Gene Street took a circuitous route to the chain restaurant business. He wanted to see the world, so, at 23, he volunteered for the Air Force. His various “duties” included bartending in an officers’ club in Taiwan and selling appliances and cars out of the PX to the locals. His skills as a hustler came in handy when, in 1971, he and Phil Cobb opened J. Alfred’s, a dive bar in Oak Lawn that morphed into a slew of Black-Eyed Pea and Dixie House restaurants.
Street’s daughter Mariel was born in December 1984, and a large portion of her childhood was spent riding around Dallas with her dad in his old Town Car, visiting his restaurants. “He would walk in and talk to the busboys first and the managers last,” Mariel says. “I learned about walk-in coolers and how a dish machine worked. He knew everyone by name.”
After college, Mariel began her own roundabout route to the restaurant business. She traveled across Europe, studied in Venezuela, and joined the Peace Corps, where she lived with 450 people on a remote island in the Republic of Vanuatu in the South Pacific for 27 months. She returned to Dallas at the end of 2010 and had no idea what she was going to do. Her dad had retired and told her she would be nuts to go into the restaurant business. “That only pushed me harder into it,” she says.
Mariel loved the new culinary trends but believed burgers were an American staple that a vibrant concept could be built around. She opened the doors to Liberty Burger when a three-day breast cancer walk was happening outside its Forest Lane location. The line was instant, and the crowds never stopped. There are now five restaurants, two of them owned by franchisees.
“My dad is against the franchise model,” Mariel says. “For someone who grew 300 restaurants through that model to urge me to slow down is weird.” What’s more bizarre? Gene Street invested in the first franchise of Liberty Burger, which opened in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.