For 14 years, a number of local businessmen regularly phoned Howard Swann on Wednesday evening to order some of the cook’s specialty. Then, the next Friday at noon (often on their way home from nearby Love Field), the businessmen showed up in Swann’s back yard to savor some of the sweetest sugar-cured barbecue in Texas.
One day, Dick Favro, one of Swann’s barbecue aficionados, noticed that the seasoned cook was rather upset. It seemed that Dallas’ health department had given Swann a number of citations for improper restaurant facilities. One problem was that Swann lived so close to Love Field that authorities feared that airplane fumes might contaminate the food. So Favro found three investors, and they bought Swann’s recipe. Months later, they formed a small corporation and opened a restaurant on Lovers Lane called the Rib-shack-a haven for Howard Swann’s barbecue and his backyard clientele.
Favro says that Swann had almost 200 regular customers who liked the ambiance of his outdoor restaurant as much as the food, so he decided that the Ribshack should be as much like a backyard barbecue as possible. Food is served from walk-up windows, and customers serve themselves. Butcher paper serves as tablecloths; paper towels, as napkins. Beer is self-serve from a keg in the dining room; it costs $2.25 for “an hour’s worth” of drinking (with a minimum food purchase of $2.95).
Last spring, one of the Rib-shack’s investors read a column in a Dallas newspaper that mentioned Shanghai Jimmy, a local chili king whose restaurant had been closed for some time and whose whereabouts were unknown. Favro looked for Shanghai Jimmy for two months, and, after getting a tip from a friend of the 82-year-old chili cook, Favro finally found him skating at the ice rink in the Plaza of the Americas. Shanghai Jimmy sold his locally famous chili-rice recipe to the Ribshack investors (whose number by this time had grown to 12), and the delicacy was added to the Rib-shack’s menu.
Next month, the name of the corporation will be changed to Legends of Food Inc., and the corporation will announce a national franchising program. “We’ve found that people are looking for more participation on their own [in restaurants],” Favrosays. “Instead of a smiling 19-year-old who says, ’Hi, I’m Jimmy, and I’m going to be your waiter,’ [we] let people make their own ambiance. If they don’t like the service, all they have to blame is themselves.”
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