Dinner Bell Still Rings in Houston

The 2011 Dinner Bell Now Calls Itself a Cafe.

Almost every day since 1953, the Dinner Bell Cafe & Bakery on Lawndale at Wayside in the Houston East End has rung for hungry people. Long before Dr. Oz and his medical minions came along to spoil “good eatin'” for us old schoolers of great taste for America’s supreme comfort foods, the Dinner Bell was there to make sure that nobody went into withdrawal.

Today, in 2011, Tuesdays and Sundays are Chicken and Dumplings Days, from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Monday through Friday, and from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Sunday. The delicious bakery opens early and stays open from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Monday through Friday, and from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Sunday. The whole place closes on Saturday – just to give customers a taste of separation from how much they are missing due to the absence of seven-days a week service.

The general name of the place is something of a misnomer. Unless you want to get technical about it, he Dinner Bell is actually a cafeteria – one of the last such eateries in Houston, but a far-sight superior to the Luby’s chain and in quality line with the equally wonderful Cleburne Cafeteria on Bissonnet, but cheaper.

Here’s a link to the Dinner Bell’s 2011 website:

http://www.dinnerbellhouston.com/

Click over and pick a day for your own comfort food meal.

The Dinner Bell is located across the street from the Villa de Matel Convent, one of the most serenely beautiful places in Houston since 1928, and about 1.5 miles west of the Lawndale/75th intersection strip mall that once housed my now demolished Saturday afternoon Avalon Theatre. It’s also a busy catty-corner away from Idylwood, one of the most mysteriously different Houston residential neighborhoods from the early 20th century, with its sloping lawns and anciently majestic trees and curving, dipping streets along the banks of the nearby bayou. Across the bayou from Idylwood to the east is Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery.

The Dinner Bell came along when I was already a sophomore in high school, but we still went there some. Back then, Sundays were the main day for families eating out – when they did eat out. People simply did not eat out as a matter of every day course back then – and Sundays were also the days that many many moms, including my own, really enjoyed cooking their own versions of those Dinner Bell specialties from ingredient scratch in their own kitchens.

How times have changed, but the Dinner Bell still tolls for us all in Houston as a comforting reminder of how food used to taste. Take your heart pills and give it a try sometime.

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11 Responses to “Dinner Bell Still Rings in Houston”

  1. Mark Wernick Says:

    You know, for a while there I wondered if your old stomping grounds were close to where one of my dearest friends lives. I now know the answer. Across the street from The Dinner Bell on Lawndale, on the stately and elegant grounds of The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, lives Sister Mary Nora Dwan, my friend since she hired and trained me to work at St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1966, when she was their Director of Nursing and her name was Sister Colombiere. That alone makes a great story. But for now, suffice to say that Sister Nora and I have remained close ever since, staying in touch while we both were cavorting all over the globe. She now is 94 years old, and while she’s feeling some of the physical effects of her advanced years, she is still keen and spry of mind and spirit. We go out for a meal several times a year, especially over the Christmas holidays.

    On one of my visits to her turf, I stopped in at the Dinner Bell bakery and bought a few goodies. If I’d known it’s one of your old haunts I’d have said a “Bon appetit” in your honor.

    Mark

  2. Mark Wernick Says:

    Also known as Villa de Matel …

  3. Vito Schlabra Says:

    Been their many times with my family. great place

  4. Oscar Sicola Says:

    I grew up in the 50’s & 60’s in the neighborhood behind Dinner Bell Cafeteria, called Country Club. I guess the neighborhood got its name from the original golf course/country club that was accross the street from the neighborhood and Dinner Bell Cafeteria.
    Houston Executive Club or Houston Country Club depending on who you talk to.

    As kids we had no problem going to Dinner Bell Cafeteria by ourselves and no parents tagging along.
    I remember on hot summer days after playing baseball at the Lutheran Church on Lawndale @ Jocelyn, getting on our bicycles
    and riding down to Dinner Bell just for a glass of water.
    Eight or nine of us would ride up and park our bikes right at the
    front door. We would walk in, go through the serving line and get nothing but a glass of ice water.
    The first time we did it, the staff didn’t like it, but I also had a Guardian Angel working there and after a while they got use to seeing us two or three times a week during the summer months. And then with the rest of the family including parents on Sundays.

    One thing I’ll bet no one remembers, is they use to have small dinner bells on each table or booth, and when you needed service you just rang the bell.

    I drive by Dinner Bell Cafeteria every now and then, but my timing seems to always be off, for they are closed.

    Guardian Angel, Lily Freeman started working there when they first opened the doors and retired from Dinner Bell Cafeteria upon her death several years ago.

    Mr. Bates, longtime manager and later owner.
    He purchased it from Mim’s Family in late 70’s or early 80’s
    “Thanks for the Memories”

    Oscar

    • Lisa Freeman Says:

      Oscar, Mr. JW Bates, entered into a partnership with two other men. One being my dad, Richard Curry. The three bought it from the the Mim’s that owned Mim’s Meat Co on Interstate 10. The Mim’s brothers started the original cafeteria off of the ship channel area. They soon moved it to the current location. Dinner Bell has many great memories for me. I enjoyed reading your memories. Mrs. Freeman was THE BEST. Did you ever notice that she stood on a wooden box at the cash register. She was a little angel and a great angel. Thank you Oscar.

  5. Fifth Gen Texan Says:

    What memories! Usually, Grandma would have a roast cooking during my Grandpa’s Sunday sermon, but Dinner Bell was a treat every now and then. This is where I learned the phrase “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

    Thanks for another memory of growing up in Houston.

  6. Allison Dwan Says:

    Mark – thanks for the kind words in regards to my sweet Auntie Nora ( sister Nora ) . We /myself and grand nephews have shared a meal at the dinner Bell with her . Allison Dwan

    • Brendan Says:

      Hello this is for an Allison dwan my name is Brendan Dwan (Peters son) I was wondering if I could get in touch thanks

      • Mark W Says:

        Hello Allison and Brendan. I’m so sorry I’m only now seeing your messages. I failed to check the “Notify Me Of New Comments” box. If you google my name (Mark Wernick) and click on the Psychology Today website link, you will see a telephone number that will link to my office number. You can leave me a voice-mail message with your numbers and I will call you back. You also can send me an email through that web page. I hope to hear from you.

        Kindest regards,

        Mark

      • Allison Dwan Says:

        Hi Brendan, Just saw your note . I hope things are going well for you . I believe you are the same age as my Lucas 17 ? Is that correct ?.If so you must be looking at colleges . Lucas is my youngest – 3 others are in College . Hope you find something that makes you happy , thats important Brendan .
        Take care

        Your Auntie Allison

    • Mark W Says:

      Hello Allison and Brendan. I’m so sorry I’m only now seeing your messages. I failed to check the “Notify Me Of New Comments” box. If you google my name (Mark Wernick) and click on the Psychology Today website link, you will see a telephone number that will link to my office number. You can leave me a voice-mail message with your numbers and I will call you back. You also can send me an email through that web page. I hope to hear from you.

      Kindest regards,

      Mark

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