AllGood Cafe isn’t just a restaurant with badass country fried steak and bacon to die for. Thanks to owner Mike Snider, its employees are a close-knit family of artists. Snider, who never married and doesn't have kids, has become a father figure to those who work for him, using his business to help nurture their art for the past decade and a half. And, as it turns out, that dedication to the arts has made for a successful business model.
Snider grew up with musicians on the East Coast in high school and college, where he attended Penn State. He was a roadie for some and a good friend to others. “I feel comfortable with musicians,” he says. “I’ve met so many of them through all these years and I’m so proud of that because before I was just a fan.” His first love is music and his second is the restaurant business, with the latter enabling his participation in the former. By selling food and beverages, he was able to promote shows he wanted to see.
His roots in North Texas music run deep, having booked shows in the area for more than 20 years. Back in 1994, Snider was putting on shows at Sons of Hermann Hall at night and helping Baker’s Ribs with catering during the day. Eventually his shows were doing well enough that he was able to leave his catering job and focus on bringing shows to several venues. Over the years, he’s brought acts like Wilco, Whiskeytown and Vic Chesnutt to Dallas.
He’s also worked with local legends, promoting Polyphonic Spree’s first show and Tripping Daisy’s last. It amazes him to look back. He realizes that he booked Kevin Smith 10 times before he started playing bass for Willie Nelson. He remembers how surprised he was when longtime employee Taylor Young decided to pick up a guitar and start the O’s. “He was not a guitarist or singer-songwriter,” Snider says. “He was a drummer for Polyphonic Spree.”
In 1998, he was one of several involved in the opening of the Gypsy Tea Room (now The Door). “I came up with the name,” Snider says. Snider’s focus was on booking shows for the venue, but eventually his own musical taste began to take over. “I can’t think outside the box,” he says. Even if a band could sell out a show, he still preferred to bring an artist like Son Volt or Lucinda Williams, so others were brought in to help book shows.
Eventually Snider realized that he needed his own place, where he could be free of compromises and uncertainty about his future. He opened AllGood in 2000, a month after having a “restaurant shower” where he asked friends and peers for help to get him started. Looking around the place, he points out several things that people donated: tables and chairs from Baker’s Ribs and Chili’s, booths from Daddy Jack’s and Monica’s Aca y Alla (now Maracas). To him, the AllGood is almost a live theater. “We decorate it,” he says. “We have the lights, we have the music and the staff. It’s like when you cast a play.”
The shower also featured a potluck buffet because people were asked to bring food and recipes. If he liked it, he put it on the menu. But it was still rough going for a longtime. Every time he put on a successful show somewhere, he funneled the profits back into the restaurant to keep it going. “It was the only way to keep it open,” he explains.
Snider soon started hosting shows at AllGood, with the first featuring Old 97's. He made it past the initial rough patch years ago and just celebrated his 15th anniversary with a performance by Yells at Eels, featuring percussionist Stefan González, who has been an employee for nearly five years. “All Good is a place with a lot of history,” González says. “He has a story behind every single artifact that’s on the wall there.”
In addition to musicians, Snider also employees a comedian and a photographer. With few exceptions, he simply isn’t interested in hiring someone who isn’t passionate about some sort of artistic expression. AllGood isn’t just a place to wait tables. “It’s a crazy extension of his belief in the local music scene,” explains González. This also makes for an encouraging work environment for young artists, with employees typically talking about music they just recorded or shows they played the night before.
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In this environment, artists are not only nurtured but also created. Kjersten Funk of Party Static was a music fan with a theater background when she started at AllGood six years ago. She flatly says no when asked if she would have joined a band without AllGood. But after being around people who constantly made music, she reconsidered. “I found out that it was easier than I thought to make music because I was in close proximity with people who did,” says Funk.
Snider is also known for giving his young artists meaningful business advice. Laura Harrell, also a member of Party Static and an employee of AllGood for 10 years, has had a number of projects over the years and remembers Snider telling her that she should focus on Party Static because he felt it was something really special. He's flexible when bands have to tour, too. “If it was just anywhere else there would be a problem,” says González. “I would be like, ‘Well fuck you. I’ve gotta go do my thing.’” But for Snider it's understood to be a part of the equation.
He’s also been instrumental in helping bands raise funds for projects by booking them to play at AllGood and paying a very fair price. He did this with Yells At Eels to help fund La Rondella, their afterschool workshop for students. On September 4, the O’s will play at AllGood not only as a second anniversary show, but also as a way to help fund their next album.
Using AllGood Cafe to benefit the arts has also ultimately served Snider well in a business sense. Turnover is very low, business has been good for years and with Deep Ellum booming he feels the future should be bright. “There are 80,000 restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth,” he says, and it makes him proud when he is listed in the top 100. He's also proud of his work as a promoter. But without a wife or kids, his family of artists makes him proudest.