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Former Kreuz Market owner Rick Schmidt dies

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com
Rick Schmidt sits at his table at Kreuz Market on Colorado Street in Lockhard in 2014.  [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

The Texas barbecue scene has lost one of its great figures. Former Kreuz Market owner Rick Schmidt died Monday night. He was 73. 

"So long, Dad. We’ll keep the table reserved for you and Evelyn to watch music on Sundays," his son Keith Schmidt posted on Facebook, referencing his stepmother, Evelyn Schmidt, who died last year. "I’ll miss you more than anyone knows, but also know more than anyone how happy you were to see Evelyn’s face in the light."

Rick Schmidt made Kreuz famous on the strength of its beef sausage, pork chops and beef shoulder clod, which would eventually fade in popularity to the ubiquitous brisket. Schmidt also earned more than a little notoriety for what he didn’t offer: forks and barbecue sauce. That policy finally changed in 2017 under the guidance of Keith, to whom Rick sold the business in 2011.

"He refined the Kreuz process back in the early 80’s and kept things simple and consistent," Keith Schmidt said Tuesday of his father's legacy. "Always keep in mind your customer base. They’re what brought you there, so be slow to change. So we only made additions."

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Kreuz Market first opened in 1900. Rick's father, Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt, purchased it in 1948, and Rick and his brother Don Schmidt bought the legendary Lockhart barbecue restaurant from their father in 1984. Don retired from the family business in 1997, and in 1999, Austin-native Rick relocated Kreuz Market from its previous location on Main Street to Colorado Street, near Town Branch creek, following a public dispute with his sister, Nina Sells, who inherited the old brick building on Main Street.

Sells converted the original Kreuz Market location into Smitty’s Market, while Schmidt opened his massive, red-brick building about a mile up the road. The family feud made headlines in Austin and landed the family on an episode of the CBS newsmagazine “48 Hours.''

Schmidt famously oversaw the hauling of coals by his sons Leeman and Keith Schmidt and mutton-chopped pitmaster Roy Perez from the old pit on Main Street to the one at his new cathedral of smoked meats.

The wounds of the family argument of the late 1990s seemed fully healed in 2012, when Keith partnered with Sells’ son, John Fullilove, and Don’s daughter and son-in-law, Susie Schmidt-Franks and Chad Franks, to open Schmidt Family Barbecue in Bee Cave.

Rick Schmidt was a singular character and one who could almost always be found at Kreuz Market during and after his tenure as owner, often at a table made especially for him.

"Rick Schmidt is this sort of godlike figure who controls the place from his table with his mind,” famed Austin barbecue photographer Wyatt McSpadden once told the American-Statesman about the quasi-mythology he and his friends created around what has long been considered one of the state’s best barbecue establishments.

Visitation will be at 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, with an 11 a.m. service at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Maxwell. A reception will follow at at Kreuz Market.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Evelyn Schmidt's relationship to Keith Schmidt. She was his stepmother.