Cy-Fair restaurateur serves more than food to his community at Carl's BBQ

Michael Reiland has owned Carl’s BBQ since 1986. (Jishnu Nair/Community Impact Newspaper)
Michael Reiland has owned Carl’s BBQ since 1986. (Jishnu Nair/Community Impact Newspaper)

Michael Reiland has owned Carl’s BBQ since 1986. (Jishnu Nair/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Carl’s serves ribs by the rack or per pound. A ribs plate costs $14.95, while a pound costs $17.25. (Jishnu Nair/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Pulled pork ($7.75) is among the sandwiches served at Carl’s. (Jishnu Nair/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Carls’ signature burger ($11.95) is served with fries. (Jishnu Nair/Community Impact Newspaper)
Michael Reiland Sr. has been in the Cy-Fair area for a long time, but his restaurant Carl’s BBQ has been around even longer.

Reiland bought the restaurant from Houston-based meat supplier Wally Jones in 1986, who bought it from the original Carl Wilford. Wilford founded the restaurant in 1951 on Gessner Street.

“It was a good little thing to get started,” Reiland said. “I rented it at first, started offering caterings [Jones] didn’t do [and] hired my [future] son-in-law.”

Reiland moved the restaurant to its current location, a building that was once the First Baptist Church of Porter, before the neighboring Hwy. 290 was constructed.

The move allowed Carl’s to upgrade in size from its initial 24-seat venue, helping Reiland record tripled profits by the end of his first month.

“It just gave us a huge operating area,” Reiland said. “We had to hire new staff, and things just started going from there.”

To this day, the eatery continues to serve up brisket, burgers and sandwiches, as well as unique dessert recipes including banana pudding.

Reiland said he started out working in banking, but financial turmoil caused him to lose his job. He decided to fall back on his childhood experiences selling food at Rice Stadium and on Shepherd Street. Reiland said he came up with his own sauce and spice blends, and he still has them locally made.

Carl’s got a strong start thanks to catering the workforces at the nearby Cameron Iron Works and Compaq Computers plants as well as Cy-Fair ISD, Reiland said.

These early customers in addition to Hwy. 290’s development saw Reiland record strong profits through the end of the 1990s.

“People used to stop here when they went home to Fairfield, saying ‘May as well stop at Carl’s, cause there’s nothing else out there,’” Reiland said.

Reiland said he became involved in community organizations in Cy-Fair, such as the Rotary Club, which hosts its meetings at Carl’s every week. He said finding a way to help his community also helped bring customers into his restaurant.

“When you save someone’s day, they remember you, and that little bit helps,” Reiland said.

Now 75, Reiland leaves much of the day-to-day operation of Carl’s to his daughter and son-in-law, Stephanie and Pancho Cervantes.

Carl’s staff has been with the restaurant for more than 10 years, according to Reiland, who praised their loyalty.

With retirement approaching, Reiland says he is working on transitioning the restaurant’s financials so Pancho and Stephanie can continue to keep the business running strong.

Carl’s BBQ

21920 Hwy. 290, Cypress

Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

By Jishnu Nair

Reporter, North Houston Metro

Jishnu joined Community Impact Newspaper as a metro reporter in July 2021. Previously, he worked as a digital producer for a television station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and studied at Syracuse University's Newhouse School. Originally from New Jersey, Jishnu covers the North Houston metro area, including Tomball, Magnolia, Conroe and Montgomery, as well as the Woodlands and Lake Houston areas.