Editor's Note: The following is The Big Spoon, an opinion column on San Antonio's food and drink scene.
To say I’m conflicted about the news that Luby’s troublingly low earnings could lead to more closures is an understatement.
The restaurant, a San Antonio institution that first opened in 1947, serves up a whole lot more than Lu Ann platters. It serves up oodles of nostalgia with a side of comforting, warm feelings and a bread roll, too.
Growing up in deep South Texas meant we had a handful of chain restaurants, and even then, there was always “comida en la casa.” But on occasion, if my parents wanted to splurge, or if we were taking our grandparents out for lunch after church, Luby’s was the go-to. The restaurant continued as a staple as I moved away from the Valley to San Antonio because the menu items were the same. I could get my baked almondine, no tartar, and blue Jell-O at any location and still feel comforted by the price, by the lack of an actual menu, by the hospitable staff.
When I shared the news on social media that Luby’s may close stores because of low-earnings, friends and followers balked. “#Savelubys I’m in!” “Como que? Save Luby’s? Are they closing?” and “I still go to Lubys! I’m concerned I think it’s still doing okay right?!”
That was several days after Luby’s Inc. announcement that they’d have to sell off or close more properties to pay off a $40-million debt. Luby’s had already sold eight properties companywide. So everyone’s reaction was troubling in more ways than one. If you’re a fan of the restaurant, why don’t you know it’s failing? If you love Luby’s, how could it close?
But just as Luby’s has remained a constant, the restaurant business has changed. A lot. Fast-casual is king, and that’s not necessarily the vibe a plate of chicken-fried steak and mac ’n’ cheese conjures up. Farm-to-table is still having a moment, and people want to know where their food comes from. There is no executive chef sharing recipes and family stories. Now almost 72, the cafeteria-style chain based out of Houston is showing its age.
Did millennials kill Luby’s? No, and I’ll fight whomever suggests as much, but our propensity for Instagrammable food and cool new openings has certainly helped bring the stores to a halt. Even with the dire financial forecast, surely there’s something we can do to perhaps delay the inevitable…
During lunch hour on a recent Friday, the line for Lu Ann platters (and newfangled three-side Lu Ann Plus platters) was bustling with young and old. We grabbed our trays and rolled-up silverware and scooted along the line, making casual quips to our food servers and craning our necks for any new side dishes, such as the buttery spaghetti squash casserole. Turkey and dressing helped dull the pain of a week’s worth of judiciary committee hearings, at least for this writer.
We indulged in chocolate tres leches and, yes, blue Jell-O, and whiled away a lunchtime hour as customers almost filled the massive dining room inside the former Main Bank and Trust.
There’s still 84 Luby’s left for now, and though that can’t be guaranteed going into a new year, it shouldn’t stop us from trying to #savelubys. But maybe we should swing by for a full combo instead of the Lu Ann.
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