Over the years, the Perini Ranch Steakhouse has gained an ever-increasing following, transforming the tiny town of Buffalo Gap, Texas. Today, the steakhouse is world famous.
Tom Perini is a cattle rancher turned hospitality entrepreneur who started the Perini Ranch Steakhouse over 35 years ago. The award-winning restaurant has gained a cult following and transformed the tiny town (population: 463) into a travel destination, with guests visiting from Belgium, Canada, China, El Salvador, England, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, India, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Russia, Spain and Sweden. (And, that was just in March 2019 alone!) Alongside much fanfare, Tom is a James Beard Award-winner and overall amazing man. His story goes beyond a cookbook and extends and into building a community and successful career in West Texas.
Lisa Perini is master of all trades, as she directs and oversees all things Perini Ranch. From curating the selection at their Country Market, to guiding the mail order business, catering and more, her imprint can be felt all around the company. Lisa hails from South Carolina but considers herself a Texan. Always busy, she is an active member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and Les Dames d’Escoffier. Lisa is also proud to serve as managing director and co-founder of the Buffalo Gap Wine Food Summit, now in its 12th season. And, let’s not forget that this bundle of energy is also a Level 1 sommelier.
This charming couple chatted with us about working together in business as the experiences that come along with that.
How did you two meet?
We both were serving on the board of directors for a local nonprofit. After chatting, we realized we had a lot of mutual friends and common interests. Of course, we both shared a love for Texas cuisine and cooking, and the rest is history!
When and why did you start your business?
Perini Ranch has been in the Perini family since 1952, and is still a working ranch in Buffalo Gap. Tom started the business in 1973 with catering, chuck wagon-style, for large ranch events. Chuck wagon-style is catering from a chuck wagon, and all of the food is very traditional, based on common ingredients and cooked the old-fashioned way – with a lot of seasoning and love! Tom soon realized that he enjoyed cooking more than being a cowboy, and opened up the steakhouse in 1983. All those foods we were catering from the chuck wagon have now evolved into the steakhouse. We like to say it’s simple food – it looks good, it tastes good, and you can recognize it. Lisa joined the team in the late ‘90s.
What have you learned about each other?
Tom is patient, Lisa is not. In the business, we are each other’s yin and yang and our diverse skills complement each other nicely. Every decision is made together out of our passion for the business.
How are you handling the current 24/7 togetherness?
Honestly, it’s not been that different for us. We live on the ranch, and work on the ranch, so it’s all consuming, all the time. We both have loved to travel and we really miss this part of our lives, when we can get away from work and just be a couple. Before COVID-19, we took a trip to Egypt, and we both miss doing things together like that where we can take time to relax.
Do you have a top tip for making a husband/wife business a success?
Our tip is very simple – respect each other and understand your boundaries.
Would you go into business together again?
We have since started many businesses together and have thrived on each other’s creativity and inspiration. Aside from the steakhouse, Perini Ranch also has two guest quarters, the Main House and the Camp House, where guests can stay for a night or two (or more!) and enjoy ranch life, the natural wildlife, and some of the best Texas cuisine around. It’s always a great time to visit, but right now especially, since it’s so nice to have outdoor experiences and get away from the big city.
Our mail order business has been a huge success, where we ship our famous mesquite peppered beef tenderloin all over the country. We also have the Gap Café, which features homemade baked goods from our neighbor and partner, Salty Roan Bakehouse. If you ever visit Buffalo Gap, you must check out the Café and try a homemade cinnamon roll – they are delicious! The Perini Country Market features fresh and local products, like seasonal produce from our garden and even old fashioned toys and children’s items. We love how the Perini Ranch brand has grown over the years and that we’ve been able to reach so many people through our food.
Cover photo courtesy Wyatt McSpadden
Leean Vargas is an Editorial Assistant at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and an honors graduate of Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations.