DALLAS — Bob Collins, the owner of the Blue Garden at 827 Main St. in downtown Dallas, likens the restaurant’s revival to the mythical rise of the phoenix from the ashes of its own destruction.
The building didn’t burn — as the story of the phoenix goes — but Collins had to tear it down to the concrete floors and brick walls to bring it back to life.
“It really has risen out of the ashes. There was nothing here. I wasn’t able to salvage one thing out of this building. Not one thing,” Collins said last week as he and his staff frantically prepared for a long-awaited opening on Saturday.
When he purchased the Blue Garden in 2015, it was in trouble. The city had stepped in to declare it a nuisance building. Vacant for 15 years, it had fallen into a sad state of disrepair.
“It was not slated for good things,” Collins said. “The building had black mold and water from the alley to Main Street. We stripped it from the ceiling to the concrete, from the concrete to the block walls, bare. In that process, we removed all asbestos, all black mold. We got everything out of the building that was hazardous in any way, shape or form.”
Once it was clean and safe, Collins began rebuilding a café in the front and lounge in the back, reminiscent of the business’ heyday. He said the Blue Garden originally opened in 1924, so he tried his best to honor its past with what the public will soon be able to see once the doors open at 7 a.m. on Saturday.
Collins has kept paper covering the front windows and the lid tight on the results of the renovation.
“For me, it’s a lot of pressure. People have their expectations,” he said. “What I want people to understand is that I’ve tried to respect and preserve as much of the past as I could realistically.”
He said the community has been very supportive. He said the artwork painted on the walls of the café, reflecting the art deco style of the Blue Garden sign, was donated by artist Ruth Hargreaves. People have been patient with the long process, which was stalled in 2017 because Collins needed to work on other projects.
“In 2017, my wife reminded me that it’s my job to make money, not just spend it,” he said.
Collins said he wanted the Blue Garden to be completed with as much care as possible. He wants the business to be a contributor to the Dallas community.
“It stood the first 100 years,” he said. “I want it to stand another 100 years.”
People in town, and who have moved out of state since the restaurant closed 20 years ago, are anticipating the Blue Garden’s re-emergence.
“I get anywhere from 10 calls, texts, or otherwise a day about when we are opening and what’s going on,” Collins said. “We haven’t even opened our door yet. It’s incredible.”
That day arrives Saturday. For now, the cafe will be open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., with breakfast served until 11. The lounge will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until a full staff is on board.
Collins said, much like the remodeling relied on local contractors and businesses, his restaurant will seek to buy from nearby farms.
“We do not freeze our meat. It’s fresh beef. All of our ingredients will be fresh,” Collins said. “We will be buying off the farms as much as we can get.”
He said the cafe offers a build-your-own burger with bottomless fries.
In honor of Blue Garden’s past, Collins made sure to put one item on the menu.
“We will be making hand-scooped shakes, just like in the old days,” he said. “That is something special for the throwback side of it.”
Head cook Jaymen Schaecher said his favorite items on the menu, which is still evolving, are the chicken-fried steak and extra-thick grilled cheese sandwich.
He said when Collins told him stories of the Blue Garden, he was immediately moved to get involved.
“I’ve been excited since the minute that they told me about the place,” Schaecher said. “I was in here the day they called me, and I’ve been here since.”
Cafe Manager Kathy Orton said she’s already booked the reunion gathering for the Dallas High School class of 1959. She said many class members are excited to return to the place that was a popular hang out for them. Orton said she’s eager to start serving people, but also to experience the re-opening with them.
“I want to see people’s faces when they walk in — people that knew it,” she said.
Collins wants the Blue Garden’s return to be part of a revival of Dallas’ downtown. It’s one of a few old establishments left.
“Every business, big and small, to include J.C. Penney’s, Sears, they were all here at one time,” he said. “Out of all the businesses, the Blue Garden is the only sign still hanging. The only business rising up out of the ashes. We are still here.”
What: The Blue Garden grand opening.
Where: 827 Main St., Dallas.
When: Saturday, May 11.
Hours: Cafe — 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Lounge 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/bluegardendallas.