Even more than the food, here is what made Fort Worth’s Paris Coffee Shop special

·3 min read

Although a column about the history of Paris Coffee Shop might be appropriate in light of Mike Smith’s recent passing, this story is about the man and the community he built around a “simple” breakfast and lunch venue.

Paris Coffee Shop is tied into the Smith family’s Greek ancestry and their work in food and restaurants. Shortly after he first arrived in the United States, Mike’s father, Gregory K. Smith (born Grigorios K. Acikis), got a job in a restaurant. In about 1926, that experience led to a position at downtown’s Bon-Ton Café, owned by Victor G. “Vic” Paris, a fellow Greek immigrant. Mr. Paris founded Paris Coffee Shop soon thereafter and sold it to Gregory Smith in 1930. Mike Smith took over management during the 1960s when his father’s health failed.

Nobody ever accused Paris of serving gourmet cuisine, but it was comfort food at its best. Under Mike, who relied on a hardworking and amazing staff, Paris turned out good, basic meals that were affordable enough to eat every day. Many people did just that, and it was easy to hear claims that the breakfasts and chicken-fried steak would hold their own in any competition. It doesn’t matter who you are, all were welcome at Paris.

My own “Paris” story revolves around a breakfast group which has met there for more than 30 years. It is informal – just whoever of the six or seven of us show up on the appointed morning. The ritual has seen us through good times and bad. Several of us had to perform work-schedule gymnastics to make sure we could be at Paris at the appointed day and time. It was that important to us.

Ours was not the only group that met regularly at Paris. Every meal, every day had its own sets of regulars. A group of men affiliated with St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church often crowded around one of the large round tables. They were an important part of Mike’s connection with the Greek community, and he talked about becoming a group regular once he retired. My guess is that one of them gave him the “Parking for Greeks only - all others will be towed” sign displayed behind the cash register.

Magnolia at Hemphill in 1951, showing both the original location of the Paris Coffee Shop and the former Safeway Store, where Mike Smith moved the restaurant about 1974.
Magnolia at Hemphill in 1951, showing both the original location of the Paris Coffee Shop and the former Safeway Store, where Mike Smith moved the restaurant about 1974.

Mike made running the restaurant look easy, although coaxing the aging building and machinery to cooperate did draw occasional sounds of muffled exasperation. One morning, he was out front greeting customers after climbing onto the roof to check the air conditioning.

At some point during our regular breakfasts, Mike would make the rounds greeting people as though he knew them all – whether he did or not. He’d dispense hugs, tell a story, and give an occasional quick back rub using what had to be the world’s strongest fingers. I credit making pie dough with building that finger strength!

One year, Mike outfitted our group with Paris Coffee Shop T-shirts, a table, chairs, coffee cups, and a big Watkins pepper container for our float in the Ryan Place Fourth of July parade. It was good advertising for him and great fun for us. Those memories and experiences are what make Paris so special for me. That Paris endures is a testament to both Mike and the new owners. He will be missed by many.

Carol Roark is an archivist, historian, and author with a special interest in architectural and photographic history who has written several books on Fort Worth history.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting