Chili’s Serves Its First Burger
By Larry Lavine
On March 13, 1975, Larry Lavine opened his first Chili’s restaurant. The simple concept of a full-service burger joint with Mexican influences became a huge hit and eventually grew into the chain-restaurant juggernaut known as Brinker International. Lavine’s success drew national attention, and the demographics of Dallas drew other restaurateurs to try their luck in Dallas. Thanks to Larry Lavine, “If you can make it in Dallas, you can make it anywhere” became the unofficial slogan of the chain-restaurant business.
The idea for Chili’s was formed somewhere between the Burger House on Hillcrest and Goff’s Hamburgers on Lovers Lane. My parents first took me to Mr. and Mrs. Goff’s Hamburgers when a No. 2 was 25 cents. I rode my Vespa motor scooter to the Burger House and had many a chili cheeseburger and fries.
The time was the early 1970s, and my friend Malloy Buckner and I talked about opening a neighborhood restaurant that served really great burgers and fries. Texas had recently changed the way you could purchase mixed drinks in restaurants and had ended the system of carrying a membership card for every restaurant where you wanted to buy a drink. Our idea was to create a place that was cool enough where you could get a great burger and a margarita at dinner as well as lunch.
A building that Red Coleman owned on Greenville Avenue and Meadow Lane came available. Everyone told us it was too far away from the action on the Greenville strip, but we did not agree. Red gave us a good deal on the rent, and we signed a lease to build our place.
I had been to Carroll Shelby’s chili cook-offs in Terlingua judging chili, and we thought chili would be a good item to add to the menu to have something to talk about to the press.
Another childhood friend, Johnny Fooshee, liked our idea and put a group of fraternity brothers from North Texas State University in a partnership to invest in the restaurant. The total budget for the first one was $75,000, and Johnny raised the money $5,000 at a time. The restaurant cost more than planned, and I sold my car to finish the construction. Tricia Wilson, who later became a world-famous hotel and restaurant designer, helped design the decor, which had booths shaped like shipping crates and a ceiling painted University of Texas orange.
We wanted to have great burgers, a chili dog for variety, and fresh-cut fries. I wanted to serve fries like those at Mac’s Bar-B-Que. Billy McDonald of Mac’s told me how they prepared them, and we tried to duplicate them. Our equipment was bigger than Billy’s, and we kept turning out overcooked fries. I told Billy we would use frozen ones. He said he would come to our place and show us how, which he did. As a result, we were known for great burgers and great fries. If you would like fresh-cut fries like the early days of Chili’s, go to Mac’s on Main Street, near Fair Park.
I was fortunate to assemble a team of bright, dedicated, genuine people to manage the first restaurant. These key players would later build restaurant chains—from Creed Ford with Johnny Carino’s to Doug Brooks, who is CEO of Brinker today, and the late Ken Dennis, who created the award-winning baby back rib jingle for Chili’s.
I learned that if you want to build a brand, you first need a valid concept, and then you must have a great team of people to carry out your vision. Our company philosophy was to make money and have fun. There was a true family spirit in the company, and we all did have a lot of fun.
We opened and did $100 the first day. The word eventually spread that we served great food and had a fun, casual atmosphere with a friendly staff.
The restaurant became popular and soon had a line around the building seven days a week. Every time a review would appear in the paper, our sales would grow, and the line would get longer.
A year later, when we felt we had something that was not a fad, we talked about a second place. We thought the concept of Chili’s was so unique and were so convinced that the Dallas area could support only one that we decided to open our second store in Houston. The second location in Houston was such a big success that we formed Chili’s Inc. (which would later become Brinker International) and opened our third restaurant. The third location was in Dallas, in the Addison area.
My brother, Jack, quit what we called his real job as a CPA and joined the corporation as CFO. Together we used every form of raising money possible to expand the business.
We were going to sell the company to another food company in 1982 when Norman Brinker called and said he would like to help us build the company even bigger. I am one of a very few people who “hired” Norman Brinker. I thought we would not do any worse to not sell at that time. It would be fun to build an even bigger company and maybe go public. It was a privilege to work with Norman. He had the ability to see where things were going and to not let anything stop him from reaching his goal. He mentored many of the leaders of national restaurants today.
People ask me what I think about Chili’s today. I say with more than 1,000 restaurants, it cannot be the same as it was when I left with 50 restaurants open. I do feel somewhere in the operations manuals, SEC filings, and HR procedures structure, there is still a voice that says, “Make money and have fun.”
Larry Lavine is a restaurateur and the owner of Turtle Creek Restaurants.
The Cathedral of Hope …
By Michael Piazza
After living through the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic and a failing financial system, the former Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas decided that retreat was no longer an option. Instead, the 280-member-strong congregation—largely lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender—formed an attack plan. In 1991, the church renamed itself the Cathedral of Hope and celebrated the diversity of its membership. A year later, it moved into a new building; by then, the “Cathedral” part of its name was no longer wishful thinking. Its ranks had swelled to more than 1,000, making it the country’s largest LGBT church.
throughout the past two decades, i have been asked repeatedly why I think the largest predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) church in the world is in Dallas, Texas. You would think by now I’d have a good answer.
When I arrived in Dallas in 1987, this church was known as the Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas. It had 280 members and, like the rest of the region, was suffering through a recession, which also coincided with the worst of the AIDS epidemic in our city. There were times when our church performed eight funerals a week. In one year, I presided at the funerals of three gay bar owners and four significant community leaders.
Ultimately, the church has performed more than 1,500 HIV/AIDS funerals and memorials. I don’t know of any house of worship outside a war zone that has faced such devastation. People have asked how we dealt with the pain and grief, but, even as I write these words, tears rise up to remind me that we didn’t deal with it. We packed it away in order to care for the living.
No one can ever appreciate who and what this congregation is without understanding the times through which we lived. Why is the only liberal/LGBT mega-church in Dallas? The answer resides in our name, at least in part. In the midst of a deep economic recession and a deadly epidemic, a congregation of people who had been largely rejected by the churches of their childhood made a heroic choice. In a very closeted city, this congregation decided to be open and out about its sexuality, its faith, and its hope. In 1991, this battered and bruised community built the largest sanctuary in the world for lesbian and gay people and changed its name to the Cathedral of Hope.
The church moved into the new building just before Christmas in 1992. Images from our Christmas Eve service were broadcast by CNN. By Easter of the following year, membership had grown to more than 1,000, and the budget exceeded $1 million. This church grew into the name “Cathedral” and lived up to the name “Hope.”
During the 1990s, it produced and aired the only national broadcast by any lesbian or gay group ever. It cared for more than 800 people living with AIDS and expanded its outreach to give away more than $1 million each year in goods, services, and financial assistance. The church stopped debating the fundamentalists about whether you can be lesbian or gay and Christian. Instead, we adopted a motto from Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “Too many words. Just let them see what we do.”
Today the Cathedral of Hope is in the midst of building a 175-seat Interfaith Peace Chapel in the same organic style that Philip Johnson used to design the ultimate cathedral. It will seat more than 2,500 people and be the size of St. Patrick’s in New York. The Cathedral of Hope is now one of the largest congregations in the United Church of Christ.
Dallas is a very different city from the one I moved to in 1987. It is a very different city from the one in which D Magazine began publishing in 1974. In our own ways, I hope we both have helped to make this a better city. I have two teenage daughters who were born and raised in Dallas. They have been educated in the schools of Dallas ISD. They have worshipped in a radically inclusive, progressive church. My hope is that someday they will look at reruns of the old television show Dallas and laugh because nothing could be further from the truth about the city they call home.
Rev. Michael Piazza is dean of the Cathedral of Hope and president of Hope for Peace and Justice, a nonprofit organization.
… and Prestonwood Baptist give us big-time religion
By Jack Graham
Pastor Jack Graham had a problem: he had too many people in too small a place. That’s when he was led to a cow pasture in the middle of Plano, which in 1996 became a home for 28,000 members of God’s flock. Fourteen years and more than $100 million later, the congregation of one of the nation’s largest mega-churches wouldn’t change its decision.
Throughout the early days of Prestonwood Baptist Church, the congregation flourished, with thousands attending on any given Sunday. A few months after the resignation of the founding pastor, I became pastor in June 1989. And after a period of healing, the congregation, which was highly spiritually motivated, began to grow again—its mission to share the Gospel intact. More and more came to call Prestonwood home, and we soon ran out of space, both inside and outside, at our landlocked location at Hillcrest Road and Arapaho Road in North Dallas. So we began to consider expanding.
We drew up plans, we put a contract down on a large shopping center across the street, and we attempted to buy neighboring houses. We even had an architect draw parking garages with walkways under the street and over the street because we had been busing people in from a local high school. Our parking lot felt like a bus terminal—we were moving so many people. It became obvious that everything we were attempting to do would really be overbuilding our neighborhood and underbuilding our needs.
While on vacation in Colorado with my family in the summer of ’94, I went out for a walk and was thinking about the church. We already had some plans approved by the church to expand. But as I was walking and praying, God dealt with me in a very personal way. He spoke to me. Not out loud, it was louder than that. He said, “Jack you are limiting what I want to do with this church.” I didn’t know exactly all that it meant, but I knew I needed to act on it. Immediately after I came home, I gathered key leaders of the congregation, and we discussed our options. Basically, we had four: we could continue to try to expand; we could break the church down and start new churches elsewhere, reducing the membership; we could have a satellite or multiple locations, but that was unheard of in those days; and, of course, we could relocate.
Once we really looked at the four options, it became apparent that God was leading us to sell the property and move. This was a risky thing, to ask a congregation to move, because a church can become very settled and secure in its location. And it was obvious it would be very expensive to move. There were times when I needed to make sure we were hearing from God, that these weren’t my ideas or human plans, but God’s plans.
After a long search with a group of key laypeople and advisers, we found this cow pasture at the corner of Hebron and Midway roads in West Plano. It was one of the last large properties available in Plano, and it was apparent that this was a great place for us.
The congregation made a huge step of faith and voted to move. Now, to move a 14,000-15,000-member congregation and to sell a property that included a 4,000-seat worship center seemed almost impossible. But God opened doors and closed the doors that needed to close, and we were able to facilitate the move. The congregation was unified and supportive. We knew we were moving, not moving away from our growth, but into our growth when we came here.
We didn’t realize what a good decision it was at the time, but in retrospect, it is dead center to the population growth of North Texas. We couldn’t have found a better place, and we do believe God led us to this place.
Of course, since then this whole region has developed around us as the church has flourished. The congregation has doubled, we have plenty of room, and we have since added our second location in Prosper. We have seen God’s favor and faithfulness in all of this.
And God’s people have provided the funds. We have a minimal, manageable amount of debt. People have given more than $100 million since 1996 through three capital campaigns. Our people have given and given and sacrificed—all because they believe in Christ and the mission of Christ on Earth through His Church.
We are all appreciative of the facilities, we are grateful for the financial sacrifice people have made, but we’ve always said this church is not contained here. Our people are in the suburbs, in the urban areas, and around the world. We are not a religious country club sitting on this corner. We are the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, commissioned by Him to touch people at the point of their needs and to share the Gospel.
I shudder to think what would have happened had we stayed where we were. We would have limited the church’s potential and the possibilities for it to fulfill the Great Commission. The Prestonwood family didn’t resist—we believed, we trusted, and God provided for us every step of the way.
I am grateful for the privilege of being the pastor of this great church and to be blessed with the opportunity to reach this region and the world for Christ. God is not finished with Prestonwood. He brought us to Hebron Road for a reason. In the Bible, the word Hebron means “face to face with God.” I’ve sensed that we’ve come face to face with God in this place.
Jack Graham is the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.
Dallas Becomes a Port
By George Schrader II Intro by Wick Allison
In December 1963, barely a month after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a delegation of civic leaders rode in a caravan from downtown Dallas up Central Expressway to the headquarters of Texas Instruments. They were on a mission. Somehow they had to convince Erik Jonsson, TI’s chairman and one of the most brilliant men of his time, that he needed to become the new mayor of Dallas.
Their city was in trouble. Dallas had been labeled in the days after the assassination as The City of Hate, and the label was sticking. Article after article, news broadcast after news broadcast blamed the political climate in Dallas for the president’s murder. Dallas could survive the calumny only if a man as respected as Erik Jonsson took its helm.
The company Jonsson led—and, along with Cecil Green and Eugene McDermott, had founded—was among the most prestigious in America. TI had led the technological revolution. It invented sonar during World War II, infrared in the ’50s, the silicon transistor, and the integrated circuit. When Fortune later launched its U.S. Business Hall of Fame, Erik Jonsson was among its first inductees.
In their meeting with Jonsson that day, the Dallas oligarchs (and these were the last of the fabled Dallas oligarchy) faced two obstacles. For one thing, Jonsson had never shown the slightest interest in civic matters. For another, Dallas already had a mayor, Earle Cabell, who had been elected only two years before. The solution to the second problem was easy. They had decided before climbing in their cars that Earle Cabell would make an excellent congressman. Coincidentally, there was a congressional election in 11 months.
The answer to the first problem was simply a heartfelt plea. They told Jonsson his city needed him, and they meant it. They told Jonsson he had no choice, and they meant that, too. They were tense and fraught and sincere. He couldn’t say no.
The timing was delicate, if urgent. The Cabell problem would have to be solved. He had to arrange succession at TI. They agreed on a February date (and, indeed, on February 3, 1964, Earle Cabell resigned and announced his run for Congress).
Jonsson was an engineer, and he ran a company full of scientists. One of the strengths that comes from that kind of background was that he knew what he didn’t know. He felt no embarrassment in that. He knew he didn’t know a thing about cities. So in the weeks before his installation, he decided to learn as much as he could. A worldwide search turned up a young man in Montreal by the name of Vincent Ponte who was at the forefront of the new profession of urban planning. Jonsson hired Ponte and told him to pack his bags. They embarked a few days later on a whirlwind tour of the major cities of the world. Jonsson wanted to understand what made cities great.
As he would later tell the story, he was standing on the balcony of his hotel room in Athens at the end of the tour, watching the ships out in the harbor, when he realized what every great city he and Ponte had visited had in common. They had a port. That’s when Erik Jonsson decided that to be a great city, Dallas would need a major new airport.
What Jonsson didn’t know as he stood on that balcony is that administrator of the FAA, Najeeb Halaby, had been pressing Dallas for two years to build one. Halaby was the son of Syrian immigrants and a Texas native (his oldest daughter, Lisa, would become Queen Noor of Jordon). Halaby had argued that it made no sense for Fort Worth and Dallas to wrangle over aviation when both clearly needed a major new facility. His demands that the two cities join to build one had been roundly rejected by the entire Dallas leadership. Like their citizens, they saw no reason to tamper with Love Field. They pledged to fight to keep it.
On becoming mayor, Jonsson stunned the men who had recruited him. He announced that Dallas would gladly join Fort Worth in building the airport Halaby wanted. The resistance by both citizens and civic leaders was immediate and visceral. For decades, Dallas and Fort Worth had bickered and competed, and the antagonism between the two was mutual and deep. On top of that, Love Field was a success, while Fort Worth’s two airports barely had any flights at all.
Jonsson set about trying to convince Dallas that its parochialism was a chokehold around its own neck. He meant to compete with Chicago, not Fort Worth. Love Field was encased by the city it served, unable to grow, incapable of handling what exploding air traffic was about to bring to the cities that understood it and welcomed it. When his peers resisted, he gave them an ultimatum: if they wanted him to be mayor, they had better get used to his acting like one. A great city needed a port. The future of Dallas was in the air. —Wick Allison
In June 1967, Dallas and Fort Worth each held simultaneous elections to create the new airport authority. Fort Worth voters approved it. Dallas voters rejected it.
The day after the vote, Mayor Jonsson and I were scheduled to speak before the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce. We had assumed the airport authority would pass, and we’d be on a high going into the meeting. Instead, Jonsson lectured the chamber members. He told them that it had to be done.
The mayor forged ahead. Without an authority, we needed a bi-city agreement for the creation of the airport. Frank Hoke, mayor pro tem in Dallas and a lawyer, was instrumental in helping to get that agreement drafted. Our first airport committee contained three representatives from each city. There was a conscientious attention to self interests. Distrust was rampant.
Mayor Jonsson didn’t stop with the Oak Cliff Chamber. He let the city know that this airport would be built, no matter what. When the bonds came up for a vote, they were approved. The two cities ultimately bought 18,000 acres of land for the airport.
We believed that if we were to build the airport, we could create an enormous economic engine. I’m not surprised, but I’m most satisfied that people put into it what was necessary for it to be what it is. —George Schrader
George Schrader was assistant city manager during the planning phase of DFW Airport. Schrader now works at Schrader & Cline LLC.