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Cafe Express closes last Dallas location and exits market for now

Cafe Express closes last Dallas location and exits market for now

Cafe Express
Cafe Express is known for its upscale, fresh fare. Photo courtesy of Cafe Express

In unfortunate news for Dallas diners, Cafe Express, the innovative chain founded in Houston in 1984, has closed its final restaurant in North Texas, representing a departure from the market after more than 25 years.

The restaurant was located in the Park Cities at 5600 Lovers Ln., by Inwood Village. It had initially closed due to the virus, but a marketing director for Cafe Express said that they decided to make it a permanent thing and will refocus all of their efforts on their Houston operation.

"Unfortunately, we recently decided to close our Lovers location after temporarily closing due to Covid-19," she said. "We operate five Houston restaurants and are actively working on a new Cafe Express remodel prototype in Houston. We plan to expand to 25 location in 10 years but are focusing on our core Houston market, where we were founded 35 years ago."

The company was founded by Houston chef Robert del Grande and restaurateur (and CultureMap co-founder) Lonnie Schiller, and was an early fast-casual concept at a time when fast-casual was still new. Over the years, it changed hands more than once including 2004 when Wendy's acquired the concept. Current owner M. Terry Enterprises took it over in 2016.

The Lovers Lane closure followed the closure of two other locations that were a major part of their neighborhoods: at Mockingbird Station, which closed in September 2018 after nearly 20 years; and the flagship on McKinney Avenue which had been a forever staple on the Uptown Dallas scene, with its expansive dining room, easygoing atmosphere, and sunny patio facing the street.

The Uptown location experienced upheaval after being forced to close in 2015 to make way for  M Line Tower, the 20-story residential tower. It re-opened in January 2018 with an expensive makeover, then closed in less than a year.

With its modern atmosphere and easygoing attitude, Cafe Express was a trailblazer when it debuted. The menu boasted a decidedly gourmet touch, with expensive ingredients like pistachios sprinkled over the chef's salad, and a serve-yourself condiments bar where you could get unlimited quantities of top-quality items like roasted whole garlic and Kalamata olives.

They helped set the stage for the ensuing proliferation of concepts like Mixt, Cava, Original ChopShop, Modern Market, and even Panera. These days there is no shortage of healthy-leaning fast-casual restaurants serving fresh salads, sandwiches, and inexpensive casual food.

But loyalists should not put out the Cafe Express flame. According to the spokesperson, "We plan to be back in Dallas in the future with a new Cafe Express experience."