Funeral arrangements set for Casa Ole founder Tom Harken

Funeral arrangements have been finalized for the Beaumont businessman credited with starting the Crazy Jose restaurants in Southeast Texas. 

Known to many as "Poppee", Tom Harken passed away Wednesday.  Harken died from multiple medical complications at Methodist Hospital in Houston.

Visitation is set for Harken at Claybar Kelley-Watkins Funeral Home in Beaumont, Thursday July 18, from 5:30-8 pm. His funeral is set for Friday, July 19th at 2 pm at Wesley United Methodist Church in Beaumont.

Harken opened 13 Casa Ole and Crazy Jose restaurants in Southeast Texas.

A Casa Ole commercial that aired for years had a catchy jingle "It's another Casa Ole day."

Longtime family friend, Rhonda Robichau, tells 12News that she attended the commercial taping.

"I mouthed to him 'do something' so he threw out his thumb and his fist and there we have it," she says.

The sing-a-long song became a hit.

Before his restaurant chain took off, his journey wasn't easy.

Harken came from a poor upbringing. He overcame numerous obstacles including polio as a child that caused him to drop out of school. He also overcame illiteracy.

Unable to read or write well into adulthood, his wife Miss Melba was always by his side helping his business grow.

He began by selling vacuums door to door and then in 1979, he opened his first Casa Ole restaurant in Beaumont.

It was in 1992 when he was awarded the Horatio Alger award. That's when he told the world his big secret: that he could not read.

He went on to become a motivational speaker and an advocate for education.

"He would give away bicycles. He would talk about literacy and the need to stay in school," says Robichau.

He gave back to the community thanking the thousands who walked through his restaurant doors not only as customers but as employees.

Pat Anderson was one of those employees. Harken hired her back in 1980 at the original Casa Ole restaurant.

"Then they had hostesses that wore the peasant skirts and blouses. I really wanted to wear that," she says.

The restaurant chain now has new owners.

But, "Poppee" built the empire. He will always be remembered for starting a Tex-Mex menu that has been pleasing taste buds for generations.

"He was just a well-known face to the community and he's going to be missed terribly," says Anderson.

Harken is survived by his loving wife, Miss Melba, two sons, and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending with Claybar Kelley-Watkins Funeral Home in Beaumont.







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