“What’s that doing there?” It’s a question many drivers may ask themselves on their way to White Rock Lake when they see Highland Park Cafeteria sitting in a Casa Linda shopping center.
The answer dates all the way back to 1925, when Carolyn Goodman first opened the original Highland Park Cafeteria on Knox Street, just across the street from the equally historic Highland Park Pharmacy.
“There would be a line around the block,” modern-day owner Jeff Snoyer said of the original location.
The cafeteria eventually grew to eight locations, including Casa Linda. But after the bank failures of the late 1980s, only the original location and Casa Linda were left.
By the mid-1990s, Goodman had died and the family was no longer involved in the business, so the cafeteria changed hands. Unfortunately, the new owner could not keep the business afloat long.
“It was a sad day when it closed,” Goodman’s grandson David Yates said.
After that closure, still-newer owners tried to operate under the name Casa Linda Cafeteria at the synonymous location. That is, until December 2006, when the restaurant closed abruptly, with essentially no warning.
That’s when Snoyer, who had been a loyal customer with his wife, decided to take matters into his own hands. The real-estate pro reopened the eatery under the original name in 2007, and has worked to rebuild that hometown feel ever since.
Today, customers range from the anticipated, older audience to lake-lovers, church-goers, and lunch-hour workers. But one thing rings true with many.
“They remember the old days,” manager Chris Ingram said.
In the “old days,” Highland Park Cafeteria built its reputation on remarkable food. And that’s still what the cafeteria aims for today, from the tortilla soup and the zucchini muffins, to the fried catfish and rhubarb pie.
“I could spend all day talking about the pies,” Snoyer said.
Snoyer has worked to retain many original elements of the cafeteria, such as the photos of presidents covering the wall as patrons line up to get their trays. The first ladies follow just around the corner.
He also aims for quality in his foods and fairness in his pay, keeping customers and employees happy. There’s also a hot plate for any Dallas police officer that walks in the door.
It’s these small touches that add some continuity despite company changes over the years.
“The cafeteria has been a blessing to me,” said cook Earnest Bowens, who was first hired in 1956. “I come and work with folks that love each other and care about each other.”
For Goodman’s grandchildren, the cafeteria is still worth a trek for its smells, tastes, and memories.
“My wife, Patty, and I are still regular, loyal customers and always enjoy seeing the family pictures on the wall,” Mark Lovvorn said. “All four of our kids still love the food and original recipes. With five grandchildren of our own, I’m sure the HPC tradition will continue.”
He even remembers a photo from the original Knox location running in The Dallas Morning News on Thanksgiving Day in 1957.
“I’m the 3-year-old with the knife and fork in the air,” he said. “The photo’s been called a true Norman Rockwell scene of Dallas during the 1950s.”
Like Lovvorn, Yates is glad that new generations are getting to experience the down-home goodness of what his grandmother started.
“You try to explain what a good cafeteria was, and kids are thinking the school cafeteria,” Yates said. “They’re not really understanding what it was — the kind of community. There weren’t that many places you could come by yourself and sit down and be comfortable.”
But does Snoyer ever foresee growing that community like in the 1980s?
“We’re one location,” he said. “We’re not going to expand.”
And for many customers, that’s just the way it should be.