Mike Smith, 78, longtime owner of Fort Worth’s iconic Paris Coffee Shop, died Monday night in his sleep, NBC 5 has learned.
Smith took over the restaurant from his father in 1965 and ran it until April 2021, when he sold it. New owners renovated the West Magnolia Avenue restaurant and reopened it last month.
“He sold it to us and even though he wasn’t a partner, he was part of us,” said owner-operator Chris Reale. “He was just here three days ago and he told us the green beans weren’t good. We had a little problem with the coconut pie, and he took a slice of it and said, “You all get it.”
Smith’s Coconut Pie topped with meringue was a customer favorite. In 2010, Bon Appetit named Paris Coffee Shop one of the top 10 places for pie, calling the diner the “place of your dreams.”
Six days a week, Smith was at the restaurant long before sunrise, baking pies and cookies. As he planned to retire last year, he trained his longtime employee Cleveland Arner on how to prepare and perfect pies, chicken and dumplings.
As Smith left the family business after 55 years, he told NBC 5, “I’m going to miss people. I’m going to miss my employees.” However, he would not miss “the stress of everyday business, especially when something breaks down every day”.
This is essentially what prompted Smith to get into the restaurant business. His father, Gregory Smith, purchased Paris Coffee Shop from the original owner, Vic Paris.
Mike Smith attended Texas Christian University to earn a master’s degree in management and had no intention of joining his father. But in 1965, when his father fell ill, Smith found himself stepping in. He was the youngest of seven sons and the only one available to help his father.
“I first started washing pots or holding a cash register. I did everything,” Smith said.
He quickly found the recipe for success.
“We take care of people. Good service. Good food. Try to be reasonable on prices,” he said.
Almost as important as his home cooking was Smith’s presence in the galley, at the cash register, up front, or in the cabins sitting and chatting with customers.
At breakfast and lunch, he greeted regulars with a firm handshake or a joke. Even those who were there for the first time never felt like strangers.
When Smith sold the restaurant to Reale, chef-restaurateur Lou Lambert and developer Mark Harris, he found in them a group determined to respect the restaurant’s decades-long history, but willing to spend the money. necessary to move it forward in the future.
“He just retired, and that’s what shocks me,” Reale said. “I selfishly want to tell him, ‘I wasn’t done with your help.'”