“We’ve gone through three generations of management,” said David Egan of Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, 1309 S. Agnew in the historic Stockyard City area of Oklahoma City.
Among the first dining establishments in the metro, the remarkable Cattlemen’s is the granddaddy of all historic restaurants in Oklahoma, with a solid heritage of 101 years under its belt.
Lines still form out the door on Friday or Saturday nights, with people willing to wait for that mouthwatering steak. Legend says that the restaurant, already a long-lived operation, was lost in a game of craps in the 1940s.
“We used to say that the restaurant was ‘won’ with the roll of the dice on Christmas Eve of 1945 and won by Gene Wade, who operated it until 1990 when we took it over,” Egan said. “Now we are into our second century.”
Metro restaurants that have managed to stay around long enough to clink a glass of Champagne for their silver anniversaries are few and far between. New ones pop up with lofty ideas on the lookout for hungry diners, but many of those restaurants are shuttered before even hitting the one-year mark.
The restaurants that make it turn out good food, of course, but it takes more than that. There’s also the business of owning a restaurant, including everything from the everyday concerns to dealing with a double whammy of soaring food and gas prices. And often, diners want to spend their money on eateries they know.
That means heading back to the age-old, traditional treasures that have celebrated a long string of anniversaries, such as Legend’s, 1313 W. Lindsey in Norman, going strong since 1967, or O’Connell’s Irish Pub & Grille, 120 E. Lindsey, which opened just a year later. O’Connell’s has since moved to the new location in Campus Corner, but the popular place remains the same. Another Norman stalwart — this one serving up Indian cuisine — Misal Bistro, 580 Ed Noble Parkway, has roots that go past the three-decade mark.
Restaurants that last as long as these have overcome challenges. They offer consistency that ensures its clientele, somewhat creatures of habit, will get the same food at their next visit.
Always consistent is Jamil’s Steakhouse, 4910 N. Lincoln, which kicked off in 1964 specializing in satisfying Lebanese cuisine.
“It is our dedication and our delicious Angus steaks that have pleased our customers for the last 50 years,” said owner Greg Gawey.
For 47 years, Haunted House Restaurant has been in business with the same owner, Marian Thibault, who says the eatery happened with a “little bit of luck and people like us.”
In Edmond, Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant, 1701 S. Broadway, is the ambassador of Mexican food in the north metro. Owner Pepe Gonzales, who once managed El Charrito, one of the metro’s first Tex-Mex spots, has since 1982 been putting out simple food with complex flavors made with the best ingredients.
Gonzales said he stays in business because he has “bills to pay.” His son, Julian Gonzales, has continued in the family business first with Laredo’s and now with his Casa de los Milagros, 5111 N. Classen Blvd.
What does the future hold for these successful metro restaurants? For the next 25 years, some will follow the old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But for many of the veteran restaurant owners — such as Junior’s or Papa Dio’s — that’s not the way it goes. The owners and operators are passionate professionals, dedicated to gastronomy and still driven to avoid complacency or rely on past success.
In the restaurant business, successful concepts must stay on the ball, constantly looking for signs of weakness and keeping customers comfortable during an evening out. Down to the last one, owners, chefs and staff put their skills to the test and challenge themselves to meet everyday pressures and constant competition.
Owners today keep a keen ear to the latest trends and hot restaurants around town. And while restaurants today must also deal with multinationals that have settled in Oklahoma, these old acquaintances are not easily forgotten.
Here’s a toast to the big anniversaries, and a hope for many more to come.
These are just a few of the many metro restaurants that have stood the test of time:
Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, 1910
The Haunted House, 1964
Jamil’s Steakhouse, 1964
Legend’s Restaurant, 1967
O’Connell’s Irish Pub & Grille, 1968
Old Germany Restaurant, 1972
Misal Bistro, 1979
Papa Dio’s, 1979
Shogun Steak House of Japan, 1981
Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant, 1982
Grand House China Bistro, 1984
The Coach House, 1985