Dallas certainly isn’t short on glitz. The landscape offers a perpetual wheel of new and sparkly things. And with that comes good and bad. But then there are places that despite all the messiness of life, hang on for decades. Worn-down windows on a worn-down building, wearing the same coat of paint summer after summer. Signs out front that have stood through countless storms, cold snaps and endless days of 100-degree heat with the busy masses passing by. Not to mention a pandemic, which all but halted business. And yet, they keep on.
Walking into Antoine’s Foods on Harry Hines Boulevard is a bit of a time warp. The DeLorean of sandwich shops. The building that holds the half-century-old restaurant is a minute past rundown; impeccably clean, but worn. How the coolers holding pre-made sandwiches are still running is a marvel. Or maybe it’s that "things were built better back then." Probably that.
Sam Ayoub, 71, bought Antoine’s 40 years ago. His wife, Maria, 72, helps make sandwiches if she’s at the store and things get busy. Mario Chavez, who has worked with them for 24 years, works the counter swiftly building sandwiches and running the day-to-day business.
On the edge of uptown, downtown and the medical district, Antoine’s is an easy spot for lunch on a busy day. But when shelter-in-place orders rolled out, this small mom-and-pop shop was devastated. Sam says sales are down 50% from the same time last year, and that’s with things now getting better.
“We would do $19 a day some days last year,” Sam says. “That’s not even enough to pay the phone bill.”
They had a hard time managing the nuances of ‘pivoting’ during the pandemic. They tried phone orders and curbside delivery, but it didn’t work. He applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan but missed out on that too.
“I called them after the first round and they told me to apply again for the second round and when I did that, I was rejected because I applied twice,” Sam says with a can’t-win laugh. “We were just asking for a few thousand dollars.”
Those types of frustrations have been common for small businesses who lack accounting departments to quickly maneuver through the details of getting approved for a loan. Antoine’s accounting department is at a small two-person table near the kitchen, with a notepad and a pair of readers sitting on top. But now, Sam brushes the loans off with a wave of his hand, in an I-don’t-want-their-money-anyway fashion.
“We’re starting to, little by little, stand on our own again. Still in the red, but a little better,” he says. “It would be a shame to let go after all these years.”
A shame for certain. For many reasons, one being that they make a fine po-boy sandwich. The menu hasn’t changed in decades, nor has their signature bright orange chow-chow that is bought locally. Or the soft cushiony buns with a touch of exterior crisp, which are baked locally.
There are just seven sandwiches on the menu. The Supreme — made with double ham, German salami, provolone, mayonnaise, chow-chow and pickles — is one of their most popular items. They also have the Original (single serving of ham), turkey, roast beef, pastrami-peppered beef, tuna and a minced ham. They’ll make the sandwiches when ordered, or there’s the old cooler with some already made for a quick in-and-out. In what seems like another nod to nostalgia, the most expensive item on their menu is $5.99.
The drink coolers are stocked with the usual cans and bottles, and they also carry Dr. Brown's sodas.
Sam is hopeful workers will soon return and rediscover their small sandwich shop. Short of a media-savvy grandson posting a Tik-Tok video, they'll need their old (and new) customers to visit their small spot to fully turn things around – on their own.
But this doesn't even need to be about helping a locally-owned restaurant. The food stands on its own. Proof is in the time-tested, albeit worn, building.
Antoine's of Dallas, 4234 Harry Hines Blvd. Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
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