Farmhouse Turns 20

May 16—Brian and Karen (Renfro) Koerselman's partnership, starting when he graduated Sam Houston at age 20, would blend their passions for faith, food, and business development that culminated in the creation of The Farmhouse 20 years ago this month. Celebrations of two decades in serving home-cooked Southern eats will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 17, at 1004 14th Street in Huntsville, according to Brian Koerselman, owner of The Farmhouse Cafe and Bakery.

"I met my wife the very first night I was in there (Casa Tomas) training," said Brian. "She didn't give me the time of day."

Karen, the daughter of Thomas and Jenny Renfro, inherited the food services gene, and carried on her family's local restauranteur tradition. The Renfro's owned and operated the Lamplighter Room, Cafe Texan, and the Warehouse, formerly 16th Street Station. Eventually, they would establish Casa Tomas in Huntsville in 1977, and later expanded it to nine locations. Today, only the Casa Tomas in Nacogdoches survives.

Brian would start working there in 1991, while in undergrad, and was brought into management the same year he and Karen would marry. Around a decade later, the Koerselmans would open The Farmhouse, centering and adapting recipes from Karen's mother and aunts.

"We learned from Tom and Jenny what it really means to be a Mom and Pop restaurant," said Brian. "We took everything they taught us about doing business in Huntsville, and we just kept building on it, because we don't want to be corporate."

Keeping a strong family identity and serving as a launching pad for hardworking SHSU students, became important to the Koerselmans, when establishing Farmhouse. "My parents, and now my husband and I, love Huntsville's identity as a college town, so we work to make sure students can learn and grow in business by working with us," said Karen.

When Farmhouse opened the Koerselmans and the Renfros divided labor on their new endeavor. "I was our hostess, Brian was in the kitchen, and my mother (Jenny) ran the line," said Karen. College students would round out the rest of their team.

"After years of watching Jenny, I learned that to the customer, the food always seems to taste better when she was there, so I learned how important it was to be present, whether I'm actually cooking or not," said Brian. "It's the same hands-on approach I stress to our employees, as they're still students," said Brian.

Brian suggested that the trust placed in him by the Renfro's is what he has, in return, given back to young workers at his successive businesses, including Farmhouse.

"When working with young people, you hope you inspire others, so by placing such trust and responsibility in these students prepares them for careers, family and life," said Brian.

Over the years in the food services industry, the Koerselman's have helped train and usher into business ownership and leadership a number of their former employees.

Zach's Bar and Grill, and presently Tipsy Tio's are local familiar brands that got their relevant experience working with the Koerselmans.

"When we started Farmhouse, everything was right in here, from the restaurant to the gift shop," said Karen, referring to the fact that they planted the seeds to expansion in their early restaurant. "Every step of the way student workers helped us grow, so that we could see after all the expansion possibilities," said Karen.

So when neighboring screen printers, a tanning salon, and a dry-cleaner departed, the Koerselmans leapt at the opportunities to expand in their existing location. As they kept adapting the restaurant, they added a stand-alone gift shop, coffee shop and and custom hats store.

As the Koerselmans reflected on the challenges they've faced since opening Farmhouse, none rivals the Pandemic.

"We had days, not weeks to adapt," said Karen. Once social distancing standards became mandates, the Koerselmans hurriedly modified their facilities to accommodate drive-thru orders, along with prioritizing holding onto their workers.

"We didn't let anyone go, because they were not only our employees, but were adopted into our family," said Brian.

Proud members of Northside Baptist Church, the Koerselmans live out their faith, even through their business. One value they have upheld is keeping Farmhouse an alcohol-free establishment.

"A lot of folks kept telling us we won't make it without liquor, but we knew that the vision we had was right for this community," said Brian. In addition, giving back is another way they enact their beliefs.

"During the pandemic a man donated $7000 to feed the many hungry people lining up to get some food, so if people would thank our Lord, there was a meal given, no questions asked," said Koerselman. "That money went quickly, so we matched them to help more people eat," said Brian.

Regularly the Koerselmans donate to many community causes, but appreciate being able to impact the needs in tangible ways. One other area they have attempted to enhance is in outdoor music downtown.

At their anniversary celebration, Red Dirt Country artist Jared Stock will be performing.

The Koerselmans believe that giving regional musicians a venue to perform, only makes our community more beautiful and livable.

During the Friday celebration, Farmhouse will discount all meals by 20% and all pies will be $20.

"I met my wife the very first night I was in there (Casa Tomas) training," said Brian Koerselman, owner of The Farmhouse Cafe and Bakery. "She didn't give me the time of day," said Koerselman.