Last summer, Amy Severson, co-owner of Sevy’s, blogger, and all-around smart person, and I had what we thought was a great idea. We decided to write a book on the history of Dallas food. We did a zillion searches and couldn’t come up with one book that covered the subject. We began collecting bits and pieces of information. Amy spent days at the library researching anything related to the restaurant or food business in the Dallas area. She has interviewed grandchildren of long-lost Dallas restaurants and food businesses. What we have found is unique and amazing and over the next few months, we will post some of the discoveries.
Today, we start with our History of Dallas Food series with La Tunisia, an opulent restaurant that opened in 1959. My grandfather used to take me to La Tunisia for special occasions. Do you have memories of La Tunisia? I thought they moved to Preston Royal, but Amy has traced it to McKinney Avenue. However, we did find postcards and a menu which I’ve photographed and posted below the jump. Here’s our report:
There was a time in history when the term “middle eastern conflict” referred to the weekly disagreement between Jeannie and Major Anthony Nelson.
In the early 1960′s Dallas had its own vision of the sultan’s life in a restaurant called La Tunisia. Like the television show, it was a highly caricatured endeavor, its menu encompassing a wide swath of ethnicities from India to Africa. The 7-foot African-American man wearing a tall fez stood outside of the landscaped front door. He dramatically opened the doors to reveal a stunningly elaborate tented cocktail lounge called The Sheik’s Tent where, as the copy on the back of the menu reads, “Veiled waitresses dressed as harem girls serve cocktails.” The space was designed and decorated by the creators of Disneyland. The ceiling draped with hand woven cloth and gave the room the feeling of dining in a great tent on the North African dessert.
The main dining room—The Pioneer Room—integrated the meeting of Texas and North Africa with its “common element of extensive cattle raising and ranching” theme. (Sorry, can’t find a picture.) The lighting system was way ahead of its time—the fixtures created a 24-hour light cycle.
La Tunisia was built in 1959 in a 140-acre development off of Harry Hines called Exchange Park. It was located next to the 32-lane Mickey Mantle Bowling Center. The owner, James F. Riggs was a Mesquite developer as well as restaurateur, he opened another restaurant, the London House in NorthPark in 1961. ( The London House’s first chef was a young man named Ewald Scholz, who would go on to be a famous Dallas chef). Managers included Jackson Reynolds and Eddie Southern. A former host Iqbal “Ike” Singh Ekhon left the restaurant after seven years to open Rajah’s Custom Clothiers at Hillcrest and Northwest Highway. Ike, who remained a resident in Dallas, passed away in 2006.
By the late ‘60′s, the nomadic Dallas social scene at La Tunisia had packed up their camels and moved on and, by June 1972, the restaurant reopened as Arthur’s West, a steakhouse sibling to the original Arthur’s on McKinney.