By Peggy Purser Freeman
Stepping into Jake and Dorothy’s Cafe at 406 E Washington Street is stepping back in time to the ’50s and ’60s. Complete with checkered floors, the original counter, stools and, best of all, fresh not frozen food, the cafe continues to feed Stephenville as it has for 68 years. When I heard about Jake and Dorothy’s famous waffle fries and Tuesday Dollar Burger Night, I had to try them for myself. I’m a child of the Happy Days era, and you can’t fool me with fake. My daughter and I met for her birthday celebration. I ordered the burger and waffle fries. She chose the chicken-fried steak. This is truly Texas at its best. After we ate, I introduced myself and asked to speak to the owner, Kerry Roach. Kerry’s history is Jake and Dorothy’s history. Kerry shared her memories.
“I started washing dishes and rolling out pie dough when I was seven-years-old. Mostly, I followed my daddy around as much as I could.” Kerry’s stories of her daddy reflect the young girl’s hero worship. After serving his country for four-and-a-half years in World War II, Jake Roach moved to Stephenville. He worked as a cashier at Mel’s Diner. A waitress at Mel’s, Dorothy, caught his eye. They married in1946.
“My daddy told me about getting this building.” Kerry talked of her parents with a smile. “It was only the front portion of the cafe back then. They rented at first. The counter and booths were up front, with a small kitchen at the back on the right and their one room apartment on the left.”
Today, just as Jake and Dorothy did back in the day, Kerry and her staff grind and prepare the beef fresh each morning. Their waffle fries are handmade each day with a special cutter that her father invented.
“I have a potato cutter made just like his,” Kerry explained. “I saw him make them so many times. One was out of the screen doorframes. Everything’s homemade from scratch, even the salad dressing. Daddy said as long as there’s an Idaho potato, there will never be an instant potato served at Jake and Dorothy’s. I watched him prepare to tenderize steak for the chicken-fried recipe and grind fresh hamburger meat every day.”
Jake and Dorothy had another winning recipe – they backed the community sports programs, including Tarleton. Jake especially enjoys the Little League teams and sponsored them for many years, until the sponsor rules were changed.
As I talked with Kerry, her eyes darted around the room, making sure people were being waited on and their food was reaching the table in a timely manner. She called out to a couple at a table nearby, “What did you order? My goodness! Did they have to milk the cow and gather the eggs?” Quickly, she was on her feet addressing the wait staff.
“Kerry, do you remember me?” the lady asked. “When we were going to high school and college, you would crawl into the booth and talk to all us. I’m Michelle Jones, used to be Welch. In the ’50s and ’60s, this was the hangout place. My brother loved to come here and tease the waitress, Booger Red. They would get the bottles of French dressing and squeeze it all over. She would really get on to them, but they loved her.”
Kerry smiled. “I always wanted to go with daddy on the weekends because this place was hopping. So many good memories.”
Michelle added, “We have friends who come to Stephenville and won’t go home until they come to Jake and Dorothy’s.”
“Football times were special. We fed all the teams. Art Briles and Gordon Woods both brought their state championship team to eat after their away games.”
For those who don’t know, Art Briles coached 4A Stephenville High School in 1988, playing in the same area as Gordon Wood’s state powerhouse Brownwood High School. After a 4–5–1 season in 1989, Briles’ Stephenville squads made the playoffs in 1990 and many times since. Briles’ record at Stephenville was 135 wins, 29 losses, and 2 ties.
“That was a time I remember most.” Kerry continued. “Back in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and even into the ’90s, the schools stopped in and celebrated…not so much anymore since the UIL has made rules about how much you can pay for their meals. We still get some FFA and big groups going to Tarleton. We always give them a good deal, but not as many schools call us.”
When Kerry speaks of the people they serve, it’s as if the cafe is part of her family.
“So many Tarleton graduation celebrations are held here. One Saturday we had the third generation of people who not only went to Tarleton, but have been Jake and Dorothy customers—the granddaughter, mother, and grandmother. A lot of people got married here.”
Tuesday night is One Dollar Burger night. This is the same burger Kerry and her staff serve every day. Single moms love it. College kids appreciate a hamburger and a glass of water for only a $1.08.
“We have customers in their 90s and some come almost every day, sometimes twice, Kerry said. “This one older customer tells me when he turns 100 he will dance me around the dining room.”
The biggest change for running the cafe has been finding a workforce. Kerry explained, “This has been a huge change for the past twenty years. I can’t find a cook that knows how to cook. They know how to throw frozen food in a vat or on the grill, but they don’t know how to make things. And if it can be done from scratch that’s the way we do it. You can bet my cooks can cook. One of my cooks, Nicholas, has been with me the longest. He’s seen all the changes with me.”
Kerry Roach became the owner in 1977. “In 2004, we updated the floors and walls. The last time, when the floor was prepared for a change, there were seven layers of flooring. One thing that hasn’t changed is the original counter and the original eight stools made by my cousin. I plan to update the window shades and create an outdoor smoking station with coffee because we went non-smoking after 67-and-a-half years, something I should have done a long time ago. It made some people really mad, but a lot of people happy.”
Jake and Dorothy’s is proud to have its own bakeshop. Since 1998, the Washington Street Bakery has made homemade pies for its customers. Trying to top past anniversary celebrations has become a problem for Kerry. To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the cafe served chicken-fried steak for $3.60 and buttermilk pie for 60 cents. The line was out the door.
“During our 65th anniversary, we served hot steak sandwiches for $.65. We sold 767 hot steak sandwiches that evening. For our 50th, we used our 1951 menu prices from that time. The highest price was the filet mignon for a $1.55. We fed over 900 people that day.”
Plans for the 68th anniversary on June 10th, 11th and 12th are underway. Making plans with her family is what she loves and Jake and Dorothy’s Cafe is family, not only to Kerry, but to all of Stephenville.
“We hope people will drop in.” Kerry smiles. “We’re open 5:30 in the morning until 12 midnight, Sunday through Thursday. Friday and Saturday the cafe is open until 2:00 AM.”
Photos by Plan-it ink