No sooner have I returned to Dallas than I find that what’s left of the Black-eyed Pea restaurant chain (in Texas and Tennessee) filed for bankruptcy last Wednesday. Letting no moss grow under its feet, after 41 years on Cedar Springs Road, the original location opened by Gene Street was shuttered Saturday night. Most surprising is that of all the locations, this one surely must have been the most popular. It makes me wonder if, like so many other Oaklawn businesses, they were rent-increased out of the possibility of profitability.
While I’ve only been a Dallas resident for about eight years, I’ve been a Pea customer since the mid-1980s when I started coming to Dallas for work. Thinking it was the only one, I even recall being very proud to take colleagues to the Pea for real home cooking. Those Atlanta ladies told a red-faced me that the Pea was the “Southern Denny’s.” Well, there weren’t any in Chicago!
I haven’t needed to look at a menu in decades – Pot Roast, mashed potatoes, fried corn on the cob and broccoli-rice casserole. Done!
Luckily I was alerted to the closing (not well publicized with a plain printed sign on the door). While my party and I arrived at 5pm, they were already out of many favorites (including pot roast and broccoli-rice casserole).
According to the sign on the door, the Coit/Beltline, Dixie House location on Gaston, Plano and Arlington locations have survived … for now. I placed a call to the Dixie House and was told they were open “for now” but that they don’t know for how long. This very well may be the death rattle for what’s left of this once widespread chain.
In its heyday, there were 130 restaurants scattered around the Southern US. Today there are just 14 Texas locations and one lone outpost in Tennessee. The first bankruptcy came in 2001 when 48 locations were closed. By 2007 there were just 50 locations remaining with 35 in Texas. In 2008, the Colorado holdings were sold to local investors and still thrive today (proving good management works). Somewhere along the line the two-location Dixie House was acquired and melded into the Black-eyed Pea menu (one remains). D Magazine even awarded Dixie House with “Best Neighborhood Restaurant” in 2008 and “Best Chicken Fried Steak” in 2012.
What I’ve not seen reported yet is the potential reason for the closure. This is a cherry location with high traffic and neighborhood support. I think it was an asset sale. A couple of years ago, I saw a Sears location in a tony mall close not due to unprofitability, but because the landlord had other plans and bought out Sears’ lease. In both the Sears and Pea cases, parent companies were suffocating for cash. Did the landowner (Okra Properties) make Pea-parent, Restaurants Acquisition I, LLC an offer they couldn’t refuse to abandon the lease? And if they did, does Okra Properties have their own plans for the location or will the property be sold unencumbered by a sitting tenant to a developer?
Of course rumors are swirling about what’s next for the spot. Coffee klatches all over Oaklawn are speculating about whether the Warwick’s long-delayed expansion plans will consume the block with an unsightly asphalt parking lot. Alternatively, some believe some portion of the building will be kept to maintain the liquor license (scuttlebutt is that in demolishing The Bronx, they lost the liquor license and can’t get it back because of the proximity to schools).
For the record, the three Cedar Springs lots between the Warwick’s holdings and Reagan Street are individually owned by Okra Properties (Pea), Penelope Hatteras’ Oaklawn Retail Association (Thai Lotus and the defunct Liquid Zoo), and Jane and Stephen Leher (Cafe Brazil). Okra and Oaklawn Retail’s holdings include the parking areas behind each property. The value of any deal with the Warwick would require all owners to sell or the result would be orphan buildings surrounded by the Warwick.
(Update: Candysdirt.com fan Michael Milliken claims to have spoken with the owners of Liquid Zoo/Thai Lotus land who’ve said Warwick has made no overtures to them. Great news IMO.)
Others seem to think Gene Street is riding in to open a new concept (Is he Okra Properties?). After all, his post-Pea Snookies restaurant closed its first/original/last location on Oaklawn Avenue just last May. At the time he was quoted in GuideLive as saying that he had no plans to open another Snookies restaurant, “I don’t want to say never, but there’s not any immediate plans,” he said. “But you never know.”
Street was also reported to be working on a new fried chicken restaurant concept to be called Rebel Rooster said to be located on Cedar Springs Road (queue Elton John’s Circle of Life). Gene Street’s daughter, Mariel (owner of Liberty Burger) registered Rebel Rooster, LLC on June 23, 2015.
(Update: CultureMap Fort Worth reports Street’s Fine Chicken will occupy the old Pea location — Welcome home, Mr. Street!)
This may be another blow to the Oaklawn neighborhood that’s been rapidly changing as old independent establishments are priced out of the area and replaced with deeper-pocketed corporate types (often restaurants).
In February 2015, The Centrum’s commercial spaces were purchased by Quadrant Investment Properties who’ve been rumored to be in talks for a Target store (of all things). (UPDATE: After not seeing any Target imagery in The Centrum lobby as had been reported, I personally communicated with both Quadrant chief Chad Cook and Centrum retail leasing agent Carter Wilson of Blue Plate. Both say that there’s NO TARGET. Cook said that for as long as he’s owned The Centrum, Target has never been on the table. WHEW!)
Whatever the truth or the future of the Black-eyed Pea’s restaurant operations or Cedar Springs Road lot (sweet Jesus, not another freakin’ Mexican restaurant!), if you want their Pot Roast, you better QUICKLY visit one of the remaining outlets. You can also plan for a Pea-less future with this copycat recipe, although however tasty, it won’t be the same without the church pews.
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