Published Mar 8, 2019 at 6:24 PM | Updated at 8:15 PM CST on Mar 8, 2019
Highland Park Cafeteria, which first opened in 1925, continues to pride itself on tradition and consistency.
The 100 buffet items are made from scratch each day, and many of which are made by the hands of a man who’s been there for more than half a century.
As he walked from table to table in the restaurant, wearing his familiar black apron, red shirt, and name tag, he’s greeted by countless people who know him by name.
“You ate everything!” he said to one customer, while another, on the other side of the room teased him, “sit down here—sit down here, honey, and I’ll share with ya.”
“A lot of people know me. Everybody call me Mr. B,” he said.
Mr. Ernest Bowens started working at the restaurant in 1956, when it was located on Knox Street. Hanging on the wall of its current location at 1200 North Buckner Blvd. in Dallas, is a picture of him as a young man, standing next to the former owner.
“You look the same as that young man over there in the picture,” said a customer. “That’s me now!” Mr. B answered with a laugh. He laughs a lot and his joy is contagious.
In the picture, Mr. B said he was working as an assistant manager, but now, he said he likes to focus on the food.
He said he knew the restaurant’s recipes long before they were ever written down in detailed books that are located at each cooking or prep section in the kitchen.
“See where it says, ‘EB?’ That’s my recipe,” Mr. B said while pointing to a printed sheet with the details of how to make his sweet potato pie. “I invented this.”
Mr. B said he made 14 vegetable dishes that morning—including collard greens. Mr. B was quick to ask customers if they tried them for lunch.
“You know Popeye the Sailorman? He eats a lot of spinach!” Mr. B said while laughing.
Greens must be helping Mr. B, too.
“I’m 87 years old, I’ll be 88 March the 27th . . . if the Lord says so,” Mr. B said.
When asked what he loves about working at Highland Park Cafeteria, Mr. B said, “Well, we have good spirit here. Great spirit.”
He said he and his co-workers join in prayer each morning. They ask God to bless their families, their food and their customers. They also pray in the language of their choice—English or Spanish.
While sitting in the restaurant for the interview, Mr. B took out his bible from his back pocket and pointed at it. “This is what makes you keep on going. It keeps me going! I know that’s for sure,” Mr. B said.
He said he knows, because there was a time when his life’s longevity was in question.
“I couldn’t walk. I laid on my back for 29 long days . . . I had infection in my leg, and the doctor told me, he said, ‘Mr. Bowens, if that infection would’ve went any farther you wouldn’t of been here today.'”
He credits his faith for his healing and he said he let everyone at the hospital know it.
“I went all over the building talking and telling everybody—looking ugly and crying and I didn’t care what they were looking at—I was well,” Mr. B said.
His blessings continue today in the form of kind words written by the grateful folks coming to the cafeteria to eat Mr. B’s food.
There is a poster displayed that asks people to leave Mr. B a message, and it is covered with colorful Post-it notes with handwritten messages. Some notes called for him to get a raise, while others asked God to bless him.
Mr. B, and his decades of service to others, is part of the tradition that makes Highland Park Cafeteria the beloved restaurant it is today.
“I enjoy your cooking,” said a customer to Mr. B.
He said he’ll continue working, cooking, and serving his friends as long as he can. “As long as the Lord allows me to keep going, I have to keep going.”
He’s living to serve and doing it with faith.