By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
But Greene was torn. Should she accept the offer and reward her employees/partners with the proceeds for sticking it out? Or should she hold fast and commit to heaving it over the hump? When her partners confronted her about her plans, she admitted to them that she didn't want to unload the restaurant. They urged her to tough it out.
Her suitor was furious, but the discord seemed to rouse a steely resolve. "I became very aggressive with my advertising," Greene says. Instead of being reserved about her sex change, she began to flaunt it. She took out ads in the Dallas Observer, changing the copy weekly. "I'm not beautiful. I'm not sexy. On the phone I sound like Ricky Ricardo. But I sure know how to cook," read one. Another: "For every Chromosomal X in my body, there's a 'why' in people's minds."
She printed up dozens of matchbooks with pithy sayings on the flap. She had a sultry photograph of herself shot in a tight miniskirt, bending over and peering down with her hands outstretched, as if she were ready to pounce on something. She had the photo blown up and hung it over the men's urinal. Her customers avidly collected her ads and matchbooks. Much to her distress, they collected that photograph, too. She claims she had more than 40 reprints framed and installed because it was repeatedly filched. She finally gave up.
Business grew steadily, table by table, month by month, until it finally boomed. On Mondays, Greene says, she would stand by her front window and watch as a big tour bus would slowly crawl up to the restaurant before coming to a dead stop. "And you would see flashes," she says. "I don't know what they would say to them, but people would take pictures of the restaurant."
After two years, her marketing program exploiting her gender change finally hit pay dirt. Today Monica's generates more than $3 million in revenue annually. "It's become an incredible marketing story," says Dallas celebrity chef Stephan Pyles, who created Star Canyon and once hired Greene to work at his defunct restaurant Baby Routh. "Talk about publicity stunts. The restaurant business is nothing but theatrics, so this is just the ultimate."
She brings out a stack of snapshots documenting the home's meticulous makeover: paneling torn from walls, windows ripped from rooms, heaps of structural detritus in the yard. She had hoped to find someone to spend her life with in the house by the time it was complete. This didn't happen. So she put cash down on a high-rise apartment in downtown Dallas and put her house up for sale, splashing interior shots in D Home magazine to generate buzz.
But one day she opened her front door and found two stray dogs on the stoop: a husky and a Chihuahua mutt. After a couple of weeks of trying to discover their owners, she adopted the dogs. These family additions forced her to surrender her hold on the high-rise apartment.
Such blips underscore one thing: Despite going through the radical process of a sex change several years ago, Greene's subsequent life has been relatively conventional. Though she says it took five or so years before she could successfully attract investors (which she attributes to a general skittishness over her persona), she has slowly built a tiny, established stable of successful restaurants. Years after rechristening her first restaurant Monica's Aca y Alla (meaning here and there in Spanish), she opened Ciudad in early 2000 to critical and popular acclaim. Earlier this year she launched the fast casual Pegaso downtown, a "cocina economica" or hole in the wall serving Mexican homemade-style food. She's also drafting plans for a Mexican seafood restaurant called Agua.
But Pegaso tears at her a bit. She can't decide if she wants to nurture it into a small chain or operate just a handful of restaurants so she can remain the focal point within each, maintaining personal contact with customers.
Greene has other ambitions, too. A longtime scribbler in journals, she says she wants to write a cookbook, a novel and a collection of poetry.
And she wants to run for city council. After floating the proposition before one of Dallas' more buttoned-down businessmen, he burst out laughing. But then he froze in mid-guffaw: "My God. You could win."