The forgotten, overlooked and taken-for-granted businesses that we would miss terribly if they disappeared
The latest development here, rumors of a new restaurant there, and closures every other week — such is the typical fodder for business-news talk. But what about those oft-forgotten institutions — the ones that do not beckon with novelty or glamour, but, rather, persist quietly, like a patient grandparent, waiting for us to visit? When we do, we are reminded why they endure: because they are genuine, loyal, sturdy and loved. They are a constant in a perpetually changing environment. Periodically, pay a visit to our neighborhood’s oldies. It will make you feel warm and a tad nostalgic. (Oh, and you should probably visit your grandparents, too.)
618 S. Westmoreland at Schooldell • 214.467.1154
2425 W. Kiest at Hampton • 214.330.2210
But there is just something about it. It’s only been open about eight years, but it feels like it’s been there forever.
The owner is 27-year-old Jameon Hardeman, a tattooed former Kimball High School football standout who played at Baylor University. Hardeman is the fourth generation of his family to run a Hardeman’s restaurant. He took over the Westmoreland location from his mom, Gloria, who still runs the store on Kiest.
The original Hardeman’s BBQ opened at 2901 S. Lancaster in 1955, and there’s been a Hardeman’s in Oak Cliff ever since. But the Hardeman family’s barbecue history goes back even further. Chester Hardeman started selling barbecue out of makeshift roadside stands as early as the 1930s.
His son, George Hardeman Sr., learned to cook in the U.S. Navy. And when he got out, he opened his namesake restaurant. A framed portrait of Hardeman and his wife, Olevia Odom Hardeman, hangs in every Hardeman’s and Odom’s restaurant.
George Miller smokes the meat at Hardeman’s on Westmoreland. He met the elder George Hardeman when he was 20 years old, and was hired as a dishwasher. He moved his way up to pit master eventually. And he married (and later divorced) one of Hardeman’s daughters, Pam.
“I never had another job before cooking barbecue,” Miller says. “And it’s the only job I’ve ever had.”
The work is brutally hot. About everything he owns smells like smoke. What keeps him coming back every day is the gratification of serving good meat.
“When someone says ‘Boy, that sure smells good’ — that’s what makes me want to do it,” Miller says. “I don’t mind being back there sweating.”
3210 W. Illinois at Westmoreland • 214.331.4600
“We still have customers to this day who say, ‘You remember? We used to wait outside when it was so hot in the summer and in the winter when it was freezing cold,’ ” says owner Diana Vasquez.
Vasquez and her husband at the time had used their life savings to start a restaurant in a now-bygone shopping center at the corner of Illinois and Westmoreland, having no idea whether their dream of owning a restaurant would work.
There were few other restaurants around at the time, Vasquez says. That, along with good food and service, is what made them. They captured a lunch crowd of workers from Dresser Industries. And the dinner shift stayed busy with neighbors.
They quickly outgrew the space, and in 1981 bought their current place, at 3210 W. Illinois, from an architect who had built it for his offices. Vasquez and her then-husband did not take out a mortgage; instead, they bought the building from its former owner in payments.
Once again, they spent all their money turning an office building into a restaurant.
“It was like starting all over again,” Vasquez says.
When El Fenix built a restaurant at Hampton and Illinois in the early ’80s, friends warned Vasquez that she likely would lose business to that Tex-Mex empire. But Tachito’s kept plugging away, and the regulars kept coming back.
The ’80s and ’90s were Tachito’s heyday. The 8,000-square-foot restaurant would be packed on Friday nights. The busy lunches continued, and Tachito’s never had to advertise.
The second-floor party room regularly held quinceañeras, birthdays and office Christmas parties.
But then, in the early aughts, business started slowing. The Dresser Industries plant at 3400 Westmoreland had closed. The economy slumped following the burst of the tech bubble. And many of the dinnertime regulars had moved to southern suburbs.
“It was tough there for awhile,” Vasquez says.
She responded by closing up shop on their slowest day, Monday. Eventually, Tachito’s closed on Tuesdays as well. But it all works out.
The restaurant has mostly the same kitchen and wait staff every day that it’s open, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. And everyone has the same days off. Business has picked up a little in the past few years.
Vasquez is in her 60s now. She serves the grandchildren of those customers who used to wait in line 36 years ago. She’s not sure how much longer she will keep Tachito’s going, but there are no plans to close the place.
“I’m not ready to retire yet,” she says.
1802 Singleton at Vilbig • 214.749.0277
The vintage signs at Wimpy’s announce frozen custard and breakfast. But walk up to the menu, hand-written on a whiteboard, and you’ll find neither of those.
Wimpy’s, which opened in the 1950s, served breakfast and hamburgers back in the day. But the West Dallas restaurant had been shuttered for years until 2007, when Lupe Gutierrez and her mother bought it.
They repainted the exterior, staying true to the old murals of hamburger-crazed Wimpy and other characters from Popeye the Sailor cartoons. They left the old hand-lettered signs announcing hamburgers, hot dogs and custard.
“We wanted to keep it true to how it’s always been,” Gutierrez says.
The menu does include hamburgers, of course, with thin patties and grilled buns, wrapped in filmy white paper and served in a paper bag. A cheeseburger with tater tots costs less than $6 — how’s that for old school?
Along with burgers, Wimpy’s also offers chicken and fish baskets, foot-long hot dogs and more.
Gutierrez and her mother also own the Dog House, a few blocks away on Singleton, which also sells burgers, plus tortas and “knock-outs,” snow cones with soft-serve ice cream in the middle.