Remembering Uvalde’s eateries from days gone by

Casey Jones’ chicken and dumplings, Vasquez’s enchiladas, the Honey Hut’s biscuits and honey, Rexall’s pimiento cheese sandwiches, the Amber Sky Coffee Shop’s pies, and the Kincaid Hotel Coffee Shop’s steaks are among the wonderful culinary memories of the eateries that once populated North Uvalde, Getty, and East and West Main streets.

The shell of Casey Jones’ cafe still stands at the corner of North Park and Commerce streets. Originally located at 103 Front St. across from the railroad, the restaurant was relocated to the corner of Park and Commerce in June of 1952. Cecil and Allene Thompson Hopper purchased the original building around the mid-1970s to use the lumber to build the back part of their home on Frio Street.

From the plywood walls of the old cafe, the Hoppers rescued two signs painted directly on the wall, one saying “No Profanity” and a second stating, “No liquor allowed on premises.” This probably meant hard liquor as Bob Saunders recalls that beer was sold at the original cafe and that there was also a pinball machine on the premises. Among the favorite entrees were chicken and dumplings, cowboy stew, hamburgers, chicken fried steak, and enchiladas with an abundance of onions.

Tom Hardin, UHS 1958 graduate, describes Alton “Casey” Jones as a big, gruff man, but Mrs. Jones was nice and friendly. Hardin recalls that after the second cafe closed, the building was occupied by Vasquez Restaurant. Old ads refer to it as Henry’s Restaurant.

Allene Mandry

The Vasquez Restaurant, originally called the Tejas Cafe and located on East Main, had its beginnings on May 6, 1935. It is in the process of reopening at 601 West Main, even though its popular proprietor Enrique Vasquez died in 2018 at the age of 85. He was a permanent fixture at the restaurant, taking time to greet and talk to patrons and also entertain them with his music.

West Main was home to several Mexican restaurants in the ’40s and ’50s, including the Hernandez Cafe at 539 and the Moderno Cafe at 538. Other West Main eateries of that time period included the Club Cafe at 306, now the location of Stripes, and Robert’s at 123, now the site of Church’s Chicken. The popular Dinette Cafe at 213 W. Main, owned by Mrs. Mae Morris, moved to Garner Field in the mid-’50s. It advertised “Just Plain Good Food.”

Hardin remembers the Two Oaks Cafe at the corner of West Main and Mayhew. Now a vacant convenience store, Hardin recalls, “It was particularly popular with the men who were the movers and shakers in town. It seems this was special place for the men to smoke, eat steaks, and drink beer.” The two oaks are still standing.

Betty Turman Knaggs, UHS Class of 1950, recalls that one of her favorite places to eat during the 1940s was Casal’s Restaurant at 510 West Main.

“It was really, really good. It served a little of everything including Mexican food. I remember that the waitress there was Helen Cook who married Archie McFadin. A friend of Archie’s drove Helen to Florida where Archie was stationed in the Marines, and they were married before Archie was shipped off to the Philippines.”

Belinda Guzman, office manager at the current Casal’s Liquor Store on East Main and Bottle ’n Bag on Milam St., says that Henry “Tres” Casal sold the Casal property in February of 2012, but the business kept the Casal name because of its history.

Guzman recalls, “When the Casal family owned the restaurant, it was at the current site of the Sunrise Cafe. Back then it had an upstairs bar and dancing area.”

Older Uvaldeans will remember the restaurant as Casal’s Cave. A 1987 interview with Henry Casal by Jane Knapik for the Leader-News revealed some interesting facts about Casal’s. When the restaurant opened in July 1935, a contest was held to name the cafe. Joe Carper came up with “Casal’s Cave” and won the $5 prize. At the time, the white ceiling had long points dropping down, somewhat like a cave. Casal’s was the second business in Uvalde to have neon lights, the other business being Horner’s.

Another popular eatery was The Cozy Cafe at 308 W. Main, operated by R. D. and Marjorie Field from 1953 to 1968. The cafe served a little of everything including Mexican food and barbecue.

Daughter Evelyn Field Wood, who worked there with her sisters Shirley and Frankie, recalls, “I would go to work with my dad at 4 a.m. and work until it was time for school to start around 8. Then my dad would roll up his apron and walk me across the street to West Main.”

Wood remembers that during the filming of “The Alamo,” many of the cast came there to eat. The restaurant was also visited at one time by Little Jimmy Dickens and Wolfman Jack.

A popular downtown eatery was the Kincaid Hotel Coffee Shop which finally closed on March 16, 1984, after 57 years of operation. El Progreso Library director Mendell Morgan recalls their wonderful three-layer black bottom pie, a recipe which he still treasures. A Nov. 22, 1946, edition of the Leader-News advertises a Thanksgiving meal at the Kincaid, consisting of an appetizer, turkey with cornbread stuffing, gravy and cranberries, asparagus or broccoli, candied sweet potatoes, hot rolls, salad, pie, and coffee or tea, all for $1.

Violet Routh Smith worked in the coffee shop from 1958 to 1965 when the manager was Bill Taylor. Smith recalls, “When Dolph Briscoe came in alone, he would sit at the counter. If he brought his family, they would sit at a table. Mr. Garner would come in every morning for breakfast, but he was only waited on by Ruth Wallace Smith.”

Smith remembers that twins Corrine and Norrine Page also worked in the coffee shop.

Susan Noble recalls that her dad, Jack Noble, would come into town from Montell to the Kincaid and eat breakfast with the other ranchers. “They also had a ballroom on the first floor where we would have our cotillions,” she added.

Knaggs also remembers the ballroom. “I attended the wedding anniversary of my uncle and aunt, Fred and Bea Brigman, at the Kincaid. We all wore evening gowns.”

The Rice and Stevenson hotels also served meals. According to a 1930s Leader-News ad, the Rice Hotel Cafe was serving a regular dinner for 35 cents. A 1926 ad advertises “tasty lunches for campers” at the Stevenson Hotel, while another read, “Don’t let the wife spend Sunday in the kitchen. Go to church and treat the family to dinner at the Stevenson Cafe.”

Knaggs also has fond memories of the Elite Cafe at 311 N. Getty, a cafe known for its home cooking. Knaggs recalls that during her senior year in 1950, the speech club had its banquet there. George Sansom owned the cafe in the 1940s as well as the Manhattan Restaurant.

Tom Hardin describes the Elite as, “one of Uvalde’s finer places, the sort of restaurant a family might want to go to after church on Sunday.”

The Honey Hut restaurant on East Main was popular among young and old alike. Owned by W. O. Victor, the restaurant’s seating was increased from 24 to 75 in 1952. Mrs. Mabel Kampmann was in charge of the kitchen and Mrs. Ura Odom furnished organ music at the supper hour each day and at Sunday dinner.

While dating in the 1960s, David Shaw and Carol Carlisle were particularly fond of the Honey Hut’s biscuits and honey and their fried chicken. Allene Hopper remembers their homemade potato chips, and Hardin recalls the small pots of honey on each table, along with the salt and pepper shakers.

Another popular spot for teenagers and families, especially before and after a movie, was the Hangar VII Grill, owned by William and Elsie Moore, located next to the El Lasso Theatre. Jay Young, Elsie’s nephew and a former Uvalde resident, remembers that the grill mostly served Mexican food but was particularly known for its chips and hot sauce. Young recalls that the restaurant catered to the bands who played upstairs in the American Legion building.

The Amber Sky Coffee Shop on East Main was known for its pies. Today, it is called The Local Fix. Dalia Mancha, manager of the Amber Sky Motel for 20 years, says that people still call the motel asking about the coffee shop and its famous pies. Also popular in the ’50s were the Busy Bee Cafe at 115 E. Main and the Blue Bonnet Cafe at 2030 E. Main.

Those who were teenagers in the ’50s and ’60s will not soon forget the early drugstore fountains and drive-ins. Susan Noble and classmate Ann Beecroft were picked up from school by Ann’s father four days a week and taken to the Rexall Drug Store for lunch. Noble says her favorite lunch was a pimiento cheese sandwich and a milkshake.

One of the earliest drive-ins in Uvalde was the Dairy Kreme which opened at 334 W. Main in 1946. It was the first in town to serve soft-serve ice cream. Ed Shulman’s Oak Grove hamburger and malt stand was located on the northwest corner of the old West Main School property. If you were lucky, you might find a nickel in your hamburger or a button which would get you a free milkshake. In the 1950s the Dairy Delight and K-N Root Beer drive-ins opened on North Getty.

There were a number of barbecue restaurants in Uvalde in the ’50s, including Denmark’s at 527 E. Main and Sid and Sam’s at 221 E. Main. Violet Smith’s husband Benford Routh owned Ben’s BBQ and Steak restaurant which was just north of the overpass on Hwy. 83. She recalls that Ben’s had the first buffet line in Uvalde. The restaurant closed when Routh passed away in 1976.

Bob Saunders, born in 1934, recalls Midgett’s Cafe, owned by Carl Midgett in the late 1930s, at 210 W. Main. It was later the location of the Open Door Cafe and then the Manhattan Cafe which was originally located at 110 W. North St. in the 1940s.

Tom Hardin and his family often dined at the Green Gables restaurant located on the Batesville Highway. Hardin recalls that the restaurant, owned by Lyle Abernethy, later burned to the ground.

“My daddy had an irrigated farm in Batesville and we would sometimes meet him at the Green Gables for supper,” said Virginia Wood Davis, whose family lived at 807 N. Getty. “The Green Gables was there from about 1947 to 1951.”

Allene Hopper recalls that her great-grandfather Joe Ebarb owned the Union Cafe on Front Street back in the 1920s where he served hamburgers and homemade pies made by his wife Mandy. Hopper also remembers Bagwell’s Cafe on Front St. in the 1930s and ’40s. Mrs. Oma Bagwell was owner and cook.

Today, most of these family-owned restaurants are now abandoned buildings, are occupied by another business, or have disappeared from the landscape altogether, but, fortunately, the tastes and smells still linger in the memories of those who knew Uvalde before the advent of fast-food and restaurant chains.

Allene Mandry was born in Uvalde where she attended elementary school before moving to San Antonio. Now a retired teacher, she spends her time doing genealogy research and giving presentations on genealogy. Mandry and her husband, Arthur, live on a ranch near Camp Verde.

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