Brockles Restaurant and Special Dressing

Remembering my Brockles Family, Restaurant, and Dressing

The Early Years

with 5 comments

After consulting with uncle Arge, reviewing aunt Alethia’s research, and looking through old pictures and newspaper clippings from Aunt Margaret, the approximate summary of Grandad’s early years up to 1952 is given as follows:

Our grandad, Andrew, came to the U.S. first around 1905 to work and stay with an uncle John in Madison, Illinois.   John was working and sending money back home to Greece regularly.  Since Andrew’s family was in great need at the time, his father sent him to John to get a job and send money back home also.  He went to work in a factory — making more money than he had ever seen, sending half his paycheck back home.  However, he fell in with some rough teenage friends which led into some unruly behavior.  His uncle John eventually sent word back to Greece that young Andrew (now 14) was becoming a disgrace.

Andrew’s father, Argyri, spent all the money he had and came to the States in order to retrieve his son.  However, once here, he stayed almost two years to raise money before taking young Andrew back to Greece.  After spending a year or so back home, vowing to make a better go of it the second time around, Andrew returned to the States permanently in 1910 at age 19.  Below is a picture of immigrants at Ellis Island around 1910.

ellis-island.jpg

With a Greek buddy he met on the boat, John Campoulos, the two young men struck out together from New York and went to East St. Louis, which was not far from Madison, Illinois, where he had been before.  They both got jobs working as waiters in a restaurant and bar.  There came an incident where they almost got killed in a shoot-out there, and the two decided to head for California where real fortunes could be made.  However, they only had enough money to make it to Dallas on the train.  Andrew got a job as a waiter in a downtown Dallas restaurant; this was perhaps as early as 1912 or 1913.  He liked Dallas and decided to stay and seek his fortune here.  His buddy John eventually went on to California.

It was sometime in 1916, that Andrew met Ola Lillian Feltnor.  He was a tall 6′ 2″ about 25 years old at the time, and Ola was a petite 16 year-old girl born in Arkansas, whose family had moved to Dallas.  After an old fashioned courtship, they were married in 1918, even though her family had reservations about this foreigner. Ola was later affectionately called Nena by me and all the grandkids.

Andrew, by this time, had worked in a few local restaurants and even tried selling oil stocks; but he now had a wife to support and was still not making much of a living.

Almost flat broke one day in 1919, he strolled down Ervay street and came across the White Way Cafe. He went in, surveyed the place, and asked the proprietor if it was for sale.  The man looked at the row of empty tables with a dour expression on his face, and said, “Yes, my price is $1000.”  Andrew replied, “Sold.” He went and borrowed $300 from friends, gave $200 as down payment, put $100 in the cash register and became owner of his own business.  Andrew then called his brother Basil to come work with him at his new cafe.  Basil, better known as Bill, had arrived from Greece in 1913 and worked as a cook and dishwasher in St. Louis.  He apparently moved to Dallas in 1917 to work and be near his brother.  He immediately joined Andrew at the White Way Cafe as chef.  With hard work and good food, this two-man operation soon became a profitable restaurant business.

Below is a picture of the White Way cafe, in the late 1920’s.

White Way Cafe

The business eventually outgrew the space at the White Way.  So, with no room to expand, in 1929 Andrew and Bill Brockles moved the restaurant to 817 South Ervay, just a block or so away, and opened the larger Brockles’ Club Cafe.  Bill was the chef and ran the kitchen, Andrew ran the restaurant and handled most of the finances.  Although business was good the first year, the depression had many cafes closing doors. That was when the Brockles brothers came up with the idea of “sizzling steaks” to promote business.  This restaurant became famous for its “sizzling steaks” and eventually the signature “Special” salad dressing.

Bill was later interviewed by Elmer Wheeler, author of several books on salesmanship, about the popular Club Cafe and the attraction of the Sizzling Steak.  Their conversation bore a new slogan that soon showed up in newspaper ads.

Sizzle

Below is a picture of the Club Cafe.  My mom, Sophia, is behind the counter on the left.  She was then 17 years old based on a 1937 date for the picture.  The Club Cafe originally had the same basic layout as the White Way, although slightly wider.  But 1937 brought expansion into adjacent building space for a separate dining room.  You can barely make out the entrance to the added dining room on the right side of the picture.

Club Cafe 1937

The new dining room is shown below from a newspaper clipping dated Jan. 18, 1937.  The image quality is not very good, but that’s as good as I can get from old yellowed newspaper.

New Dining Room 1937

There was another expansion and remodeling done in 1942.  It was formally renamed Brockles Restaurant at this time when the two brothers set up a production facility next-door to the restaurant and began producing Brockles Special Dressing commercially.

There was a third and final major remodel done to the restaurant ten years later in 1952.  The event received major coverage in the Dallas Morning News.  The following is a picture from the newspaper dated Jan. 13, 1952.   If you can’t read the text below the picture, from left to right they are Basil Jr., Basil Sr. (Bill), Andrew Sr., Thomas Alt (uncle Tommy), and Andrew Jr.

Group shot 1952

It is worth noting that by this time Uncle Tommy (Alethia’s husband) had become superintendent of the Salad Dressing production operation which was soon selling the line of Brockles dressings in grocery stores across Texas and neighboring states.  My dad, Chester, also joined the family business and managed sales and distribution of the dressings.

The following picture of the restaurant front was taken about that same time in 1952 from across the street on South Ervay.

ervay-entrance-2.jpg

Enjoy the memories!

Written by Jim

October 15, 2007 at 9:04 pm

5 Responses

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  1. 1/10/2009 My son Charlie Butts, Jr. who lives in Fort Worth called me yesterday and informed me of an article in the Star Telegram about Brockles special dressing, reminding me of a delightful meal with much of the special dressing on just about everything we enjoyed one day at Brockles Restaurant. We shared many other fond memories and I decided to see if I could at least try to make some BROCKLES SPECIAL DRESSING. I found your website and now will see if I can fulfill that pleadge. Thank you for your wonderdful website about your family. Sincerely, Charle Butts, San Antonio

    Charlie Butts

    January 10, 2009 at 10:55 am

  2. I went to school (Robert E. Lee and later) with Maria Brockles. I’d enjoy catching up with some of the old crew. My dad owned several restaurants (Ferris’ BBQ) in Dallas but we liked to go out to eat at Brockles. I could sit down with a box of Ritz crackers and eat a whole jar of Brockles Special Dressing.

    To Mike Ellis – if you get this = Big Hello ! Tim

    Tim Pollard

    November 27, 2009 at 3:53 pm

  3. Thanks so much for the memories and the recipe. I am going to try to make bsd soon.

    tom mayberry

    August 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm

  4. I grew up in Dallas. I remember we lived on Mckinney st. in back of the Willis Grocery store. I was about 5 years old at the time.This was probably about 1954 or 1955 a long ago. Next door to us was a house where there women working mixing and labeling dressing in jars. I would go over and they would give me the dressing on crackers (I guess I looked hungry). It tasted good so i would go back often. The taste was unforgetable.I didn’t realize until many years later that it was the Brockles Dressing.
    Years later I used to see the Brockles place on Buckingham rd.in Garland. I wish now that I had stopped in there.

    Allen Pool

    November 25, 2010 at 2:42 pm

  5. Such fond memories. I’m so lucky my 88 year old father is still living. I have been making this for for him every year since the recipe went online. Good memories, good times, good food. Thanks, Brockles

    Sheryl

    June 30, 2016 at 5:44 pm


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