By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Ten years ago, Eduardo Greene had the world by the tux tails. His restaurants, Eduardo's Aca y Alla and Cayuse, were hot--veritable petri dishes of buzz, the stuff Dallas craves almost more than money. He had scores of devoted fans, smitten by his savoir-faire and fierce sincerity. Eduardo's was a Dallas darling, drawing everyone from Mick Jagger to Harry Connick Jr. to fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. His presence siphoned women, who attracted men and drew money that tugged the city's moguls and politicians into his orbit. "He was one of the few guys who could still kiss a woman's hand and not be gross about it," says Dallas restaurant/club operator Shannon Wynne.
But inside Greene was a mess. He was haunted by dissonance between the man he was on the outside and the woman he felt himself to be on the inside. The discord reached its peak in 1993, following the death of his father, a brush with mortality that placed him at a crossroads. Just afterward, he had a dream. In the dream Eduardo saw himself as a 6-year-old boy playing in the back yard of his childhood home in Mexico City. The grown Eduardo was screaming at the boy, begging him to come into the house and talk to him, to tell him what happened and why. The boy smiled and didn't answer.
Like a ghost the boy passed through a windowpane and into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and struggled to pour himself a glass of water. The boy was silent. He sipped the water, and just as he turned to leave through the pane, the boy said to the grown Eduardo: "You're not quite ready. I will come back and talk to you sometime and let you know why."
This simple dream opened a door for Eduardo and drove a stake through him at the same time. He began to annihilate himself. The first discard was Cayuse, his kitschy cowboy restaurant that opened in early 1993 on Oak Lawn Avenue. It couldn't generate the cash to match the buzz. "Cayuse was just too grand," Greene boasts. "It was witty, and it was before steak hit it big. We were the toast of the town." Now it was toast.
Then in August 1993, the 37-year-old Greene surrendered his restaurant Eduardo's to his wife, severed his marriage and found himself shuttling down the freeway with $60 in his pocket, driving with no destination in mind. There were two things he was sure of, though: His Eduardo persona must be extinguished, and he could never return to Dallas.
Twenty minutes into his escape he panicked. It suddenly hit him that he was in transitory limbo, and he was slapped by the terror of non-personhood. He didn't have a bank account, a Social Security number or a drivers license to indicate he was anyone other than Eduardo Greene.
He pulled up to a gas station phone booth and called a crisis line. That call steered him to Fort Worth and Barbara, a woman who, like Greene, was transgendered. Barbara provided Eduardo with shelter and personal support, but she would soon meet a tragic end. Over the next few months Greene suffered not only the anguish of this personal upheaval, he was faced with an unexpected series of events that abruptly swept him back into Dallas, a city he believed he could never stick his toe in again. Yet once he regained his footing, Greene cemented his identity as Monica and grew to become the city's grandest hostess. In 2001 and again this year, her peers named her the city's best restaurateur in a D magazine poll--this in a city generally known for its crusty conservatism.
But Eduardo's was suffering. Greene attributes the decline to a combination of factors, namely a sinking economy and unrest infecting Deep Ellum. Frankie Jimenez, who was a bartender at Eduardo's at the time, adds another factor: the inexperience of Maggie Felicetti, Eduardo's ex-wife and the woman to whom he gave the restaurant reins when he left Dallas.
Greene says Felicetti confronted her with a tricky question: How would you like to take the restaurant back? "I thought it was a bad idea," Greene says. "I just did not want to come back to Dallas and face what I had to face. My intention initially was to just disappear." This disappearance would spare her the "words and innuendo flying around" about her gender swap.
But the fate of Eduardo's pressed. Three partners--Felicetti, Felicetti's previous ex-husband and the restaurant's landlord, Lou Reese--wanted out. But dealing with these defections meant Greene would have to confront another detail she dreaded: facing her restaurant staff in a skirt and heels.
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.
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."
They lost their land in the war's aftermath, but John Greene, her great-great-grandfather, made his way to New Orleans with about seven other Confederate generals and vowed to continue the fight. Instead of fighting, Greene ended up in Veracruz, Mexico, where he married the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in the region. He became a landowner and a shipper, moving sugar between ports in Mexico and New Orleans. "They were gringos, but they were a good family," Greene says.
Her grandfather slipped back into the United States and went on to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, eventually serving as an ambassador to the United States in one of Mexico's provisional governments. But after the revolution that toppled the 30-year Mexican dictatorship in 1920, her family lost half its land.
Her father, the last of eight children, never finished college. Instead, he took on a lucrative position at a casket manufacturer that sold the boxes in Central and South America.
As the seventh of eight children evenly divided among girls and boys, Greene says she has little memory of her mother. "I never really felt the absence of my mother because I never really met her," she says. Greene was just 3 when her mother succumbed to cancer at the age of 33. Greene's only memory of her is her arms and legs. Young Eduardo used to pretend he was her kitten, and he would crawl around her sick bed mewing. She would reach down to pet his head.
"Even at an early age, I knew what I was," she insists. Greene stresses that she had a normal childhood, yet it was fraught with longings. She recounts how she used to dream she was another person, used to pray to God and make deals with him. "I used to say, 'Please make me this. Please allow me to wake up tomorrow like this and I will do this for you,'" she says.
"People who are transgendered know typically by the age of 3 that they have a gender identity shift," says Feleshia Porter, a Dallas psychologist who specializes in sex-reassignment counseling.
Just as homosexuality was until 1973, transsexualism is classified as a mental disorder in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM). The manual refers to the condition as gender identity disorder, or GID. It is also known as gender dysphoria, or an aversion to one's genital anatomy coupled with a strong urge to live as a member of the opposite sex. Transsexualism is thought to be very rare. While no recent epidemiological studies have determined the prevalence of GID, some experts estimate the total number of transsexuals in the United States at roughly 25,000 with 6,000 to 11,000 of them having undergone sex-reassignment surgery, though some estimates go much higher. The DSM estimates roughly one in 30,000 men and one in 100,000 women undergo sexual-reassignment surgery. Porter adds that while surgical male to female transitions are more successful, transitioning from male to female creates more problems socially than the reverse. "It's easier for them [female to males] to pass," she says. "Plus masculinity in a female is not as looked down upon as femininity is in a male."
As a boy, Greene didn't have a name for what she was feeling or any awareness of a process to address it. As a child, she says, she seldom slept. Instead she sequestered herself in the closet reading with a flashlight and playing "what if?"
She grew up among a crop of strong brothers with whom she regularly fought, and she says she was a typical boy. "I had a normal childhood," she says. "I was a great soccer player. I even became a bully."
But in certain ways, Greene says, her peers thought she was strange. She insists she didn't overtly act out or dress up as a girl, but her approach to femininity was distinctly different from that of her friends. She remembers one instance when one of her friends slipped out of the house with his father's Playboy magazines. "I was not disturbed," she says, "but I thought they should not be looking at those girls this way, with those emotions. So I painted dresses on them." This artistry enraged her friend's father when he discovered his centerfolds had been tampered with.
Greene remembers another telling instance just after the young Eduardo turned 13. It is a cultural tradition among the upper strata in Mexico, she says, for a boy to be introduced to a prostitute once he reaches adolescence so that he might "experience a woman." When she was 13, Greene says, the father of one of his friends gave Eduardo and his cohorts the money to indulge in this rite of passage. Greene abstained. Eduardo told his friends to go and have a good time and that he would use his money to buy hotdogs for them when they returned. "I wasn't a prude," she insists. "I just didn't understand those things." Greene fed them hotdogs while they reveled in the detailed retelling of the experience.
Greene says her childhood as Eduardo was happy, glued with family bonds and kind nannies, maids and laundresses. But other than geography and history, Eduardo had no interest in school. "I was the clown of the class," she boasts.
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.
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.'"
Genaro's boiled with buzz and glitz shortly after it opened in the early 1980s. But by late 1988, it had burned itself out.
That's when Greene took a detour, assuming a post at the Julius Schepps Co., a one-time Texas liquor and beer distribution powerhouse. Greene was a brands manager for Corona, which was about to shake up the U.S. imported beer market. He gave the Mexican beer significant presence in Dallas, stoking its popularity in South Dallas where salesmen often didn't venture.
He later sold wine for Schepps before a short run at Stephan Pyles' Baby Routh, where he was a manager. Shannon Wynne lured him from the high-profile restaurant to work the door at his resuscitated 8.0 in the late 1980s. "When we opened he knew every third person who walked through the door," Wynne says. "Once they became regulars, he knew what they ate, he knew what they drank, he knew what their preferences were." They made money by the fistful. The lines got longer and longer. The rush didn't die down for five years.
That's why Wynne was stunned when Greene told him he was leaving 8.0 to open his own restaurant. Greene had no problem raising the cash, collecting $100,000 from investors in just two months. "It wasn't difficult at all," Greene says. "People trusted that I would make it." Many urged him to take over the shuttered Los Vacaros spot in Highland Park Village and were stunned when this darling of the city's properly primped opted for an empty warehouse on Main Street in Deep Ellum. "People thought I was crazy," she says.
Greene spent $80,000 on the sassy Mexican restaurant he christened Eduardo's Aca y Alla, putting the other $20,000 in the bank to use as operating capital. Eduardo's quickly became one of the hottest spots in Dallas.
"My ex-wife used to get so upset," Greene says. "She used to say, 'Eddie, you're selling $4.99 fucking enchiladas. What are you doing kissing people's ass?'"
She enumerates a few subtle differences. "Funny things happened," she says. "I went from being a short man to a tall woman." There's also the ever-present sense of vulnerability. As a man, Greene gave no thought to leaving a restaurant at 2 a.m., fumbling while scavenging pockets for car keys in a parking lot. Now, Greene says, she has her car keys positioned in her hand before she goes out--even at 7 p.m.--so she can quickly jump into her car.
Yet there have been rattling bumps along the way. Eduardo Greene divorced Karen Sue Mcelwee in 1986, citing financial irresponsibility on her part--and violence. (Mcelwee could not be reached for comment.) "My wife...has a violent and ungovernable temper and is unpredictable," Greene claimed in divorce pleadings. "She has abused and harassed me, and I have reason to be and am in fear of her." Greene says that his wife, who knew about his gender conflict all along, grew angry at him because of it. Following the divorce, he was granted custody of his son (now 28) and daughter (soon to be 26), raising them as a single father.
On New Year's Day 1991, Greene married artist Felicetti, his longtime close friend. He hints that there was a tremendous upheaval when he told her one morning in 1993 that he was determined to become a woman. There were also sharp struggles with his children. (Felicetti and the children declined to comment.) "It was very painful for everyone," says publicist Jo Ann Holt, who was friends with both Greene and Felicetti. "I would think that that would be very hard to deal with, to think that the man that you loved and married didn't want to be a man anymore."
"It was hard for them at the very beginning. I can tell you that," Greene says of her children. "It was hard for them to understand it...But they're proud of me for who I am...My kids call me dad."
The path was fraught with other bumps. Perhaps the most jarring occurred just after Greene moved to Fort Worth and settled in an apartment with Barbara, the transitioning woman Greene was referred to from the crisis line. Barbara was a 52-year-old engineer from Lockheed. "She was a big girl," Greene says. But after Barbara went to Galveston to undergo vaginoplasty--conversion of the penis into a vagina--she never returned. She died after the operation, felled by a blood clot. Greene was devastated.
Monica's sex-change operation skirted such tragedy. But it was not without certain side oddities. After a 1994 article appeared in The Dallas Morning News chronicling her sex change, Greene got a call from the producers of The Jerry Springer Show. They wanted to follow and document her physical transition via tabloid TV. They offered to pay the cost of the surgery if they could videotape the transformation from start to finish. For Greene, whose restaurant was foundering in the wake of her gender decision and who was barely earning a living, this seemed a godsend. "There was my dream, being made reality," she says. "But I would have to marry the devil, and I wasn't going to do that."
Instead, in May 1995 she borrowed $7,500 for the surgery from a friend and made a trip to Belgium to have it performed, a process that entailed great physical pain and left her incapacitated for months.
"I didn't do this for an emotional change," Greene insists. "This had nothing to do with what I was looking for in the way of a sex life. It wasn't going to be an enhancement."
But what she expected to be even more painful was the reaction of Dallas. Though many of her former colleagues in the Dallas restaurant business heard stories of Greene traversing the city in drag at various times, they dismissed the rumors as ungrounded personal attacks. Shock set in among them when her transition became public. "Eduardo digs women," says Shannon Wynne. "Eduardo was a lesbian, and this lesbian needed to transform. So yeah, it was a little different for me."
"If he feels much more comfortable as he is now, God bless him," says restaurateur Luciano Cola, who owns La Trattoria Lombardi and Antonio's Ristorante and worked with Greene at Les Rendez Vous. "He's got some...well, he doesn't have any balls, but he's got guts to do what he did."
In truth, whatever tempest there was over Greene's transformation, it was both tepid and short-lived. Greene has since concluded Dallas is unfairly maligned and stereotyped as a narrow, even bigoted metropolis. Instead, she says, it is both accepting and gracious.
"People in Dallas are passionate and generous," she says. "People always talk about how people in Dallas are prejudiced, and I don't think that...I participate in this community on every level. I get invited to do all kinds of things. And there has never been a time where I have been made to feel less."