| by Linda Blackwell Simmons |
He’s here six days a week, greeting patrons, managing the kitchen, and enjoying the customers who love his cuisine. Mike Smith, owner of Paris Coffee Shop on Fort Worth’s Southside, has been at it since 1965, when he took over duties from his father, who was ill. The restaurant opened in 1926 on the empty lot across Hemphill but moved to its current location in 1975. The café caters to an early morning motley crew – coffee lovers in business suits and medical scrubs, to a mid-morning older crowd, then on to lunch with a combination of both. It’s hard to decide what the specialty is, but a classic favorite has to be the homemade pies. And Mike (known by his employees as “Grandma Mike” due to his pie-making skills) starts his day early.
Up and at ‘em six mornings a week. Dress, brush teeth, kiss my love, Ginger, goodbye. Ginger used to help at the café, but one day she simply hung up her apron and said she was going home. She was done. She’s made few appearances since that day.
Arrive at the restaurant, light the fires, turn on the ovens, make coffee, and decide which pies to make that day. I’m there by myself for about an hour, so it’s a good time to enjoy the quiet. I can “think” when I’m baking.
Doors open. Greet customers as they enter. I know most of the names of these “early birders.”
Time to turn on the charm. Savory, creamy, piping hot, the pies are ready. Yes, a few breakfast lovers do eat pie this early. Step back to the kitchen to make sure eggs, bacon, and gravy are underway, and that waffle-making is ready to go. It’s not just about the pies, you know.
Greet customers. Crowd becomes dense. My waitresses are usually running so I assist in seating. Chat with regulars. Get to know the “newbies.” Go back to kitchen to ensure all is running smoothly.
Begin preparing for lunch, get steam table ready, discuss any issues with my chefs.
Greet lunch customers, many of whom have limited time.
Chat with my regular counter customers. I try not to ignore my counter customers. However, some prefer not to chat; that’s why they sit at the counter.
Crowd winds down. Return calls. Look over pie orders for the next day.
Write checks. Close down kitchen, oversee cleaning of tables and floors. Replenish salt and pepper and condiment containers. Ensure all is spotless for following morning.
Wish my workers a nice rest of day as they exit the front door.
Check inventory for food, cleaning supplies, and a variety of other items needed for the next day. This hour may seem early to close, but remember, I’ve been at it for 13 hours already. As the restaurant owner, my job is lengthy – shopper, salesman, chef, server, busser, accountant, and sometimes even dishwasher and floor sweeper — and hiring and firing workers, and sometimes counselor to both. (Mike smiles as he speaks. It’s evident he loves every minute, well – maybe almost every minute.)
Dinner with my love. Ginger, please – cook something other than what I serve all day.
Sweet dreams – perhaps of some new bodacious pie recipe?
Writer’s note: I met with Mike three times to write this piece, and each time I was ready to walk out the door, I received a hug and heard the words, “Wanna a piece of pie to go?”