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

He was also deft at slipping through family cracks. Greene says Eduardo frequently skipped school and stayed home to cook with his nanny, a practice that seeded an intense and lasting passion for food.

He was prone to other impulses. Greene says he would sometimes disappear to Acapulco with friends for two weeks at a time and not tell anyone. A similar impulse dislodged him from Mexico City in 1974, driving him to Dallas at the age of 17 in a yellow Ford Torino with friends. The point of the road trip was to link with a girlfriend at the University of Indiana. But Greene got waylaid in Dallas where the brother of one of his friends was studying at Southern Methodist University.

Greene never left. After a few other friends scheduled to join the journey were detained at the border, Greene decided to stay put. He called his father and informed him that he had decided to enroll at SMU.

As Eduardo, Greene's presence in a restaurant was pure gold. As Monica, Greene is the city's grandest hostess.
Mark Graham
As Eduardo, Greene's presence in a restaurant was pure gold. As Monica, Greene is the city's grandest hostess.
Frankie Jimenez, a partner in Monica Greene's restaurants, says he heard rumors of Eduardo strolling through Dallas in drag. He didn't believe it.
Mark Graham
Frankie Jimenez, a partner in Monica Greene's restaurants, says he heard rumors of Eduardo strolling through Dallas in drag. He didn't believe it.

Greene never attended SMU. Instead he signed up for classes at El Centro College to polish his English. He landed a job, too. Through a friend, he was able to work a special banquet at the Statler Hilton (now the vacant Grand Hotel downtown), a $100-per-plate Republican Party fund-raiser. He was assigned to work four tables with 10 guests each.

But the steak-and-potato dinner flummoxed him. "I had never seen a baked potato in my life," Greene says. "We don't eat baked potatoes in Mexico." Greene had never worked in the food service business either. In fact, he had never had a job before. When guests requested sour cream, Greene brought them cream for their coffee.

Disaster struck when he delivered the condiment carousel for the baked potatoes to one table. He slipped and dumped the entire cargo onto the back of a contributor's head. Greene was promptly fired.

But this food service baptism proved pivotal. Two weeks later, he got a check in the mail for $32, his first-ever earnings. "I decided that I was going to stay and that I loved the restaurant business," Greene says.

After the ill-fated banquet gig, Greene got a job as a busboy at The Sheraton Mockingbird. But when Eduardo told his father that he was working in the restaurant business instead of attending SMU, there was a firestorm. "Where I come from, you don't work in restaurants," Greene says. "At that time it was a no-no because it was lower class...We didn't speak for six years. He cut me off completely."

Greene was hooked. From there he went to Lock-Stock & Barrel. A few months later, he shuttled off to Albuquerque to help open a Hilton hotel. It was through his roommate in that city that he met Karen Sue Mcelwee, the woman who would be his first wife and the mother of his two children.

At first, Eduardo didn't take the relationship seriously. When he told her that he had every intention of returning to Dallas, she asked him if he would take her with him. He jokingly agreed.

But it was no joke. When he finally decided to head back to Dallas, he stopped by Mcelwee's house to say goodbye. She greeted him with her bags packed, ready to go with him. The 16-year-old girl's mother not only agreed that she should go with Eduardo, she insisted he take her 14-year-old niece as well. "Her family had a lot of problems," Greene says.

Not long after arriving back in Dallas, he sent Mcelwee's young cousin back to Albuquerque. But he soon found himself emotionally involved with Mcelwee, and she became the first person to whom he ever confided about his gender conflict. "I said, 'Karen, I can't fall in love with you. I can't do this,'" Greene remembers. "And she said it was OK."

Mcelwee became pregnant shortly after Greene landed a job at Bagatelle, Leo Meier's defunct French Continental restaurant in the Energy Square Building at University and Greenville. Meier, who is now a food service consultant, says Greene had little restaurant experience but was a quick study packed with grace, and he rapidly scurried up the ranks from busboy to waiter to manager.

Dallas restaurateurs quickly learned that having Greene at the front door was pure gold, and he gradually solidified his reputation in town as a draw. In the late 1970s, he was hired to work as a manager at Alberto Lombardi's French bistro Les Rendez Vous across from Breadwinners on McKinney Avenue. "We were charging more for lamb chops then than some people are charging today," Greene says.

He was lured from the Lombardi haunt by a young Genaro Silva, who hired Greene at his bar Montezuma's (a tiny hole in the wall with broken chairs, remembers Greene) across the street with a promise he would install Greene as general manager of his next venture: a Mexican restaurant dubbed Genaro's Tropical. Situated on Skillman Street in what is now the defunct Tipperary Inn, Genaro's was among the first restaurants in Dallas to showcase authentic Mexican cuisine rather than Tex-Mex. Silva says Greene heavily influenced the menu, but he was more interested in his personality. "He always made the guys feel relaxed, and he always made the women feel beautiful," says Silva, who now operates a slate of construction businesses. "He always had that stock line of his of 'you look lovely tonight.'"

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