On May 8, 1941, Cleburne Cafeteria officially opened its doors to Houston, and has been serving up homestyle cooking ever since. The restaurant prides itself on still using only the freshest produce and ingredients and making everything from scratch. The welcoming, comfortable environment has become a place where customers feel more like family and have continued to create memories and enjoy the highest-quality food and service. This year marks Cleburne Cafeteria’s 80th anniversary and in celebration of the storied restaurant, Mayor Sylvester Turner has officially named May 8th as “Cleburne Cafeteria Day” in Houston.
“It’s an honor to be one of the longest-standing restaurants in Houston,” says George Mickelis, Owner of Cleburne Cafeteria. “This city means so much to our family, and it’s our greatest joy to get to serve our customers each and every day.”
Originally established by Anabelle Collins and Martha Kavanaugh, Cleburne Cafeteria was first located on Cleburne Street at Fannin. Shortly after opening in May of 1941, on Sunday, December 7th of that year, Cleburne Cafeteria was serving chicken and dumplings as the world learned the shocking news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. The country watched as President Roosevelt proclaimed it was “a date which will live in infamy.” Later in 1952, husband and wife Nick and Pat Mickelis bought the restaurant, making sure to leave many of the original recipes untouched while adding their own family dishes to the menu. In 1969, Cleburne Cafeteria made the move to its current location on Bissonnet, and today, Nick and Pat’s son, George Mickelis owns and runs the family restaurant. George was even born and raised in the house above the original location and is proud to carry on the family tradition.
Named “Best Cafeteria in America” by Food & Wine in 2019, Cleburne Cafeteria features a wide variety of menu items prepared from scratch in the kitchen daily by cooks that have been with the family for many years. Whether diners are looking to indulge or keep things healthy, the restaurant has something for everyone. All of Cleburne’s meat is hand-selected, genuine USDA choice beef and is cut, trimmed and ground in house daily by the restaurant’s butcher. The poultry is delivered fresh daily on ice and is all-natural and never injected with any hormones or additives. Many of the seafood selections are hand-picked by Cleburne’s as well, delivered fresh every morning and filleted in house. The cafeteria never uses anything imitation, and vegetables are sourced from the farmer’s market daily, many times organically grown.
Upon arriving to the building, customers can enjoy a unique display of the restaurant’s history in the lobby, then make their way through the serving line to select their dishes. Around the restaurant, the walls are covered by Nick Mickelis’ paintings. Some are originals that were rescued and restored after the two restaurant fires, and others were re-created from photographs. Most of Nick’s art comes from memories of Greece, and although he was a successful restaurateur, his paintings testify he remained an artist at heart.
From the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam War to the Challenger disaster and 9/11, Cleburne Cafeteria has been around through it all. Through life’s ups and downs, the tough times and the beautiful moments, Cleburne Cafeteria has proven its longevity and shares a storied history with the city of Houston. The restaurant’s own story is a remarkable one – from surviving two fires (one in 1990 and one in 2016), to enduring the Covid-19 pandemic, the Mickelis family has continued to carry on the legacy of the beloved restaurant.
“We’re so proud to be to celebrate this milestone, and we can’t wait to see what the next 80 years hold,” said Mickelis.