By Wendy Kilmer
Photography by Beth Dukes
Maybe you heard a rumor that Taco Bueno originated in Abilene. (It did.). Or noticed your favorite local burger joint popping up in other cities too. You might not know, however, about the household products manufactured right around the corner, or many of the big names and industry leaders who call Abilene home. We’re profiling just a small sample of such companies – three businesses based here but whose influence extends well beyond the city limits.
The beginning didn’t feel like one. In fact, to the Heffernan family, it seemed the life they knew might have ended.
In November 2004, a drunk driver hit 23-year-old Jason Heffernan’s car while he and his girlfriend were going to get a burger. He suffered a ruptured aorta, a crushed pelvis, and a staff infection in both lungs. His mother, Brenda Heffernan, found herself pleading and bargaining with God.
“While he was in ICU, I promised God that if he survived I would witness and share the story of his miracle with everyone,” she said.
Brenda might not have anticipated her prayer marking the beginning of a new direction for their family, one that included an Abilene burger restaurant that grew beyond burgers and beyond Abilene.
Jason did survive, something several of his doctors and nurses agreed was a miracle. But he had a long recovery and was paralyzed from the waist down. Adjusting to his new life was a challenge.
“We needed something to get him out and be more social and give him something to do, to focus his attention, something positive,” Brenda said.
Brenda and her husband, Dan, along with sons Jason, Brian and Chris, lived in Potosi, and they decided to rent a convenient store about half a mile from their house where Jason could work as a cashier. They named it Heff’s Store.
About six months in, Jason saw a small flat top grill in the back and decided to start cooking pizzas and burgers. “He’s always had good ideas, so we took it and ran with it,” Brian said.
With the help and support of his family, Jason served burgers out of the convenient store for two years, but eventually the burger business got busier than the store, and they didn’t have the equipment and space to keep up with demand.
“It really hadn’t been that long since the wreck and all the medical bills. We weren’t financially stable, and none of us had ever been in the restaurant business. But we just leaped out in faith,” Brenda said.
The leap landed solidly. Six months after opening Heff’s Burgers, then located on Rebecca Lane in Abilene, the restaurant was named Best Burger by the Abilene Reporter News reader survey, and it has received that recognition every year since.
Just a few years later, after opening additional restaurants in Abilene, the Heffernans began to look beyond Abilene. Brian and his wife, Taylor, were living in San Angelo at the time, so they took on the task of opening a new location there 2014.
“When we first opened, the line was around the corner,” Taylor said. “We couldn’t even have closing times those first few weeks. We would say we closed at 9 but people would keep coming until 11.”
The new location also piqued the interest of a corporate entity.
“Golden Chick realized how good the burger was and sent people down to eat it, and then sent more people down to eat it, and we got a phone call one day asking if we’d like them to build more Heff’s,” Brenda said. Mark Parmerlee, the owner of Golden Chick, is now a partner of Heff’s Franchising LLC.
Heff’s LLC currently owns the three Heff’s Burgers locations in Abilene, along with one in Early, Texas, and a new San Angelo restaurant scheduled to open in May. In addition, franchised restaurants are in Eastland, Wichita Falls, Sweetwater and two in Lubbock, with the first overseas franchise purchased recently and in the early stages of planning in Pakistan. For a new twist this year, Chris opened Heff’s Bros Bar-B-Que in south Abilene in August 2018.
Chris is the barbecue chef of the family and also serves as Chief Inspection Officer for Heff’s Burgers. Brian is training under Brenda as Chief Operating Officer of Heff’s Burgers. Jason is responsible for most recipes related to Heff’s food, including their burger seasoning and Heff’s Sauce. The Heffernans’ nephew Brandon is the company manager, and his wife, Shelby, is secretary. The entire family turns out for new restaurant openings and to help train employees.
Brenda said working with the entire family on a daily basis has been a positive experience.
“We’re a laid back, country family,” Brenda said. “We love each other every day. Everybody gets along. We believe in good food and good family. When we franchise, we work to make sure it goes to someone with similar values – family oriented and loves people.”