An iconic diner in Fort Worth will soon change hands, and it will bring an end to a 55-year career in the family restaurant business.
"It's time after 55 years. You gotta do more than what I've done in the last 55 years," said Mike Smith, the owner of Paris Coffee Shop.
Smith agreed to sell his restaurant to a new group who plans to keep much of what diners have grown to love and add a few things, too, but Smith will be gone.
"I'll miss the people. I'll miss my employees," Smith said. However, he will not miss "the stress of everyday business especially when every day, something breaks down."
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That's essentially what got Smith into the restaurant business. His dad Gregory Smith bought Paris Coffee Shop from original owner Vic Paris. Mike was at Texas Christian University getting a master's degree in management with no plans to join his dad. But in 1965, when his dad got sick, Mike found himself stepping in. He was the youngest of seven sons and the only one available to help his dad.
"I first started washing pots or I was running a cash register. I did everything," Mike said. He soon found a recipe for success.
"We take care of people. Good service. Good food. Try to be reasonable on the prices," he said.
For decades, the diner at 704 West Magnolia Street, at the corner of Hemphill Street just across the street from the original location, has been a Fort Worth favorite for locals and tourists alike.
"One of the things people really enjoy are my pies. They're all homemade pies," Smith said of the pies he makes himself with meringue piled high. "I'm known for pies all across the United States."
If he had to pick one item that draws in customers, "chicken and dumplings is probably a big item we have every Thursday. They're all hand-rolled dumplings, and they're very tasty. They're good."
"We had to come early for lunch, leave work and come for the chicken and dumplings every Thursday. So, it was just a tradition," said diner Linda Mansk, who came to see Smith one last time. "It's just delicious and it's home and it's comfort food. Everyone loves them, And you have to come early or you'll miss it."
"I've been saying goodbye to people and they say, 'Who's gonna do the pies? They don't ask who's gonna do the dumplings? Who is gonna do the pies?'" Smith joked.
Smith took care of that. He's trained Cleveland Arner to make the pies and the chicken and dumplings just the way customers like.
Arner joined the Paris Coffee Shop team at the age of 17. He left for a while and came back to stay. Loyalty runs deep among Smith's 27 employees. Most have been with him for decades and he wanted to make sure they were taken care of when he's no longer the boss.
"The people taking it over want to make sure that it's like it used to be, and that's one of the reasons I sold to them is because I wanted it to stay, especially the employees that have been with me for multiple years and they're at the age that's it gonna be hard for them to find another job," Smith said. "So I wanted them to have a job, a job worth paying for and still have a life, and I can sleep at night."
A good sleep is what Smith looks forward to as he steps away. He's at the coffee shop by 3 a.m. and in the kitchen six days a week turning out biscuits for breakfast and pies for lunch or anytime, really. He's in charge of quality control testing everything that comes out of the kitchen.
"Everything. That's why I look the way I do," he jokes.
Smith's sense of humor and friendliness will be missed, too. Mansk teared up as she talked to the man who's been part of her dining habits for two decades.
"He knows everyone. He's kind to everyone. He greets everyone. It's special. He's special," she said.
It will be hard for Smith to say goodbye, too.
"Uhh. Yeah. I'll be coming back in. I can't stay away. I've been accustomed to this food for 55 years. I can't just give it up, you know," he said.
Smith says at 77, it's time to enjoy a life a little bit and spend time with his wife Ginger.
He and the new owners are finishing up some paperwork - and his 55 years at Paris Coffee Shop will end in the next few weeks.