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If you grew up in a mid- to large-sized Texas town, chances are your family ate at a Luby’s Cafeteria from time to time, if not weekly. I grew up in San Antonio and have fond memories of going through the line, picking what I liked, and sitting in the crowded, comfortable dining room to enjoy my choices. Today, I take my 2-year-old daughter to Luby’s and delight in watching her do the same thing. Like myself at her age, no meal is complete without macaroni and cheese and Jell-O (I preferred orange; she likes red).
In celebration of its 60th anniversary, Luby’s has published a cookbook, Luby’s: Recipes and Memories (2006). Although Harry Luby opened his first cafeteria, the New England Dairy Lunch in Springfield, Missouri, in 1911, Luby’s Inc. counts its 60-year history from 1947, when Bob Luby (Harry’s son) and cousin Charles Johnston opened the first Luby’s Cafeteria in downtown San Antonio. The anniversary cookbook is beautifully photographed, with mouth-watering photos of your favorite dishes as well as exuberant portraits of real Luby’s customers. Diners’ memories are sprinkled throughout the book, adding to the warm, familiar feel.
The cookbook includes a synopsis of Luby’s history, but another new book delves into the whole Luby’s story. House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Luby’s Cafeterias (University of Texas Press, 2006) is a surprisingly intriguing story of death, betrayal and the American dream. No ordinary corporate history, this book was written by Carol Dawson, an Austin writer, and Carol Johnston, the only child of Luby’s co-founder Charles Johnston. With Dawson’s ability to turn a phrase and Johnston’s insider knowledge, they’ve crafted a thoroughly engaging tale about Luby’s and the families who created it.
One thing both these books make clear is that Luby’s commitment to its customers, employees and local communities is a big part of its success, but what keeps people coming back again and again is the consistently delicious home-style food. Here are some of my favorite Luby’s recipes.