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Luby’s started in San Antonio 75 years ago, and the time-capsule cafeteria keep serving up memories

Rick Melendrez’s first meal at Luby’s was something of a religious experience. It was a Sunday evening in 1967, and the then-13-year-old altar boy had just secured the chalice and washed the cruets after Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in downtown San Antonio. As he headed out to catch his bus, Father Isidore Garcia invited him to grab some dinner around the block, so the two made the short trek to a cavernous basement cafeteria at 517 N….

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The first lunch at Luby’s was a spiritual experience for Rick Melendrez.

After Mass on a Sunday in 1967, the altar boy at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in downtown San Antonio put away the chalice and wiped the cruets. Before he left for the bus stop, Father Isidore Garcia offered him to join him for dinner at the first Luby’s, which was located in the basement of a building at 517 N. Presa St.

Melendrez found a utopia of steaming comfort food there, served by angelic servers in all-white uniforms. Never before had he seen such a lovely abundance, and he could have anything he wanted, just like an adult. From the first mouthful of the square fried fish with a mountain of tartar sauce until the last piece of the strawberry cheesecake Fr. Garcia had made for him for dessert, he enjoyed every bite.

Whether it’s for an extended lunch break with coworkers, a payday dinner with family, or a special occasion that calls for some together time with a lot of down-to-earth cooking, chances are every Texan kid has had a similar tray-sliding rite of passage in the land of the LuAnn platter that has led to regular visits as an adult.

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It’s been 75 years since Bob Luby opened his first cafeteria at the corner of College and North Presa streets in San Antonio, and the Luby brand has become so popular that its name and signature dish are prominently featured in the popular animated TV series “King of the Hill,” which features a cafeteria chain called Luly’s and a main character named Luanne Platter.

For more, visit ExpressNews.com. In terms of long-gone S.A. Luby’s, the North Star location stands out as the most beloved.

However, being well-liked doesn’t always indicate success. When shareholders decided in late 2020 to dissolve the struggling company and liquidate all of its assets, it looked like business as usual at Luby’s would come to an end.

Chicago businessman Calvin Gin paid $28.7 million in June of last year to acquire the rights to use the name and majority of the remaining chain’s outlets, all of which are now in Texas. As with so many Texans, Gin fell in love with Luby’s because of the unique opportunity it presented.

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Gin’s Luby’s Restaurant Corp. presently controls 38 of the remaining 45 sites, including five of the six San Antonio Luby’s. LUB Liquidating Trust, which owns the Luby’s outlets not held by Gin’s company, owns the Main Avenue location, the sixth.

In spite of the trust’s name, Gin has assured customers that the classic menu would remain unchanged and that there will be no further closures in San Antonio.

‘I want the essence of the business to remain the same,’ Gin added. Something about Luby’s, I think, is comfortingly familiar. I believe there is a greater demand for it now than ever before.

To this day, Melendrez, who is now 68 and lives in El Paso, continues to frequent Luby’s, both for the food and the nostalgic experience it provides.

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He reflected on how much of a pivotal role Luby’s played in his formative years. My experience at Luby’s always transports me back to the first Luby’s in 1967. I’ll never forget that, too.

For more, visit ExpressNews.com. It was on this day that North Star Luby’s served its last meal to customers.

An archaeological relic called a time capsule

During Bob Luby’s lifetime, millions of people enjoyed the restaurant’s menu and warm ambiance. After the first Luby’s restaurant debuted in 1947, the franchise grew rapidly in the decades that followed. By the mid-1990s, the chain had expanded to 11 states, and by the time of Luby’s death in 1998, it had around 230 outlets, many of them in shopping malls.

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The institution in Texas, however, has struggled in the 21st century. By 2019, with the fall of malls and traditional retail, Luby’s had been reduced to less than 80 sites due to shifting consumer preferences.

There were only nine Luby’s restaurants left in San Antonio when the company announced its liquidation in 2020. As of now, three establishments have shut down.

Yet, despite the upheaval within the corporation, every single Luby’s restaurant kept right on keeping on, as if time stood still. It didn’t matter if it was 1977, 1997, or 2017. With sides of fresh broccoli, macaroni and cheese, and a carrot raisin salad, the spread included fried fish, pork chops, and French-grilled liver and onions. Additionally, Jell-O and chocolate ice box pie were always welcome additions.

Throughout the ups and downs of Christina Orosco’s life, she and her family have always felt supported by Luby’s.

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Orosco remembers countless birthday parties and dinners at Luby’s in the Las Palmas Shopping Center on the West Side, back when it had live music. She recalls her late father Moses telling her, “Vamos a Luby’s, hija,” as they drove to his favorite hangout on Fredericksburg near the Wonderland of the Americas mall.

She also mentions that the family was at Luby’s on Main Avenue when they found out her father was sick. She accompanied her mother back to Las Palmas, the setting of so many good memories, the day after her sister died.

Orosco could always count on Luby’s no matter what was going on in her life at the time.

For more, visit ExpressNews.com. As the historic chain continues to disintegrate, Luby’s has decided to sell 32 of its cafes in Texas.

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True to form

Carol Dawson, co-author of “House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Luby’s Cafeterias” (2006), posits that this timeless quality is what keeps customers coming back year after year.

In the middle of a rapidly evolving global community, it provides a sense of stability and mutual support. The place is reliable, she added. “If you want to witness a community’s whole spectrum of variety, visit a Luby’s. In other words, Luby’s is a must-visit.

Visits to Luby’s have become a rite of passage for countless Texan families.

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During the last ten years of her life, Susan Breidenbach, a former media director for a San Antonio pharmaceutical manufacturing, said that all her late mother Mildred wanted for Christmas was Luby’s gift vouchers so that she could go out to lunch with her neighbor and other close friends. Up until her death in 1992, she insisted on receiving Luby’s for every holiday and special event.

Breidenbach discovered an envelope containing her mother’s unused gift certificates a few days after her funeral. Ten of her closest friends and relatives joined her as they dined at Luby’s “on Mindy” to share tales, laugh, and raise a glass in her honor.

Breidenbach declared, “She paid for our gathering, and we raised glasses to her.”

Now once a month, Breidenbach visits the Luby’s on Floyd Curl and Huebner for her own personal Luby’s lunch tradition. Every time she eats a LuAnn, she thinks of her mother and requests the dish with liver and onions.

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The motto “Tastes like Texas, feels like home” says it all for Luby’s.

Twitter: @reneguz | Email: rguzman@express-news.net

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