Someone walking south on Lamar Street past the South Side on Lamar building and Dallas police department headquarters looking for a bite to eat might turn around before they reached the door in the low-slung, nondescript façade with its succession of plain businesses two blocks past Belleview. If so, they’d be missing a hub of homespun business innovation that’s a striking example of creative connections that are currently animating a changing Cedars neighborhood.
The arrangement is nothing if not idiosyncratic.
Walk in during the day, and they’d find the tiny quarters and modest counter of Marie’s Mantle, neither quite bistro nor quite deli, with just a few tables, a lunch menu of healthy mains and daily soups, and a grab-and-go case of snacks, breakfasts, and lunch bites curated with nutrition in mind. Owner William Judge, with an MBA and experience in both corporate and start-up settings, conceived Marie’s Mantle out of a desire to promote healthful food choices. A portrait of Judge’s mother, Marie, holds prominence on one wall. Judge hopes to provide the kind of food choices that might help prevent the health issues that cut short his mother’s life and spurred in him a food and lifestyle revival.
Throughout the day, Marie’s Mantle caters to a modest foot-traffic crowd from surrounding businesses. Meanwhile, Judge also runs a subscription-based weekday lunch delivery program. “Monday is like a logistical madhouse,” Judge says. “We have deliveries going to Grand Prairie, Uptown … It’s almost like a catering kitchen with a small bistro in front.”
This kitchen he shares with Absinthe Lounge next door. The arrangement is nothing if not idiosyncratic. Inside, all that separates the two establishments is a dividing partition. Come closing time for Marie’s Mantle at 3:30 p.m., the space is cordoned off, Judge hauls packing materials and supplies from the kitchen into the front room, and Absinthe takes over the kitchen, which will soon be flowing with the poutines, po’ boys, and sliders that anchor Absinthe’s bar food menu.
The establishments share grill and stove, and each has its own refrigeration. Storage is tight. Judge has to make sure he doesn’t over-order for any given subscription week; there simply isn’t space for overflow.
Meanwhile, there’s a third component to the shared space. After the last tab has closed out at Absinthe, the kitchen has but a momentary respite before David Madrid comes to fill it with the smell of baking bread. Madrid is a baker, trained in culinary school and at the San Francisco Baking Institute. He moved to Dallas with his wife early last year and within a few months was selling—at Houndstooth Coffee, at Local Press + Brew, and at weekend pop-ups at Full City Rooster coffee roasters—the breads and pastries (bostock, brioche tarts, muffins, apple galettes, palmiers) he makes from locally sourced and ground flour and sells under the name Wheat and Sour.
Young, earnest, energetic, Madrid and Judge are in similar positions as entrepreneurs working to launch what are essentially startups. Both, in fact, applied for an incubator opportunity offered through the Dallas County Community College system by which spaces—an unused cafeteria, for example—were offered for small, startup businesses like theirs. Their applications were declined. But the rejection spurred the creative solution they’ve engendered. Judge looked again at the possibilities available in his small kitchen space and saw in Madrid a valuable partner.
Their applications were declined. But the rejection spurred the creative solution they’ve engendered.
Madrid recalls, “He said, ‘Hey, let’s do this thing together. Let’s try this together.’ I don’t know if it’s something specific to Dallas or something specific to the Cedars, but I get to Will’s and he’s offering me counter space.” That space was a butcher’s block table, “David’s table,” which is the site for early morning communions with flour and starter. Waking in pitch black, Madrid would leave his loft in the South Side on Lamar building and walk the two blocks to Judge’s kitchen, where, alone, music going, he would jam with his loaves of levain until just before sunrise. Deliveries would follow, and repatriation to the loft for R&D—perhaps tinkering on humidity levels for the rye sourdough, perhaps developing a new pastry for Houndstooth.
Madrid makes the baked goods and turkey burger buns for Marie’s Mantle. He’s also a valuable mentor to Judge’s small kitchen staff comprised mostly of young cooks or culinary students for whom this is a first industry job. Madrid trains them in pastry and bread-making, something not offered in a basic line-cook internship. And, as Madrid and Judge develop the catering and wholesale sides of their businesses, “they’re getting the opportunity to work for a small startup—for two small startups, really,” Judge says. “We’re exposing them to business plans, business goals. They’re refining their culinary skills, but they’re also refining their business skills, so if they want to start their own restaurant [in the future], they have some experience to do that.”
One piece of the Rubik’s cube has altered slightly. Madrid and Judge recently leased a space on nearby Corinth Street, where Madrid installed the sheeter he’ll use for croissants and other viennoisserie. “Wheat and Sour will be able to stretch its legs a little bit,” he says.
Meanwhile, he’s cognizant of what he owes to the original, unusual incubator—the kitchen that never sleeps.
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