All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their history while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
At 6 a.m. on Saturday, the morning of Dallas’ St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Todora family will be in the back room of the Parkit Market turning beer green.
The cold kegs will reach the ceiling in their room-sized refrigerator, while 200 to 300 kegs will ultimately be infused with green food coloring in honor of the St. Patrick’s day tradition. For the Todora family, who’ve owned the market for 55 years, it’s an all-hands-on-deck day: 25 to 30 members of Tony Todora’s family will help run the store.
“The people that green the beers in the back ... by the end of the day, they look like the Incredible Hulk,” Todora says.
They order extra registers, a few portable toilets, valet parking and a few police officers to stand guard. It's “15 times” busier than any day of the year, Todora says. It starts first thing in the morning with the marathoners, and folks swerve in looking for a good place to park.
The store’s seen 38 years of St. Patrick’s Day parades, though Saturday’s parade is tamer than earlier versions.
“There were a lot of strippers that used to come down in the parade,” Todora says. “That’s all changed now.”
This year’s parade marks a couple of milestones: A 95th birthday for Tony Todora’s mother, Ann, and the 55th anniversary of Parkit Market.
Since 1962, a year before JFK was shot, the market’s been home base for the Todora family. Tony Todora was born into the business. His grandparents on both sides owned grocery stores in the area. Tony’s brother is working the registers while I’m there, and his wife is making sandwiches in the deli. She builds me a bacon cheeseburger wrapped neatly in wax paper.
In the early ’60s, when Parkit opened, there wasn’t much around the building.
“First couple of years, we really struggled here,” Todora says. “We went to the bank every day to withdraw money. But we hung in there.”
Business began to improve after apartment buildings popped up. Around the time Todora was 18 years old (he’d graduated from Jesuit College Preparatory School and transferred from University of Texas in Austin to Southern Methodist University), he was alternating between college classes and working at Parkit. His friends would ask him if he could get kegs. Todora’s a “why not” kind of guy, so he obliged. Now, 55 years later, kegs are their bread and butter, along with the deli sandwiches. Lotto tickets are a staple, too.
They’ve got a full keg hospital in the back room; nozzles and tubes and replacement parts and a refrigerator bigger than most apartments in Deep Ellum. That’s the Parkit Market for you: A family-run business, humble as you want a mom-and-pop to be, that embraces and listens the community. Whatever changes come to pass with the parade, the Parkit Market endures and adapts.
“The location was right. The SMU campus was right. The Village was right. The kegs were right. It was just timing,” Todora says.
I’m half way through my cheeseburger, sitting with Todora as he wolfs down his own sandwich, and enjoying every bite of its simplicity. It’s a solid griddled beef sandwich with a coat of salt and black pepper, a couple of tomatoes, lettuce, pickle and bacon. The squishy bun’s been smashed and toasted. It’s a purely old-fashioned burger.
He pauses for a minute when I ask about the future. As someone who’s been coming to the market for years (a cheap-ass salami sandwich was a college staple for me), I feel an elevator-drop feeling in my stomach.
“You know ... we’re at the point now where we’re considering an exit plan,” he says. “We haven’t arrived at what that plan is yet. We’d like to hold onto the property for sentimental reasons.” He’s considering leasing, or ground-leasing, the property in the future, he says.
“That’s kind of up in the air right now. We’re here for now. Someday soon, we’re going to make a decision,” he says.
It’s so easy to take mom-and-pop stores, especially those that have been tried-and-tested for decades, for granted. I hope the Greenville Avenue parade never passes a nondescript office building at University and Greenville — the Parkit Market is home base, after all.
Parkit Market, 4724 Greenville Ave.
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