Some words are just naturally spoken with a sense of awe, the way it is in the Lake Cities when the topic turns to Duck Inn.
Aubry Howard, a sheet metal mechanic with a government contract job in Arkansas, and his wife Nellie were from Lake Dallas. They loved the quiet, lakeside fishing town and were anxious to return. It was 1945. WWII was winding down. It was time.
Aubry said goodbye to his co-workers, and the couple set out for Lake Dallas.
They purchased a patch of land across the road from the local hardware store. It was a prime Main Street spot. Aubry began hammering and sawing, and within a few days, the Howard’s new, three-bedroom frame home rose from the dirt that once supported a bait and tackle shop called Duck Inn.
The Howards still needed an income source. When their mental lightbulb flipped on, it cut through the shadows to reveal a catfish restaurant named Duck Inn. Plates with a pile of meaty, golden-crusted catfish that released a mini-cloud of steam when broken into pieces.
Shoved up next to the catfish was a second golden pile. This one was….well, what exactly was that? They were cylindrical extrusions, maybe six inches long, the diameter of a lady’s ring finger. They were a favorite in southern kitchens, presented in a new form with a divine taste. Tongue-burning hot on the first bite but no one could wait until they cooled. They were, and still are, the famous Duck Inn hush puppies.
Nellie served dinner to the locals from one room of the house, accommodating only eight people at a time. It became a community hub for housewives and fishermen in stained coveralls.
Word spread. More people came. Aubry bought more lumber. Hammers, nails, and saws reappeared. He added a new, large room. Eventually, there would be another.
Duck Inn began serving all-you-can-eat plates. A motto soon emerged. It said, “Duck in, and you’ll waddle out.” No truer words were ever written or spoken.
Tons of crisp, golden catfish were sold and never was anyone heard to comment, “I didn’t think the fish was as good tonight, did you?” as they waddled out the door. The fish was consistently delicious, and most of the 300 guests who could all dine at one time, left with a bag of hushpuppies.
The Howard family kept bellies full for years after Aubry and Nellie were gone, until it closed in 2007. Locals and out-of-towners mourned.
“That place was a huge part of my life,” Susan Howard, Aubry and Nellie’s granddaughter, recalled. “I worked there from the time I was in high school. Seeing it close and eventually, the property sold was so painful. The heartbreak never left. I think one of the reasons is I can see the building from my house. A constant reminder.”
The business, building, and property were all sold after Susan’s mother died in 2015. That wasn’t what Susan wanted, but there were family circumstances.
The building is now home to Green Eagle Roofing and Construction, and to Lake Dallas Family Medicine.
“I’m as attached to this town as my grandparents,” Susan continued. “My dad got the first bank for the community as well as the high school. It’s my family’s legacy.”
Susan and Todd talked. What about a rebirth of those hush puppies, sold under the name Duck Inn Again? Susan still had the original recipe.
“We decided to give it a try,” Todd said. “We researched the Texas laws and found we could sell the hush puppies at an open-air location if they were frozen. Susan got us a spot at the Lake Dallas Farmer’s Market, and we made 120 dozen hush puppies, by hand, out of our kitchen.”
They froze the hush puppies, selling the entire 120 dozen in the first 20 minutes of their first Farmers Market! They sold 300 dozen the following Saturday.
Susan and Todd are not considering a restaurant, but they are investigating distribution outlets for the hush puppies. They’re already in the Enchanted Gift Shop at 278 Main in Lake Dallas.
The Farmer’s Market will close within the next four to six weeks. There are two options: get to the Market and load up or head for the Enchanted Gift Shop. Otherwise, wait for next summer when the Market re-opens.
Enchanted Gift Shop: 940-279-1223