The Paris Coffee Shop signage is being restored with neon.
Paris Coffee Shop was once a Safeway Grocery store.
Paris Coffee Shop's exterior was brought back to its original state with fresh paint and tile. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)
Paris Coffee Shop with its diner appeal has always included swivel chairs along the counter.
Restoration is nearly complete at Paris Coffee Shop, Fort Worth’s legendary diner that sits at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Hemphill. The same team (Lou Lambert, Chris Reale, Mark Harris and Roger Chieffalo) that restored and re-envisioned another hometown fixture in Roy Pope Grocery are now focused on preserving this landmark cafe’s history.
The trio hopes to reopen Paris Coffee Shop, a local institution since at least 1928, in May. A facelift aimed at upgrading and preserving its history has been underway since the new owners hit the pause button and closed the cafe in September of 2021.
While most of the upgrades at Paris are back of house ― the expansive kitchen is now fitted with all new plumbing, electrical and appliances, including all-important bakery ovens ― there was an awful lot of work throughout that had to be done to maintain the aging structure.
Many locals were saddened by the loss of the mural along the Hemphill exterior wall (completed by local artist Bo Powell back in 2004), but the extent of electrical work made that mural impossible to salvage.
“When the exterior penetrations began, the existing stucco coating was sloughing off in sheets,” managing partner Chris Reale tells PaperCity Fort Worth. “We could have tried to patch it, but it would have looked horrible.
“The wall was badly faded by the sun and the mural wasn’t maintained over the years, and there damage and peeling from elastomeric paint bubbling and a lack of sealant, adding to moisture leakage from inside the walls.”
The exterior has been returned to something much closer to its original look. The east exterior wall now features a period-correct letter font heralding PARIS COFFEE SHOP, designed by local artist Sarah Ayala.
“We took it down to the four walls, everything is new, but when people walk in, it’s going to feel familiar,” Reale says. “All of the renovations have been geared toward period-correct aesthetics.”
Future plans include finding a Fort Worth artist to paint a new mural on the building’s interior north wall and creating a seasonal art exhibit featuring the work of local artists, effectively making the interior west wall a rotating art gallery.
Keeping Paris Coffee Shop True to History
All the elements that garnered such a loyal customer base for Paris Coffee Shop, including the overall spirit and look of the place, have remained top of mind. The pressure to get it right has been impressed upon the new owners every step of the way ― especially by the diner’s octogenarian clientele. That’s why Lambert, Reale and Harris poured over historical photos of the cafe, which occupies a long ago Safeway grocery space, in an effort to make the update as authentic as possible.
“I grew up going to Paris Coffee Shop all the time, just like my dad did when he was at TCU,” says Lou Lambert, whose father Hal Lambert made regular visits to the Paris Coffee Shop with his football pals from the 1940s and early 1950s TCU teams. “They’re still loyal to Paris, so we want to recapture the vibe of those early days. Both inside and out.”
Wood detailing and a base of Mediterranean blue tile on the Paris Coffee Shop exterior has been installed, based off original photos of the cafe. The interior now features blonde wood paneling, which was informed by early photos of the diner. There also will be pendant lighting over booths and wall sconces.
“We are embracing every element of Paris Coffee Shop history, from its early look to its menu and to the friendly customer service that made it so popular,” Lou Lambert says. “Our longtime staff is what made this place so special and we’re thrilled so many are coming back. And that they’re so happy with the changes.”
“One aspect of restoration requiring extra care is the sign rising high above the front entrance,” the new owners note in release.
“In recapturing its vintage look by returning neon to the sign — a component that has been absent for decades — expert craftsmen found the interior extremely fragile from years of weathering.” Work is underway, Lambert promises, ensuring that the sign again features the lettering and lighting of its original 1940s appearance.
New private dining spaces have been added, just off the long hallway leading to the restrooms, and enlargements of the historic black and white photos for which Paris Coffee Shop was famous, will grace the walls.
The Return Of The Blue Plate Special
This new Paris Coffee Shop should feel very familiar to generations of customers, with its long counter still running along the east wall, complete with the peek-a-boo pie case there to greet you upon entrance. Upgraded swivel stools will once more line the counter, now with backs on them for added comfort. More of the same Mediterranean blue tile detail along the long counter base reinforces the 1930s and 1940s’ aesthetic.
As for this revitalized Paris Coffee Shop’s menu?
“You can count on old favorites, plus expanded offerings that will attract some new clientele,” Lou Lambert says. “We’ll have blue plate specials, as well as chicken-fried steak, chicken and dumplings, fried chicken at lunch and dinner, along with steak and fish.
“At breakfast, you’ll get bacon, egg, waffle and pancake plates, plus a few new additions like Dutch babies.”
Of course, the pie case will be brimming with mile-high meringues and house-made pies. If someone wants a mimosa or bloody Mary at breakfast or lunch, or a glass of wine, pint of beer or ranch water with supper that will be available now too.
It’s all coming together, and if the major improvements and upgrades this ownership group brought to Roy Pope Grocery are any barometer, Fort Worth’s beloved diner is in good hands.