Comfort Food with a Side of History: JR’s Café

You know the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes if you, or a member of your family, have been singled out for your contributions to your town or community? You’re proud. You stand a bit taller. 

It doesn’t matter what form the recognition takes – maybe a plaque made of shiny, oiled wood. Or maybe a dinner at city hall. Or, maybe, a hand-painted, larger-than-life mural that covers one entire wall of a historic building in a town such as Saginaw. It would be just plain silly not to admit something like that would make you stand extra tall!

If you’re in Fort Worth, you’re just 10-miles away from JR’s Café, tucked into a 70-year-old structure at 300 S. Saginaw Boulevard. Go around to the north side, and you’ll come face-to-face with Marvin E. Greene and his wife of 55 years, Frances Mozelle Smith Greene. They look exactly the way they did when they operated Greene’s Grocery, Market, and Service Station in that very same building.

The Greenes were the sole proprietors from 1938 until their retirement in 1972. Frances continued owning property until her death in 2011 at the age of 98. Marvin preceded her in 1989.

“I think the most amazing thing about that store was the fact they ran it as a credit business for 35 years,” Mike Greene, one of the Greene’s four children, said. “I went through the books after they were gone, and only a small handful of unpaid accounts remained.

“There were some hard times in those 35 years, and a lot of people, including our own family, would have been hungry without mom and dad.”

It’s doubtful there’s even one credit business today in the United States. When Marvin and Frances were around, the credit concept was based on trust, handshakes, integrity, and love-thy-neighbor attitudes. Basically, you went into the store and bought groceries for the week. Frances noted the date, cost, and any other relevant information in her ledger. You left to feed your family and returned to take care of your bill when you were paid the following week. That’s also when you shopped for the current week. In other words, you always ran a week in arrears.

Many Saginaw residents still remember the graciousness and generosity of the Greenes. Second and third generations recall their mothers and grandmothers telling stories about how “Miss Greene” gave them their first job.

“The grocery and service station were attached to our house,” Mike recalled. “I grew up working at the service station, and I didn’t realize until much later the incredible lessons I learned – how to be responsible, how to treat others, the importance of neighbors, and so much more.”

Those lessons became a legacy for the entire Greene family, rooted firmly in the principle of giving back. 

Mike’s dream was to become an engineer, graduating in 1969 from UT Arlington. He eventually became vice chairman of Energy Future Holdings (TXU). He retired in 2010 after 46 years of leadership, which included serving as president of Oncor. He and his wife Janet have since created a College of Engineering endowment. They’re also Patrons of Boswell High School, and Mike is Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Texas Parks and Wildlife. It’s all part of their “giving back” legacy.

A gentleman named Junior Huie came into Saginaw in 1990, looking for a spot to open a café. There was a vacant space at 300 S. Saginaw Boulevard. Word from the locals said it belonged to the Greene family, one of the town’s most respected names. Huie rented the space, opened JR’s, and ran it for a number of years. It eventually ended up with Mazen Haddad, who kept the original name. 

With the mural of Marvin and Frances Greene covering the exterior of the north wall, JR’s stands as a living link to the past. Haddad made the journey from Jordan to the United States in 1978. He was 18 years old and traveling solo. His parents and 10 siblings joined him between 1991 and 2012.

“I graduated with a business degree from the University of Texas at Dallas,” Haddad said, with a pleasant touch of his native accent still lingering. “My dad had a small grocery store in Jordan, and I managed two restaurants over here before going on my own.

“I’ve been in the business 45 years and have four other cafes in different towns. I added JR’s six years ago. For a very long time, the only days I didn’t work were Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Our mission is to provide the best quality food we can at the most reasonable prices. We have old pictures of Saginaw hanging in the café, and it makes me proud when people tell me we’re keeping those days alive.”

Two other things making Haddad proud? That huge mural on the north side, and the delicious chocolate pie on his menu of down-home food.

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