Like a failed marriage. Cardinal Puff’s summer closing ended a 21-year love affair with its Dallas patrons amid acrimony and bitterness. The hard feelings, however, had nothing to do with the restaurant’s faithful customers, who never seemed to tire of downing pitchers in the Upper Greenville eatery’s foliage-filled terrace. The end came due to a long-simmering feud between Puffs owner John Ahem and landlord Cliff Granberry.
In 1971 Ahern, just out of the University of Texas, converted an old gas station at the corner of Greenville and University into a beer stop for SMU students. Four years and several incarnations later, he turned a run-down "no-tell motel" at Greenville and Yale into Cardinal Puffs. (SMU students built its famous outdoor wood deck for free beer.) It was then that he signed his first lease with Cliff Granberry of Granberry Properties. According to Ahern-Granberry declined comment- everything was fine until a mid-’80s dispute about the restaurant’s parking spaces, of which Puffs was always notoriously short, began the tenantlandlord rancor,
In such disputes, of course, the landlord eventually wins. Ahern-who says he went into debt to his bank each winter but caught up during the spring and summer-missed his rent deadline last February. Though he says he was ready to make it up in March, Cranberry evicted him. Ahem declared bankruptcy and fought the eviction in court.
Meanwhile, restaurateur John Pate came in and leased the property from Granberry. "There were hard feelings on both sides," Pate says, "and I just got caught in the middle." The court ruled that Ahem had to vacate Puffs, which was also his home (he slept upstairs). In mid-July, Pate opened his Ozona Grill & Bar in the Puffs space.
Ahern is bitter. "I personally hope they [Pate and Granberry] fail and fail soon," he says. "But they can never take away the 21 years I had. I took a $2,500 loan and built it into a Dallas institution-it was a special place to a lot of people."
As with any divorce, it’s hard to place blame. Much easier just to remember the food, drink and laughs.