PHOTO BY Benjamin Hager

Restaurateur Monica Greene grew up in Mexico City in a wealthy family. She came to Dallas in the early ’80s to attend college. Instead, she found a passion for the service industry and a 30-year career as one of the city’s best-known restaurant owners. Her newest concept, BEE: Best Enchiladas Ever, opened in Oak Cliff this year. And she hopes the build-your-own enchiladas concept will spread like pollen among the blooms.

What inspired the concept for BEE?
I’m from Mexico City. I love Mexican food, and that’s the one thing I know the best. I didn’t want to open a taquería. A lot of people are doing a real good job with that. So I wanted to do something that is fast, casual and fresh. Enchiladas are a Mexican food segment that has not been explored. Where I come from, that’s comfort food.

A lot of people compare it to Which Wich or Chipotle because of the build-your-own aspect.
BEE was created to be a new kind of fast-casual concept. We feel once you taste the five-hour cooked brisket, you’re going to go “Mmm. Pretty, pretty good.” There are 1,200 combination possibilities. If you split the sauces, like a lot of people do, then the possibilities are endless. It’s a really unique product.

How is it going so far?
It’s going fantastic. We’re looking for another location, and I think we’ve found one. BEE was created to be a brand that could grow nationally. There’s a reason why people open businesses like this. You create jobs and expand, and you get to do something you always wanted to do. I hope to create a lot of little colonies that can create jobs and do something good for the world. Benito, the bee, is a recognizable logo. It’s trademark registered.

PHOTO BY Benjamin Hager

Can you say where the next location will be?
We haven’t signed a lease yet, so we can’t announce it. It’s not in Dallas. It’s in the surrounding area.

You have a way of creating unique concepts. I remember when your Monica’s Aca Y Alla in Deep Ellum was the most happening place in town.
I opened Deep City Deli first. It was a little supermarket in Deep Ellum. It was way ahead of its time, and even today it would be ahead of its time. Then I opened a steakhouse called Cayuse at Hall and Oak Lawn, and now they have concepts like Texas Land and Cattle, who are doing it much better than I did. I opened Picasso Taquería downtown on Main Street in the ’90s. Monica’s opened in 1992 with nothing over $10. It’s still going after 20 years. I know Deep Ellum is supposed to be coming back; people keep saying that, but we want it to be a reality. We’re hanging on there, and we hope to be there another 30 or 40 years. Monica’s will always be there.

Why did you finally decide to put a restaurant here?
I used to live in Oak Cliff before it was cool to live in Oak Cliff. I lived in Stevens Park for six years, and then I decided to run for city council, so I moved to Deep Ellum. So I still live in Deep Ellum. I’m happy where I am, but it would be nice to live in Oak Cliff again. Oak Cliff has always represented a small town. People are very proud to be from Oak Cliff. They don’t just tell you they’re from Oak Cliff. They tell you what street they live on. There is so much diversity: gay, straight, Mexican, black. Everyone lives together here. It’s a very different environment. That’s why I want to be here. I want to be part of that.

This is such a tough business. Why do you think you’ve been successful at it?
If you go into Monica’s right now, there is a guy, Jose Huerta, who has worked with me since 1983. About 70 percent of the people at Monica’s have been with me since its inception. Four of them are now my business partners. I’m very proud of the fact that we consider ourselves family. It’s been a very rewarding career. My father was very upset with me for choosing this business. I was supposed to be an engineer. I call the restaurant business a noble profession because you get to touch people every day. I was really born to serve, and that’s what I want to do. When I hire people, I have a very unorthodox way of interviewing. I ask them what book are they reading, what music do they like. You’re going to spend more time with them than with your kids. It’s important to get a person who has a good attitude, some sense of pride and happiness.