It’s easy to walk around the Bishop Arts District and feel like the neighborhood’s character is slipping away. Mid-rise condos and apartment buildings are sprouting on seemingly every block. Whole rows of homes are taped off, awaiting bulldozers. Once-abundant views of the downtown Dallas skyline are becoming harder to find.
But the locals won’t let this story of rapid development and a changing community tell itself so easily. Look around the neighborhood and you’ll find plenty of businesses keeping the casual, welcome-all-comers spirit of Oak Cliff alive.
This week, a new business joined the ranks of true Bishop Arts neighborhood spots: La Bodega, a sandwich and rotisserie chicken grab-and-go restaurant on Eighth Street, just across from Taco y Vino. Like the name suggests, it’s nothing fancy, but a place to pick up a quick takeout meal on your way out or your way home.
If you live in, say, East Dallas, this might not sound interesting, but Oak Cliff is surprisingly low on sandwich shops and similar casual takeout concepts. Almost every sandwich option in the neighborhood is either a tortería, like Tortas Las Tortugas, or a global chain like Subway. La Bodega baked its promise right into its name: a little neighborhood food shop. In addition to ready-made food, it will eventually sell beer and wine to go, and maybe imported goods.
Owner Skye McDaniel is an Oak Cliff native who’s cooked at some of the neighborhood’s favorite restaurants, including Bolsa and Boulevardier. She left the restaurant industry when the coronavirus pandemic began, but the pull of hospitality brought her right back. To open La Bodega, she renovated a century-old shotgun house in her free time, around the schedule of a day job.
“When the pandemic hit, we didn’t have a game plan,” she says, summing up her last few years. “I got very freaked out about the industry in general. Even the people that were trying to stay open, we didn’t know what was safe. I had no health insurance, most of us live paycheck to paycheck. But at the end of the day, this was all I wanted to do. When I was 10 years old, I wanted to go to culinary school. I love what I do.”
Given the pandemic’s stress, McDaniel decided her best bet was to own her own business. Luckily, she had the idea ready. A quick sandwich and salad concept isn’t just useful, it’s economical; ingredients can be used in multiple menu items, and food waste can be reduced to near zero. McDaniel tells me that at previous jobs, she lost sleep stressing about food going to waste. Now if she winds up with lots of chicken bones, she’ll sell housemade stock.
The sandwich part of La Bodega is easy to understand. To get to the rotisserie chicken side of the business—using organic, antibiotic-free chickens from Bell & Evans—you have to know a little bit of backstory. About an ex-boyfriend.
A few years ago, McDaniel traveled to Spain with her then-boyfriend. But there was a problem: he was a very picky eater.
“At night we would leave the apartment we were renting in Sevilla, and I’d have a list of anywhere from three to five places that I’d want to hit for tapas and wine,” she says. Sounds good to me. But: “He didn’t eat any of the tapas. And he didn’t drink. I would eat and drink by myself and he would usually just get a plate of papas bravas. And then on our way home, there was this little bitty shop around the corner that stayed open all night. It sold rotisserie chicken, fries, and churros with chocolate. So that was where he would get dinner. Every night he had rotisserie chicken and fries.
“I thought, ‘oh, that would play. It’s a simple concept. You don’t need a lot of space.’”
There you have it. Searching for a great business idea? Take a moment to remember your exes.
La Bodega debuted on July 5, with a menu of whole and half rotisserie chickens, salads like fattoush and panzanella, grab-and-go sandwiches, fries, hummus, and locally-made Kiestwood Coffee. I can’t wait to forget to make dinner plans, swing by, and try a bit of everything.
La Bodega, 208 W. Eighth St.