Monica at 10

A decade ago, Eduardo Greene abandoned his wife, his home and a successful restaurant, expecting a nightmare in pursuit of a dream

The staff had no idea that Eduardo was dead. All they knew was that the restaurant would be closing and that there would be change. The day of Monica's introduction, she parked her car across the street from Eduardo's. Then she froze. She didn't know what she would face. Would they be horrified and walk out en masse?

For five minutes she sat in her car before she got up the courage to open the door and stroll across the street to the restaurant, in stark view of everyone inside. Her employees were dumbfounded.

"At first I heard that he was dressing up as a woman. I didn't believe it," says Jimenez, who is now a partner in Monica's and Greene's other restaurants Ciudad and Pegaso. "I just didn't believe it until she showed up one day wanting to have a meeting with us. And there she was."

Their shock over Greene's reappearance as Monica was short-lived. Instead of abandoning Greene and the wreck Eduardo's had become, they rolled up their sleeves. Every single employee committed to revive the place, realizing that Greene was the key to the turnaround. "Everything fell apart," Jimenez says. "We were going to lose the restaurant. That was the only hope, Monica coming back."

But while Greene was rich in savoir-faire, she was strapped for cash. So she proposed to Jimenez and two other employees, Victor Moreno and Felipe Mendez, that if they could raise the funds to cash out the partners who wanted out, she would give them a piece of the equity. By cobbling together personal savings and other resources, they managed to collect some $15,000. With the cash they installed a new sign, christening the restaurant Monica's Aca y Alla. A makeover followed--on the cheap--"to make it more seductive," Greene says. Over three days she painted the restaurant, covering the bare metallic ceiling in black and sponging the walls in red.

Monica's official introduction to her former customer base was a bit lighter. She planned a grand opening party with special invitations featuring two infants, one girl and one boy, looking into the front of their respective diapers with the headline "Come see the difference."

The party erupted on March 4, 1994: a smashing success with more than 300 people packing the lightly cosmeticized restaurant. "Everyone wanted to see what I looked like," Greene says. "I didn't take it personally. The rest is history."

The next two years would be rocky. In addition to financial difficulties, there were the persistent fears gnawing at Greene that she would be ostracized, ridiculed or worse. She balked at re-engaging in the social circles she traversed as Eduardo with ease. This dread crested during a 1995 fund-raiser at the Grand Hotel in downtown Dallas. Like a nervous debutante, she entered the hall in a miniskirt and heels. She could feel the eyes pressing on her. She could hear them mumbling, backing away as she passed. "I could have been Moses parting the whole room," she remembers. "I was starting to wonder if I made the right decision to go there. No one had really come forward to greet me properly."

But Ron Kirk, then Dallas' new mayor, spotted her, made a few steps toward her and embraced her. "And as I was looking over his shoulder, as he's giving me a hug, I suddenly realized that something had changed...I almost feel like it was ice melting," Greene says. "I could see in people's faces saying, 'Well, if it's all right for you to greet Monica, I guess it's OK for me.' It opened a door."

Kirk says he doesn't remember the incident, but he understands her dread. "She could just as easily have walked into a room and somebody could have used the most ugly epitaph you could imagine," Kirk says. "There's a potential for genius and evil in all of us, and there's a potential for good and bad in all of us."

Greene insists she has never experienced the evil or bad that Kirk alludes to. The most she has ever picked up on is a level of passing discomfort. She does recall an episode with one customer, though, a devotee who visited Eduardo's nearly every day. A week after she reopened the restaurant as Monica's, he took one look at Monica, turned around and walked out in disgust. About two weeks later he returned and later apologized. "He said, 'I just didn't understand that you're the same person,'" Greene says. "He's been a great customer of ours."

While Greene struggled with acceptance, the restaurant foundered. She and her partners and staff scrambled for two years to keep it afloat. Greene cooked and worked as a waitress and bartender. They kept the place open until 4 a.m. and served breakfast. In lieu of salaries, Greene and her partners lived on tips and fed themselves at the restaurant. "We were barely making it," she says.

Yet just as the restaurant was close to going under, a rescuer emerged. A Dallas restaurateur who operated a Mexican fast casual restaurant approached Greene with an offer to buy Monica's. Greene tossed out what she considered an outrageous sum--$120,000--for her listing operation. To her astonishment, her suitor agreed.

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