Catfish On Wheels Catering Service was founded by James Varnell and his wife Joyce, in 1987. But, the most important part of Catfish On Wheels originally began years before. It was the now world-famous fish batter created by James, for the backyard fish fries, attended by his family, and a number of neighborhood friends in Channelview, Texas. The recipe today referred to as "Our Daddy's Ol' Secret Recipe" by James' sons, Bruce and Brett Varnell, is as good today as it was at those backyard fish fries.
For years, friends and family members urged James to open a catfish restaurant in the Houston area. They were sure that fish as delicious as his could only produce a successful restaurant (well also they could have his fish anytime they wanted then). But because of the time-consuming commitment of a restaurant, along with his family's security, and other responsibilities, James never wanted to take on this endeavor.
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In 1987 James and Joyce were approaching their retirement years from their respective careers. They were looking for an avenue that would allow them to travel and also make a supplement to their retirement income. Depending on who was telling the story, James or Joyce, the idea for a concession trailer came to them. So James designed and built the first Catfish On Wheels trailer. It was the intention of the Varnell's to use the trailer at festivals and do some roadside vending. However, within six months James had so many requests for catering that the hobby/business took off in a totally different direction than expected. So James took his trailer and his secret recipe into the many plants and businesses in the Houston area to share with new customers.
In June of 1996, Catfish On Wheels was going strong but, James and Joyce were ready to do the traveling they had in mind back in 1987. So they passed Catfish On Wheels down to their oldest son, Bruce. They bought themselves a motor home and hit the road. Since 1996 Bruce has added five more rigs to his operation and is still growing.
In May of 2000, Brett (James and Joyce's youngest son) opened another Catfish On Wheels location in Longview, Texas, where he now operates three rigs in that area and is also still growing.
From the very beginning, Catfish On Wheels has been a family affair. From the days of James' first trailer to the present, Catfish On Wheels has employed brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and many friends.
The Varnell's are on their third generation and still going. They have made many fond memories on past catering events and expect to make more in the future.
Where We Are Today
Today the Varnell brothers continue with their father's tradition of friendly, reliable service, with customer satisfaction always being their goal and number one priority and, oh yeah, their "Daddy's Ol' Secret Recipe."
When asked if they still like to eat catfish after cooking it daily for many years, one family member smiled and replied, "Yes, but it has cut down on the family fish fries."
In Loving Memory of James Varnell, Founder 1934 - 2006