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.
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 intension 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 turned business took off in a totally different direction than expected. So, James took his trailer and his secret recipe into 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. 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 eight 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 and since then a second location in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area.
From the very beginning Catfish On Wheels has been a family affair. From the days of James' first trailer to the present, it 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 from past catering events and expect to make more in the future.
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 ask 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 frys".
In Loving Memory of
James Varnell, Founder
1934 - 2006
Catfish On Wheels Catering Service was founded by James Varnell and his wife Joyce in 1987, but the most important part originally began years before. It was the now world-famous fish batter created by James, for the backyard fish frys 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 frys.