Goodbye D's: After 46 years, local greasy spoon changing hands

Published on Monday, 1 September 2014 00:20 - Written by Faith Harper, fharper@tylerpaper.com

A beloved greasy spoon is under new ownership after its proprietor retired her spatula after 46 years.

D’s Coffee Shop and Grill, 704 E. Front St., was a place for a cup of coffee or a late-night plate of pancakes for nearly five decades. The diner-style restaurant looks almost unchanged since it opened in 1968, with an open grill and hard, brown booths.

Its owner Carol Oxley, 76, sold the business to a younger couple. D’s will close on Wednesday at 10 p.m. and reopen in four to six weeks as the Royal Caf←.

“I’m saying good riddance to the headache and the stress, but I will miss it,” Ms. Oxley said. “It’s been my life for so many years, I’m going to be lost, and I’ll have to find something to replace that time. It’s going to be a drastic change. I worked all my life, and it’s going to be an adjustment.”

Juan and Flor A. Ibarra will close on the property on Friday.

Mrs. Ibarra, 31, works for an insurance company, and her husband owns his own painting business. The couple has three children ages 12, 8 and 6.

The couple also is updating a Victorian home in the neighborhood behind the restaurant.

“We really wanted to start our own business,” Mrs. Ibarra said. “This restaurant — our family members have gone there for years. We talked about how nice it would be to own it.”

Mrs. Ibarra said she got the restaurant she always wanted and has been busy learning the health requirements and taking a food manager course.

D’s was grandfathered out of a list of city codes, and the new owners will have to shut down for four to six weeks to bring everything up to code.

The list includes expanding the grease trap from 5 gallons to 500 gallons, Mrs. Ibarra said, as well as making the bathrooms ADA compliant.

The new owners want to keep the current customers, but bring in a few more.

The menu will change slightly, but Mrs. Ibarra said the most popular items, including pancakes, burgers and chicken-fried steak, will keep their place, and authentic tacos could be added.

“A lot of the current elderly customers have given me a lot of tips,” Mrs. Ibarra said. “I’m taking their advice. … Some of them have been going since it opened in ’68, so I really value their opinion.”

The family also is looking at ways to improve ticket times to draw in hospital staff for lunch.

Debit and credit cards will be accepted for the first time in the history of the restaurant.

“That’s one big thing that a lot of customers and even the staff said right now, (that) not taking credit cards has taken the away from the sales,” Mrs. Ibarra said.

Ms. Oxley said credit cards were just something she never wanted to fool with.

“I don’t like computers,” she said. “I have to use one for my business, but I don’t like them.”

But about a year ago, she broke down and installed an ATM.

“I was having so many people at night that wanted to use credit cards …” Ms. Oxley said. “They’d go next door to get money and never come back. I quit taking checks because I was having too many bounce … but I haven’t had a walked ticket since I put in an ATM.”

Mrs. Ibarra said new operation hours have not been set, but the Royal Caf← will not serve alcohol.

“We’re going for a family-and-friends-oriented restaurant where anyone can come and have good time,” she said.

Ms. Oxley said the staff was notified weeks ago of the sale.

“I won’t be like Bennigan’s, (where employees came) to work with a note on the door,” she said. “That’s horrible. You don’t do that to people. I gave mine a couple weeks’ notice of what I was doing so they could start looking for another job.”

Ms. Oxley said she and former staff members also are working with the Ibarras to show them the recipes so customer’s favorites will remain the same after the switch.

Food quality was a top priority for Ms. Oxley.

“I’ve always tried to make sure the food is quality food because I raised two kids there, and they ate more there than they did at home,” she said. I’m funny about what I eat, too, so I bought the quality stuff.”

Ms. Oxley worked in diners all her life. Starting when she was 16, she worked at a small chain in Florida, Oklahoma and Louisiana. She met her former husband Gains while living in New Orleans. The couple moved to Tyler in 1962.

After years of working in restaurants, the couple partnered with a local concrete man, D. Foster, to start their own venture.

The only trouble was they couldn’t come up with a name.

“None of us could come up with a name together that anybody was satisfied with,” Ms. Oxley said. Foster “wanted to name it after his daughter and my daughter, but the name sounded terrible. I didn’t like that.”

The name wound up as D’s Royal Coffee Shop, after Foster. Ms. Oxley and her husband Gains bought out their partner two years later.

Ms. Oxley became the sole owner in 1974 after the couple divorced. She joked she got the coffee shop in the divorce, and Gains got a string of Dairy Queens they also owned.

“I’ve been there since the day it opened,” she said. “I worked behind the counter, and I was the second-fastest cook there — my husband was the first.”

There have been some changes along the way. Some customer requests, including the Western omelet, made their way to the menu.

The traditionally 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation began closing at 10 p.m. during weekdays recently because of lulls in business and unreliability of good night-time help, Ms. Oxley said.

Ms. Oxley even changed the sign slightly about three years ago, moving away from the name D’s Royal Coffee Shop.

“We got so many young people wanting latt←s and things like that — that we don’t serve — I put up coffee shop and grill to tell them we sell other things, too,” she said.

But after 50 years in the business, Ms. Oxley said it is the relationships with customers that she will miss most.

The secret to keeping the D’s open for so long is simple: the Golden Rule.

“Treat people like you want to be treated yourself, and remember their names …” Ms. Oxley said. “Treat people … like family. Give them good service and good food. Don’t serve them anything you wouldn’t eat yourself.”

Mrs. Ibarra said her family is excited about its new venture, but making it successful will take a lot of work and family support.

“We are updating an old Victorian home, and here pops up a restaurant that needs updating, too, plus we have three kids and full-time jobs,” she said. “We have the support of our family which is great. They are helping us out.”

Ms. Oxley said there will be a goodbye party at 8 p.m. Wednesday.