Family. Hard work. Doing right.
These form the foundation upon which two La Vernia brothers are building a legacy — not only for their families, but for their community.
La Vernia natives Levi and Jacob McBee have spent their lives here, and here is where they’re making lives — for their families and for the future. Their route from growing up in La Vernia to extending their family roots here has been circuitous, but the men behind The Den are dedicated to their hometown.
The brothers are continuing that history. Both graduated from La Vernia high school — Levi in 1996 and Jacob in 1998 — and both have chosen to make their lives here with their families.
The boys lost their father when Levi was just 15. His death left the family with no life insurance or savings.
“Our father spent a lot of time talking to us about right from wrong and respecting our mom and elders,” Levi recalled. “He would talk to us about real life people and he would tell us to dream.” Life was tough when tragedy struck, but “It made us stronger and want to fight harder,” Levi said. “No excuses. Our fate was our choice.”
Their mom, Karen, quit her job at Colonial Bakery and started an in-home daycare so she could be around the two teenaged boys and their younger brother, Josh, more. “Every summer, she would take us camping at Neal’s Lodges,” her oldest son reminisced. “Five to six days, tents, Coleman stoves. Every summer.”
It’s easy to see from their expressions that the experiences their mom gave them were an incredible gift to the boys.
Levi and Jacob learned to appreciate hard work by building farm structures with their grandparents and both took jobs at an early age. Levi’s first job was at Bill Miller Bar-B-Q when he was 16. A year later, he began working at Lone Oak Grocery store in Adkins, where he stayed for five years and ran the meat market. Jacob later joined his brother in the meat market.
The brothers had met with success. But they weren’t finished.
Jacob bought a stone house on F.M. 775 in La Vernia, next to the post office, in 2008, and took up residence there. On Thanksgiving Day in 2011, the brothers decided to build a restaurant on the site. They designed the building and overcame many obstacles to bring the dream to fruition. Jacob lived in the house right up until the day they tore it down to build their dream — The Den. They saved the stone from the house for use in the restaurant’s construction. Some was used for the outdoor fireplace.
As the restaurant took shape, Jacob also was building his new house. The Den opened its doors in January 2016. It’s been a huge success, a welcome addition to La Vernia’s business landscape. And it’s become a favorite hangout in the community. Part of its success is the family-friendly atmosphere, including the fenced play area. The brothers plan to continue building on the success of the restaurant, which sits on 5 acres.
“Currently, we are using about 2-1/2 acres,” Levi said. “We would like to turn the other 2-1/2 acres into a family-friendly area that mimics a state park, with family reunion attractions that mimic the traditions of the old days.”
“We are big on camping out with the kids and doing things with the kids and giving our customers the same opportunity to do the same with their kids, hanging out together,” Jacob added.
Hanging out with family just comes naturally to the two men.
Levi is a member of the La Vernia Education Foundation board. To date, the foundation has awarded $98,000 in grants to educators in the La Vernia Independent School District.
“We have both adopted the idea that giving as much as we can has rewarded us many times over in many ways,” Levi explained. “To be greedy or selfish creates heartaches and headaches. Do what’s right for others before yourself and no one can ever point a finger at you that you are unworthy of blessings or happiness.””