Running a restaurant out of a convenience store or gas station isn't anything new — but a homestyle, checkered tablecloth Italian restaurant operating out of a convenience store isn't exactly the grab-and-go sandwiches you might be used to.
Keith Steinhour stands tall with a pile of wild hair on top of his head and a stained apron around his waist. His two daughters bounce happily around him, playing and asking their father an endless stream of questions. Steinhour is the owner, operator, head chef, chief financial officer and head of research and development at Giuseppe’s Italian Kitchen. To call it a restaurant would be an extreme overstatement. Located in the Shop-N-Go at the corner of North Fitzhugh and Bryan, Giuseppe’s has exactly three tables, situated under the arch of the building, overlooking Jimmy’s Italian Grocery directly across the street.
Steinhour set out the tables just yesterday — Giuseppe's, after all, has been open for only about two weeks. He brings out a no-nonsense ceramic bowl of bubbling, steaming hot mussels and a pile of spaghetti topped with a meatball approximately the volume of a softball. Before stopping to take a breath, he turns on his heel and heads back into the kitchen.
The kitchen measures no wider than five feet wide and seven feet long. A traditional oven door wouldn’t even open all the way without hitting the opposing wall. Yet here he is, grating fresh parmesan over a golden brown veal cutlet, while a smattering of baked ziti cheesily bubbles under a screaming-hot broiler.
“There used to be a Mexican restaurant or something before,” Steinhour says. A patron leaving the convenience store with a bottle of soda and a pack of cigarettes states. “But they were lazy," he continues. "Keith ain’t lazy.”
Keith is most certainly not lazy. He finishes his last dish and sits out on one of his three tables.
“It's been interesting,” he says. “All this has been in the past two years.” He points out to the store and his tomato-red food truck sitting in the parking lot. “We originally started doing hot dogs near the strip clubs. Now, about two years ago, I’m sitting at my hot dog cart, no further from me to you." He sticks his arm out, almost touching me.
“I’m talking to this guy, and another guy comes up to him and hits him over the head with a bottle," he says. "He turns around even before he sees the guy and blows his ass dead right there next to my cart. He then runs into the place (Dallas Cabaret), with the hot dog still in his hand! And it gets better, the cops are still a little mad at me 'cause I wouldn’t snitch on the guy after they did a photo lineup.”
When asked why he felt the need to not "snitch" on the shooter, Steinhour is brisk. “I’m Italian, kid," he says. "You take care of your shit on your own.”
Steinhour takes a drag from his cigarette. “So anyway, the police ran us out of there after that," he says.
Steinhour is full of these kinds of wacky entrepreneurial endeavors. After his Dallas Cabaret cart eviction, he set up shop on Cedar Springs. But the winds of change never stopped blowing across Steinhour's sail.
“Things got really screwed up there 'cause I answered a question honestly,” he states. When pressed he responded, “They asked if I was gay! You know? It's Cedar Springs! Now I’m not, but to each their own. The problem being, if you wasn’t gay, you're not part of that community.”
While Cedar Springs patrons didn’t run him out of town, they did decide to take their hard-earned cash to other hot dog purveyors, leaving Steinhour to either adapt or move on. He changed gears, selling meatballs, braciole and Italian sausage out of his cart instead of the usual Oscar Mayer fare.
“Doing that got me enough to buy the truck," he says.
From the food truck forward, Steinhour has been in full Italian stride. He doesn't have any desire to limit the quality of his food based on his kitchen’s square footage. Prowling the bar scene at night, selling Philly cheesesteaks and pizza to inebriated customers and no-nonsense sandwiches to the business crowd of Plano during the day earned him street cred.
Steinhour pulls a box of ravioli from his fridge, pointing out the label. “They only make these ravioli in Brooklyn," he says. "You gotta buy a pallet at a time or they don't ship 'em.”
If Steinhour was able to carve out his own little niche from four wheels, it's up to the imagination how far he will go with a brick-and-mortar location, even if it's only a couple of dozen bricks and a bucket of mortar. While Giuseppe's isn’t really meant to be a dine-in location, he plans to crank out online orders — his food is already offered on Grubhub, Uber Eats and Caviar.
“You know what my favorite is? It's the delivery drivers,” Steinhour laughs. “I get a call every time. I'm in the convenience store ... yes, that convenience store.”
Here is the real crux of Steinhour, and Giuseppe's: It's damn good. Where else are you going to get a meatball "sangwinch" with some real weight to it in the same place you can pick up a pack of smokes? Is there anywhere in Dallas you’ll get a fleet of mussels in sauce for $10? Is there any kitchen spending three days to make a true beef bone tomato sauce with under 100 square feet of space?
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Giuseppe's place in the neighborhood is no coincidence, either. Steinhour is looking to change the neighborhood one dish at a time.
“That was the idea,” he starts. “The feeling was that something that Dallas never really had was a Little Italy. Back east, it's everywhere — it's like the little Mexican convenience stores here. But you move here and I look around and go, ‘Where do I shop?' ”
While Giuseppe's and Jimmy’s Food Store do their best to hold the Italian flag high in East Dallas, hopefully Steinhour's dream will one day come true. In the meantime, Giuseppe's is open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., and then 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. daily, and sometimes later on the weekends, depending on if Steinhour is out and about still driving his food truck around.
Guiseppe's Italian Kitchen, 4900 Bryan St. (East Dallas)