Tuesday was a long day for the Café Pacific staff. But it was a long time coming. Back in 1980, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton’s buddy Mel Harris convinced businessman/lawyer Jack Knox to partner with him on a restaurant. There was an empty space in Highland Park Village just across the street from the S&S Tearoom. It would be called Café Pacific. But the partnership soured after 18 months, when Mel “handed over” the front-door keys to Jack saying that Knox knew “nothing about running a restaurant.”
Today Jack is the first to admit that Mel was right.
But Tuesday night, the man who knew nothing about restaurants was celebrating 33 years of CP’s being the go-to-place for boldface names to celebrate holidays, hold tête-à-têtes, and enjoy pristine service that makes “Gosford Park” seem like a Dairy Queen drive-thru.
The celebration started with a Monday night email in which Jack sent word to loyal CP friends that, on Tuesday, he was turning the clock and the menu back to opening day, August 27, 1980, complete with 1980 prices. Bouillabaisse under $11; Caesar salad for $2.95, etc. By 8 p.m. they had run out of CP’s signature Baked Artichoke.
As the scent of garlic and the sound of convivial chatter wafted through the place last evening, the white-tablecloth restaurant was filled with the likes of Chris Turner, Lynn and Allan McBee and Doris and Jack Jacobs with Lee Bailey. General Manager David Knouse and Dining Room Manager Vincent McGrath showed no sign of weariness, despite the day of non-stop greeting guests like beloved relatives and apologizing for not having their favorite table available Johnny-on-the-spot.
Jack himself was also at the front welcoming guests, visiting tables to make sure everything was going smoothly, and settling back on a stool in the bar surrounded by friends. Looking around the café’s elegant surroundings, with its brass rails and polished hardwood walls, he recalled a time in the late 1950’s when the restaurant space had been Everts Jewelers, with counters where tables now line the area along the windows. He had bought a necklace from Everts, whisper thin and costing him what seemed like a fortune, for his college sweetheart.
Last night he was once again making a sweetheart deal. It seems Monday night a friend suggested that Jack donate 50 cents for each of Tuesday’s orders to a nonprofit group. Without hesitation, Jack upped the ante, like a fraternity chum on a winning streak in a poker game. He would donate all of Tuesday’s sales to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital.
So typical of Jack, the man who knew nothing about running a restaurant in 1980. But for 33 years he’s been Dallas’ prince of hospitality, generosity and class.