’ and then you do what you want with them. I think that’s what everybody kind of does.
WACOAN:: Or you might not have something in your pantry, so you kind of make do.
Bankston:: Yes! Exactly. ‘Well, I’ve got this instead, that should work.’
I don’t really have a single favorite [celebrity chef], but as far as watching food shows, I freaking love ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.’ I love watching [the host, Guy Fieri,] go in other restaurant kitchens because I did not come into this business having had any experience, and I love seeing all these other professional kitchens and how these people create food. It’s just so much fun. And I’ll always say, ‘One of these days, if he ever comes to my kitchen, that’s when I’ll know I’ve really made it.’ If he ever comes to my kitchen, then we’re in business.
WACOAN:: My family loves watching that show, too, especially if we know that we’re going to visit one of the cities featured.
Bankston:: We totally are like, ‘OK, we have got to go to this city because we want to eat there.’ We will plan vacations around food.
WACOAN:: Yep, that’s definitely my family as well. On our road trip to the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, I think my dad had us stop at every barbecue place along the way.
Bankston:: I love that. That is so something we would do. I get it.
WACOAN:: You were once a stay-at-home mom, so how old are your kids now?
Bankston:: I have a 24-year-old, a 19-year-old, and my baby is 16.
WACOAN:: I saw some videos on Facebook of your kids helping out during the quarantine, so is it a family business?
Bankston:: Yes. They help us out. We are very much a family business. My oldest daughter was at Texas A&M when we started [Butter My Biscuit], and so she didn’t work there, but the youngest two did. She finished, moved to Dallas, but we managed to hire her back as our manager, so she moved back to Waco to work for us.
Over quarantine, nobody had school, so my other Aggie who’s [attending] A&M right now, she got sent home. So, we were all working. Everybody moved back home, even my oldest daughter. She just bought a house in October, but she still came back home. At first with this quarantine, everybody’s like, ‘I don’t know what this means, and it’s kind of scary,’ so she came back home. We’re all five living here, getting up, going to work every day.
It was a fun adventure, but I tell people all the time, my kids are my very best employees. They cook like I cook, they know what I want in the kitchen, and they’re right there. They work hard. I’m so proud of how my kids have done with this. I know they don’t love going to work all the time, but they do it. If somebody can’t make it to work, I can always call on one of my kids, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I’ll come in. I’ll come do it, Mom.’ It’s a phenomenal feeling knowing that they’re able to do it and willing to do it. I just love having them there.
WACOAN:: How did your business adapt to the recent situation?
Bankston:: As soon as we heard what was going to happen — all the banks and the small business association said furlough your employees and file for unemployment for everyone so they can get it faster, so that was the first thing we did. We were so concerned. We didn’t want anybody to have to do without. That was very stressful knowing that we had so many people dependent on us, but if we couldn’t make any money, obviously it was scary, but we had to let all of our employees go on furlough. Everybody did it. It worked out well, and the kids and my husband and I, we were our only staff that whole time.
We had to close down Bankston’s completely and King’s Landing as well, but we were able to keep the restaurant running. We did curbside though that whole time. It was just me and the kids in the kitchen. We were taking phone orders and taking everything out to the curb. We were thankful that we did have people that still came and ate. They still came and picked up and took it home.
We changed a few things on the menu to make it more family-style so that it was more helpful for people. That worked, and we did do dinner meals just to get extra income. It seemed like people were really looking for stuff like that. They didn’t want to be stuck cooking at home. We worked a little more, stayed a little later. Everybody else got quarantine projects or closets organized, and we just kept going to work.
We shortened our hours a little bit. We closed on Sunday. [Now that it’s reopened,] the gaming store has kind of taken on the hours of Butter My Biscuit. For now. Who knows? I don’t know what’s happening anymore. It’s like everything changes from week to week. It’s just constant adjustment. That’s been the hardest thing, I think, is trying to stay on top of what is required of us. What do we need to do to stay open? Just trying to keep in touch with what’s going on has been interesting.
WACOAN:: Can you tell me about your live, online cooking classes?
Bankston:: Yeah. We did that. I need to do some more. I had so much fun. We had people sign up via our website, and we did the actual class on Zoom. I did it out of my home kitchen just because — hey, why not? That was so much fun for me. I didn’t realize that I could talk for that long, but it worked out. I did it.
I think everybody enjoyed it. We got positive feedback. It starts making me think, ‘Oh, I’d love to do that at the restaurant sometime, too.’ I think that could be so much fun.
WACOAN:: What did you cook?
Bankston:: I did chicken pot pie because I feel like people are so intimidated by a homemade pie crust. So, I was like, ‘Let’s just show people.’ If you never try, you never know. What do you have to lose? You might as well just try.
My pot pies may not be the most beautiful. I like to call them rustic, but people know that you’ve made them. You didn’t go out and just buy them somewhere. They’re perfectly imperfect.
When we were doing the show, I like to put a lot of thyme in my pie, but if you don’t like thyme, then don’t put as much. This is your pie, not mine. Do what you like and what your family likes. Put the vegetables in that your family will eat. That’s always my thing, trying to encourage people to not feel like you just have to look at a recipe and do it exactly. Use what you have and what your family eats.
I think my next one will probably be a fast yeast bread recipe, like for rolls. Do some garlic rolls and homemade marinara to show you that you really don’t have to go buy marinara sauce at the store. It’s really very easy to just make your own, and you can have it all on the table and get it done. I just want people to play with food.
WACOAN:: How long are the cooking classes?
Bankston:: Right at an hour. I sent everybody an ingredient list ahead of time, so you had everything you needed. And so, if they start when I start, and we’re all making it together, at the end of the time, you should have a meal for your family. Now, granted, it may be, ‘Put your chicken pot pie in the oven and then in 45 minutes your meal will be ready,’ but it took us that time together. Then you have the food to show for it and the whole family can eat, and you’re done.
WACOAN:: Did you record the classes?
Bankston:: Well, we tried, and we failed. This whole Zoom-thing, I’m thankful that we had it for this time, but we definitely did not have it perfected by the time we did the classes. I’m hoping by the time we do the next one to have it really figured out. We thought it was automatically recording, and it was not. It was quite the bummer.
WACOAN:: How can people learn about your next class?
Bankston:: We’ll post it on social media, and then obviously we’ll put it on the website, too, so you can register. That’s how I foresee it going in the future when we do it again. Even for hopefully someday when we can all be within 6 feet of one another and have real [in-person] classes, I would like to do it the same way.
WACOAN:: Are you originally from Waco?
Bankston:: Yeah, actually my husband and I are both from here. We’ve lived here all our lives. We both graduated from Robinson [High School], and he and his family started [Bankston’s] when he was 15, and it’s the only job he’s ever had.
WACOAN:: What do guys love about Waco?
Bankston:: For us, it was just our connections here, as far as family and friends. Just like every other teenager, I think I thought I was going to grow up and move somewhere else. Who wants to stay where they grew up? But you know, as I grew up and had children, I did want my kids to be around my parents and all that. Just like I did.
My best memories as a child were at my grandparents’ houses. And that, obviously, was very instrumental in my cooking and such because I was with them in their kitchens. I just wanted my kids to have that same family experience. Nothing else was ever more important or important enough to drag us away.
I love it here. I really do. And especially now, my goodness. The town has grown so much from when I was a kid. There’s so much more to do now. It’s insane.
Lee’s 5 Must-Have Items
1. My Bosch stand mixer. Toughest one around. I’ve burnt up three KitchenAid stand mixers, so those people who love a KitchenAid, don’t start with me!
2. Breville food processor.
3. An immersion blender. There isn’t a sauce that can’t be saved if you have one of these!
4. Bath & Body Works three-wick candles. I always have at least two or three burning at home to make it smell nice. My favorite scents are Leaves, Tis the Season, Sun-Washed Citrus and Island Margarita.
5. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. My favorite “I don’t want to think right now” TV.