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From Union State Bank to the Best Little Coffee House on the Gulf Coast

Monday 25 September 2017 at 04:02 am.

This article by Ry Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 21, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            My favorite coffee is McCafe French Roast by MacDonald’s, so I am no particular fan of Starbucks; however, I am a fan of coffeehouses, especially the Glory Bean Coffeehouse here in East Bernard. I do have many city-living friends who are big fans of Starbucks.

            “Coffeehouses” or “Cafes” were popular in Europe as early as the 16th Century, but didn’t find their way to the United States until Italian immigrant communities developed in Boston and New York City, and Italian-Americans opened coffeehouses, especially in locales like New York City’s Little Italy. The word “café’ comes from the Italian word for coffee, “caffe.” European coffeehouses served hot coffee, different kinds of espresso, iced coffee, sandwiches, tarts, and even alcoholic beverages. By the 17th Century, there were 3,000 coffeehouses in England. King Charles II thought coffee houses should be banned, because he believed they were places of dangerous rumors and evil gossip.

            The Beatnik movement made coffee houses famous, or infamous, in Greenwich Village in the 1950’s, and I remember a couple Beatnik coffeehouses located in Texas when I was in college. In one of them, a college buddy of mine read his poetry while a saxophone moaned in the background. But the main purpose of coffeehouses throughout history seemed to be getting together with friends and enjoying the now almost lost art of conversation (I think Charles II exaggerated the nature of those conversations, as most were not subversive or seditious).

            You don’t have to move to a big city to open a coffeehouse, and make it a success, as folks in East Bernard found out. When I heard that Glory Bean was going to open up in our town in the old bank building, I was a little dubious. While I have always loved East Bernard history and have written about it, the old Union State Bank Building never struck me as possessing enough beauty to salvage. It didn’t have the unique pulchritude of the SPJST Hall across the street from it. But after it was transformed into the Glory Bean Coffeehouse, I fell in love with its wonderful charm, the rich smell of coffee emanating from the building being part of the charm.

            Years ago I attempted to write a short history of that old Union State Bank Building, and was a little confused because Adolph Urbanic said in his Pictorial Souvenir History of East Bernard that the building was constructed in 1930, whereas Annie Lee Williams in her History of Wharton County said it was erected in 1927. I guess give or take three years doesn’t really matter. The fascinating fact is that the bank actually began in a retail merchandise place, like most banks in the early days. It began as the private banking house of Leveridge and Stockton. It continued as a private bank until 1907, when it filed for a State Charter and it became known as Union State Bank.

            In the early days of Texas, people didn’t trust banks, and they often buried their money in glass jars or molasses buckets. If it is paper money you are burying, this is not a safe thing to do, as my grandparents discovered. When they dug up their jar of twenty dollar bills some years after burying it, all the money had disintegrated. I’m sure that’s why merchants like Leveridge and Stockton, with the trust of the community, ended up getting into the banking business, as most merchants usually had a vault in their place of business.

            Now that the evolution from Union State Bank to Glory Bean Coffee House is complete, the coffee house has become one of the most popular places to hang out in town. My wife and her lady friends meet there every Wednesday morning for coffee, conversation, and conviviality. We have out of town friends who love to eat lunch at Glory Bean, not only because of the unique atmosphere but also because of the nonpareil menu.

            Where else can you find such soups as these: sweet potato corn chowder soup, tomato basil soup, chicken and dumplings soup, red beans and rice soup, and broccoli cheese soup, just to name a few. Where else can you find such delectable eats as: pecan crusted chicken quiche, bacon spinach quiche, quiche Lorraine, ham and cheddar quiche, and ham and cheddar melts with tomato, just to name a few.

            But Glory Bean represents more than just good coffee and good eats. Their community-mindedness speaks so well of them, too. During Hurricane Harvey, Glory Bean brought complimentary fresh coffee to Vacek’s Hardware Store for customers who were wet, cold, and quite tired. And they left a huge pot of coffee on the sidewalk for those who worked late into the night, in humble service to a community that was suffering.

             In 87 years, Glory Bean has gone from Union State Bank to the best little coffee house on the Gulf Coast!


Ray Spitzenberger has retired after serving as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, for 28 years, teaching in high school for 9 years and at Wharton County Junior College for 22 years.

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