Houston’s Cleburne Cafeteria

Cleburne Cafeteria is known for dishing up good food in its almost 80 years of serving Houston, but it should also be known for its resiliency.

That resiliency started with Nick Mickelis who enlisted in the Greek Navy to help liberate Greece during World War II.

Houston’s James Coney Island 96 years strong
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It followed him to America when he arrived in Houston without speaking English.

Mickelis worked at his borther’s restaurant as a dishwasher, eventually earning enough money to buy a barbecue restaurant.

Upon marrying his wife, Pat, the newly-weds bought Cleburne Cafeteria at the corner of Cleburne at Fannin Street in 1952 from Anabelle Collins and Martha Kavanaugh. The cafeteria had opened in 1941.

The Mickelis’ wanted to turn the cafeteria into a barbecue restaurant, but the Cleburne’s faithful wouldn’t have it, so suddenly they were in the cafeteria business.

Soon, children George and Angela joined the family that now lived above the cafeteria.

In 1969, Cleburne Cafeteria moved to 3606 Bissonnet near Edloe, right down the street from channel 13. Today neighbors down the street also include The Buffalo Grille and Locktopia Escape Room Houston. Customers moved right along with them too.

The cafeteria estimates 70% of its customers are regulars.

Nick passed away in 1989. Son George, a graduate of the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, took over the business.

In 1990, the cafeteria was destroyed by fire, reopening later that year. Then again in 2016, the cafeteria was once again totally destroyed by fire. It reopened in November of 2017.

Fire aside, Cleburne Cafeteria landed in the number one spot of the Food & Wine magazine’s “The Best Cafeterias in America” list in 2019:

Today, the city’s oldest cafeteria is better than ever, serving up quality home cooking at reasonable prices to anybody and everybody wise enough to understand just how lucky we are that this place still exists. There are other restaurants that will present a greater challenge to your palate, but there are few that sum up Houston quite so neatly—an unpretentious coming together of peoples from all over the world, sharing a love of honest cooking of any kind. Why aren’t there more restaurants like this?

David Landsel of Food & Wine


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