A Texoma restaurant is moving forward following the recent loss of its namesake and founder. Much like the old adage “the show must go on,” representatives with Pop’s Place plan to continue serving their signature southern cuisine following the death of Michael “Pop” Lowery.
“He trained all of us in the different aspects of the business, from cooking to food costs and managing front of house,” said ZaVonna Arrington, referring to her husband. “He pretty much trained us all to go on without him.”
Lowery had worked for most of his life in the restaurant business after getting his start at the age of 15 with Denny’s Restaurant. After working his way up to a manager position in a restaurant, Lowery attended culinary school. He would go on to work for 13 years with Holiday Inn as an executive head chef.
Following his time in the hotel chain, Lowery opened a series of smaller restaurants before opening a restaurant featuring his nickname — “Pop” — about 11 years ago. The Denison-based restaurant proved successful enough that Pop’s Place Too opened its doors in Southmayd.
Despite the success of the two restaurants, Lowery remained mostly behind the scenes and maintained the back of house while other members of staff manned the dining room and front of house. The mystery of who Pop was grew to the point that customers would speculate on who the restaurant was named after.
“For some reason, people had the impression that it was an old lady cooking in the kitchen,” Arrington said.
It didn’t help that Lowery did not like to have his picture taken. In the times that he was photographed, he would sometimes hide his eyes with a hat or another part of his face. Arrington compared her husband to the character Wilson W. Wilson from the 90s television show Home Improvement, who would often hide the lower half of his face.
Lowery died while on a family vacation in Port Aransas in early August at the age of 57. Following dinner, Lowery told his family that he wasn’t feeling well and was having some trouble breathing, but wasn’t worried about it. Later, Lowery told his family that he would wait in the truck and rest while the others enjoyed the beach.
It was about 20 minutes later that Arrington returned to the truck and found Lowery unresponsive.
“We started screaming for help and a guy came over and helped get him out of the truck,” Arrington said.
Arrington said she still is not certain what led to her husband’s death, but believes it may have been a heart attack.
She questioned if she wanted to continue to run the restaurant on her own. Despite it being a family business, she described Lowery as “the brains of the operation.” She ultimately decided to continue operating the restaurants after a meeting with the restaurant managers, who expressed a desire to continue on.
“We are doing it in his honor and legacy,” she said. “Our job is to keep it going for him and our kids.”
Prior to their marriage, Lowery had one child and Arrington had two children of her own. The couple had one child together, who recently turned 11 years old.
Arrington said business has continued, but there isn’t a day that she isn’t reminded of her husband. In the time since his death, she said a few close friends have passed away as well.
“I would turn to tell him and he just isn’t there,” she said.
Despite the additional pressure, Arrington said she still wants to continue her work both in and out of the restaurant. In addition to being a restaurateur, she volunteers as a children’s advocate for CASA of Grayson County and is a member of the S&S School Board.
“It makes it a bit more challenging, but those kids need me so I still do it,” she said. “I’m a mom, so I don’t really have a choice but to keep it together and keep going.”