It was Ralph Chafin that began the restaurant in 1920 that is known to tens of 1000’s as “Chaf-In.” Originally located on the west side of the Johnson County Courthouse in the area that today is home to the Law of Offices of MacLean & Boulware. Brothers Bob and Ralph Chafin ran competing sandwiches shops when they began their adventures in 1920 only blocks apart and both on Main Street in Cleburne. Ralph spent 26 years on Main Street prospering and feeding the people of Cleburne and Johnson County. In 1946 Ralph decided he needed to expand his sandwich shop. He purchased a small lot on the corner of Hillsboro Street and West Henderson and a 24’ x 40’ building was erected. This building would house the kitchen and dining area of the new improved Chaf-In. Restrooms were outside to the south of the new building.
Ralph Suffers Fatal Heart Attack
Ralph would suffer a fatal heart attack only six months after the completion of his new building. Ralph’s son, Carl Chafin, who had recently returned to Cleburne after serving in WWII, and it became his fate to take over the family’s restaurant. Carl would become known as an astute and caring restaurateur. His signature laugh would resonate throughout the dining area, as he would visit and share stories with customers. In 1964 another expansion would take place. The present kitchen was built and restrooms added. Booths were added to maximize the seating capacity with a four-foot tall wall dividing the dining room north to south. Only four small tables were used in the restaurant and they were only on the west wall. Chaf-In became very popular with the railroad employees of the Santa Fe shops in Cleburne. Long lines were a common sight to get into the 76-seat restaurant at mealtime. Carl and his staff were known to hand out rolls, crackers and tea to the waiting customers. Plate lunches were served with different vegetables and entrée’s everyday.
Carl & Janie retired in 1983 by selling their interest to their son, Ralph Chafin, Jr. and his wife, Yvette. In 1993 Spradlin, Inc purchased the Chafin’s interest. Janice Spradlin, a longtime waitress for Carl & Ralph, began the management of the restaurant. Her philosophy was not to change anything from the very successful operation of the Chafin family, down to hiding the keys in the exact place. In February 2008, after declining health of Janice prevented Janice to continue, Dan E Roberts became the general manager.
Renovations Begin - Train Tracks Installed
In August 2008, the center booths were removed after 44 years of service and replaced by tables. Long time customers were confused; they did not know where to sit since their time honored booths were missing. It took several weeks to make the transition to tables and booths in different locations. This change made Chaf-In more accessible to all of their customers. Then in February 2009, Chaf-In closed for two weeks to remodel the kitchen and repaint the ceiling and walls in the dining room. The railroad theme became apparent with artifacts from the bygone railroad days of Cleburne being displayed on the walls. The model railroad tunnels and tracks were installed at that time. The train travels approximately 16 miles a day to the delight of children and adults.
In May of 2010, Chaf-In closed for 3 days to replace the antiquated grease trap located in the front parking lot and to make room in a former storage area for the present arched area over the booths on the east wall.
In June of 2010, after 46 years of service, new booths, made in Mineola, Texas by Lambeth Upholstery, replaced all the existing booths. Now customers are sitting high and enjoying the ease of getting in and out.
Chaf-In was for years the restaurant of choice for Santa Fe employees in Cleburne and a favorite cold drink seller in those days as well as today…was good ole Dr. Pepper.
With that in mind, in 2017 Stylle Read, nationally known mural artist, was commissioned to put a mural on the east wall replicating an old Dr. Pepper soda advertisement of the 1930’s alongside a head-on view of the Santa Fe 114 diesel engine with Jerry Burt and Dub Stepp on top of the cab as they posed/worked in the Cleburne Santa Fe Shop Yards.
As Chaf-In celebrates its 100th year, it is clear it took many wonderful people to make these years successful. It took you to come here today to make it possible for Chaf-In to be open tomorrow and to head towards its 101st year of service to the people of Cleburne and Johnson County.
As one old time Ford dealer in Cleburne would say in his radio advertisements… We “want” your business and we “need” your business!” Let us just add we “like” your business, too! It is time to visit Cleburne and take in some history while you enjoy a good ole fashion meal at Cleburne oldest restaurant.