The first Luby’s Cafeteria was in the heart of downtown San Antonio.
It was back in 1967, and this 13 year old knight of the altar (altarboy) was scheduled to serve the 6pm Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, downtown on the riverwalk. My Dad dropped me off and I was to take the Nolan bus home after Mass.
Mass was celebrated by a young energetic priest, Father Isidore Garcia, OMI, a newly assigned priest to the parish. Fr. Garcia must have been in his late twenties. Fr. Garcia was also in charge of altar boys at my school, across the street, St. Mary’s.
After a well attended Mass, I piously tended to my altar boy duties, washing the cruets, securing the chalice, seyborium and locking up the Church.
I liked locking up the Church, for those 10 or more minutes, the House of God was mine. I checked the confessionals and as I would pass by each statue of the saints, I’d talk to them and wish them a good night. “Good night Jude, good night Anthony, Mary, Joseph….”
St. Mary’s Church is rather large, it can hold 1,200 of the faithful. It is San Antonio’s second oldest Catholic Parish, San Fernando being the first. To me, I felt like I was in a Church in Rome. I knew St. Mary’s Church by heart.
I served many Masses there during pre Vatican and Vatican II. It is my favorite Church.
I reported to Fr. Garcia that the Church was secured and locked.
Fr. Garcia questioned how I was to get home, so I told him the bus. He asked if I would like to have dinner. I said “Sure Father!” I called my parents and got permission.
At first I thought that we were going to have supper in the newly built rectory, but we were going to a restaurant downtown and it wasn’t Coney Island!
We walked up College street, in back of the Majestic theater. As we passed the Nix hospital, I told Fr. Garcia I was born at the Nix on the 21st floor. At the corner of Presa & College we stepped into a building, down two flights of stairs. I had never been to a restaurant in a cavernous basement. The sign said Luby’s Cafeteria. Little did I know this was the first Luby’s founded in 1947.
Man, was I amazed, I had never been to a cafeteria! There was so much food laid out, a paradise of salads and desserts. All the waitresses were nicely dressed in white.
Fr. Garcia showed me how to get my tray and utensils and slide the tray down the aisle. And I could ask for anything — just like a grownup. No child’s plate here!
I chose the golden fried fish, plenty of tartar sauce, mashed potatoes & corn, with a steaming hot roll.
Fr. Garcia prayed Grace and we began our banquet of food. In my mind, I said “Thank you Jesus!”
All the tables were adorned in white tablecloths, cloth napkins. Fancy! Everyone was nicely dressed. Good thing I had on my good clothes and shoes shined.
The glasses of tea with flaked ice were endless. I had never been served like this.
After dinner Fr. Garcia asked if I wanted dessert. I said it was okay. He got up and came back with 2 slices of cheesecake with strawberries. I had never tasted cheesecake. It was absolutely delicious. I had met my new weakness. Man this was the life! I wanted to be a priest and eat at Luby’s!
The waitresses at Luby’s were constantly at our service, I felt like a little king
Being a poor boy from the east side this kid had never been to a cafeteria. My first Luby’s!
On the way home on the bus, I fell asleep and missed my bus stop. I didn’t mind at all. Thoughts of a tremendous dinner was all I could think of.
Thank you Fr Garcia and thank you Luby’s for making growing up in San Antonio so much fun.
I still keep in touch with Fr. Garcia, he is now retired and resides in SA at the Oblates and Luby’s is now 75 years old.
To this day, I religiously order the fried fish with tartar, corn and mashed potatoes and don’t forget the cheesecake! Oh and a jalapeno too.
For every child born in Texas, Luby’s is a rite of passage.
Anytime I’m at Luby’s, I am back in time in 1967 at that original Luby’s. Let’s say “Grace!”
Photos. Luby’s vintage logo. St. Mary’s Church & rectory. Rick Melendrez & Fr. Garcia, OMI, atop the playground/roof of the former St. Mary’s School.
Rick Melendrez, is a native San Antonian. Melendrez considers himself fortunate to have been born in San Antonio, just 3 blocks from the San Antonio de Valero mission (the Alamo) at the former Nix hospital on the riverwalk and to have attended Catholic grade school on the southside and on the river walk.
Catholic education is very close to his heart. Melendrez attended St. Michaels for five years (1960-65) and then attended St. Mary’s School on the river walk (1965-68) and onto Cathedral high school in El Paso, Texas.
He is the former publisher of the El Paso Citizen newspaper and former chairman of the El Paso County Democratic Party. He writes a page on Facebook titled “Sister Mary Ruler, Growing Up Catholic In San Antonio”. Everyone is invited to read about the San Antonio of the 1960’s
You may contact Melendrez via email at email@example.com or by phone, 915-565-1663 (landline).