Big Sandy – Northeast of Tyler, in the not so big town of Big Sandy, is a big bar and restaurant called Circle M Crawfish that can seat you and your closest 600 friends.
“Oh man. It’s crazy,” said customer Brent Reynolds.
“This is the biggest business really in Big Sandy…” claimed RJ, a regular at Circle M.
“Our parking lot holds more than more parking than every business in Big Sandy combined. We’re the place to be in East Texas. There’s nowhere even close,” said Luke Parrish, owner of Circle M Crawfish. Luke hails from a Parish in Louisinana, but crawfish wasn’t always his main priority. Prior to getting married to the mudbug business, he was a former computer network technician who constantly found himself cooking crawfish for friends. His backyard boils became so popular, people started to buy them by the pound. That’s when Luke decided to start his business, without really knowing what he was getting in to. “I didn’t even know how to get a business license and I didn’t know how to get occupancy code and I didn’t know you had to get really anything. I thought I could just start selling crawfish,” confessed Luke.
Just up the road from Luke was the Circle M, owned by Rodney Murphy. “Seems like the younger generation is more into crawfish and the older generation is still into catfish,” said Rodney. Fortunately, Rodney was there to help him out, even supplying Luke with a few sacks of crawfish. “’I tell you what, I’m going to bring you some crawfish on Friday.’ This is his [Rodney’s] voice. This is how he talks,” Luke mimicked, “’I’ll bring you some on Friday. You cook them. If you sell them, you carry me some money on Monday. If you don’t sell them, carry them back to me.’ So I’m thinking…ain’t no way this guy’s going to show up. I’m getting nervous. Friday about lunch, here he comes, driving up in his Jeep. 30 bags of crawfish. He hands him over to me and shakes my hand and drives off. He didn’t charge me a penny, nothing. And I called him Monday and he said, ‘Well, did you sell them crawfish?’ I said, ‘Yep.’ He said, ‘You got me some money.’ And I say, ‘Yep.’ And that was it.”
Both business brought in customers but Luke was ready to take things to the next level while Rodney was ready to switch things up. “‘Rodney, you want to sell this place?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Three weeks it was done…It was fast,” said Luke.
“Some good people took over… I’m just glad to see them keeping it going and get to see a lot of my old friends when I come up here. And that’s what it’s all about,” expressed Rodney.
Now Rodney has taken the role of reeling in the crawfish. He drives to South Louisiana several times a week to collect crustaceans. “This weekend we did almost 5,000 pounds [of crawfish]. No, it’s almost six. He [Rodney] literally, you can see it right through there. He drives a semi,” said Luke.
It’s not just the restaurant that sells mudbugs, Circle M Crawfish runs a drive through crawfish and beer barn. “We have a drive through crawfish barn, crawfish and beer barn…Crawfish and beer, best things in the world. And free ice,” added Luke.
Of course, you’ve got your cast of regulars here that includes Rodney. There’s R.J. “[I’m here] very often. About five days a week, probably…One of the ones that’s invited to the employee Christmas parties,” said RJ.
And then there’s Brent, the Circle M Crawfish eating champion. “I’m the reigning champion. 28 [pounds] in 30 minutes, but I quit with about five minutes ago,” said Brent.
Luke’s crawfish boiling operation happens right outside the restaurant in massive boilers that rest on a custom built trailer. “Well, we can’t find a building big enough to hold all of [the] boilers. There’s so much heat from [them], you can’t
get it out of the building fast enough…Also you can’t keep up with the volume, so we have all four of these spots that we roll with a winch on them. They can do about 300 pounds of dry every time,” explained Luke.
Corn and potatoes are cooked separately so all we’re worried about is crawfish and mushrooms. “Lane [is] our expert boiler…You’re going to throw those mushrooms in first…[They’re] like a sponge…And you got to make sure that water is rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling. When we put those crawfish, rolling, rolling, rolling,” sang Luke. “You drop them in.”
After two minutes, they’re done and some shrimp is added for good measure. They’re dropped into a cooler where more spice is added. “All right, now here’s the most important part is the stir… We’ll carry them down to the bar, let them sit for a second. We’ll open up some beers and eat them,” said Luke.
It didn’t take long for the spice to settle in. There has been a lot of great crawfish on the show, and these definitely have some kick. Be careful not to touch your eyes! “I haven’t taken my contacts out in four years, four years. Yeah. I haven’t peed in about nine days. I just can’t,” joked Luke, “I can’t touch anything.”
“The crawfish stayed good. It has,” said Rodney.
“They’re great,” said RJ.
“Just nothing else like it at all,” added Brent. “Hot crawfish, cold beer, and it gets pretty hopping in here.”
Well, if you ever find yourself up in the Northeast woods of Texas and you’re craving some crawfish, the Circle M in Big Sandy is well worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List.