The biggest challenge of reinventing an old restaurant, says Fort Worth chef and restaurateur Lou Lambert, is to “embrace the heritage.”
They did it at Paris Coffee Shop, the 95-year-old restaurant in Fort Worth that reopened Thursday, May 19, 2022, after eight months of renovations.
“We’ve been listening to customers who have been here for generations, while striving to make it relevant for a new generation,” says Lambert.
Let’s look at history: Paris Coffee Shop opened in 1926 and was started by a man named Vic Paris. He quickly sold it to a Greek named Grigonos Asikis (who changed the family’s surname to Smith), and the Smiths ran it for nearly 100 years. Meanwhile, the restaurant was moved in the 1970s to its current location on W. Magnolia Avenue, taking the place of a Safeway grocery store.
Lambert and his business partners Chris Reale and Mark Harris picked up the aging restaurant in early 2021.
This same trio also bought and reinvented Roy Pope Grocery, the seventh oldest restaurant and market in Fort Worth, dating back to 1943.
Paris Coffee Shop likely would have been demolished and become the site of an apartment complex if they hadn’t bought it, Lambert speculates. Today, Magnolia Avenue is a busy and sought-after street in Fort Worth.
The new Paris Coffee Shop has been gutted and completely remodeled, with new walls, floors, kitchen, bathrooms and menus. It remains a casual restaurant with high ceilings and those classic swivel chairs at the bar.
So that they could get a feel for how the restaurant worked, Reale worked the restaurant line for two months before it closed for renovations. They learned that it was no longer a kitchen from scratch.
“Me and Lou, coming from a culinary background, we really wanted to get back to scratch cooking,” Reale says.
Lambert explains it this way: “We want to give more respect to simple foods.
Paris Coffee Shop is known as a breakfast place – a place that sells omelettes, pancakes and the like. Still, the #1 sellers are pies. No. 2 is probably chicken and dumplings, the new owners say. Lambert is proud of the reinvented corned beef hash.
As they updated the menu, they added lattes and cortados, energy cereal bowls, and granola parfaits. Blue plate specials stay at home: fried chicken on Mondays; meatloaf on Tuesday; braised on Wednesday; chicken and dumplings on Thursday and catfish on Friday.
At the moment the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. Lambert and Reale will soon be adding dinner – another change for this nearly century-old restaurant.
“For me, it’s always been that greasy spoon dinner,” says Reale, who grew up in Fort Worth and remembers visiting the Paris Coffee Shop as a kid. “You walk in and you feel at home. There is the clinking of the dishes, the conversations. The cool thing about Paris is that you will be sitting next to a team of landscapers and next to them will be the judge or a group of guys in suits.
“I love it and I’m convinced we’re the right people to do the job,” he says.
Paris Coffee Shop is at 704 W Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth. It reopened on May 19, 2022. Breakfast and lunch only, for now; dinner and brunch come later.