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The Lessons We've Learned from Dallas' Un-Trendy, Long-Running Food Institutions

The butcher blocks are decades old, the age announced by the depth of their concave shape, at Rudolph's Market & Sausage Factory.
The butcher blocks are decades old, the age announced by the depth of their concave shape, at Rudolph's Market & Sausage Factory.
Nick Rallo
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One hundred twenty years later, the butcher blocks are the first thing you see when you walk through the door. They dip, smoothly, in the middle; you’ll see a valley of wood, sheared with a blade, layer after layer, every day. The wood shavings may still be on the floor. This is how the butchers of Rudolph’s Meat Market, which opened in 1895, avoid warping and cracking from the moisture of countless beef slabs.

In February 2017, the cutting block closest to the door was worn down to show the metal beneath like bones. It was 90 years old at the time, and the staff of Rudolph’s considered throwing it a retirement party. Imagine it: 90 years of life — the callused hands and blood and blades — passing into its molecules. It must have some kind of memory, right?

It’s the first thing that comes to mind after two years of tracking the progress, and the history, of the decades-old joints in Dallas for our series All-American, the memories that stick to your mind long after you’ve asked a restaurant just how in the hell they made it. How did you make it happen? How did you keep going? It's easy, especially in Dallas, to run off to the next new thing and forget about the institutions that have held on even as neighborhoods change. With this series, we wanted to go back, to find out what makes these survivors tick. To learn their history-filled stories and how their Dallas lives run parallel to our own.

Before 3902 Maple Ave. became The Grapevine Bar — which celebrated 22 years of age this year — it was home to Herrera's. This photograph is from the '80s.
Before 3902 Maple Ave. became The Grapevine Bar — which celebrated 22 years of age this year — it was home to Herrera's. This photograph is from the '80s.
courtesy Michelle Honea

If you ask for a story, you’ll hear a good one. Actually, you’ll hear an American one: Regardless of status, race, religion or birthplace, creating a restaurant from scratch, especially decades ago with family on your payroll, requires tireless, blood-spattered hope. It’s sentimental because it’s everything.

In two years of the column, nearly each and every restaurant owner (we publish a new column once a week, roughly) has asserted two things: Their staff is family, some relationships dating back before the restaurant opened its doors. The second point is always about time and the way generations pass through their room. For many, the kids of the first kids who came still patron the joint. For some, you’ll find the kids of the kids of the kids. It’s sentimental for these owners because it’s everything to them, and often, it might be even more to the people who come into the joint. Ask about it, and you might hear about weddings that have happened there — and the weddings of those couples’ children.

If you ask, you learn to listen. I learned, and am very much still learning, to shut up. Because it’s not about you. Within these restaurateurs' struggle for an American business, we have created a memory at the restaurant. We know because it’s carved right there into the damn wood.

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