The big question on many people’s minds over the past 30 years has been, “‘Why Dallas?’”
Mehmet Isik said he’s heard the question millions of times. “You know, you have the whole Eagles vs. Dallas thing and people say, ‘The food is great, the prices are great, but you have to change the name,’” he laughed.
But, the story behind the name Dallas Diner, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, is really quite simple: Isik didn’t have the money to renovate the decor when he bought the building, which used to be called the Covered Wagon.
“It was a western-style building, so I said, ‘Dallas!’” he recalled.
Perhaps if he knew how successful the eatery was about to become, he would have done things differently, but it didn’t matter: Isik said he did 10 times the business he expected to when he opened.
For years, the Dallas Diner was the place to go on Route 13 in Bristol Township. Poised close to industrial areas, retail outlets and the Levittown neighborhoods, it was set to thrive. But what made it really take off, according to Isik, was the menu.
Most places in the area, he said, were offering “the same meatloaf, the same hamburgers.” But Isik, who had worked for years at diners in northern New Jersey, brought down to Bucks County new menu ideas for a diner: items like fresh seafood, steaks and sauteed selections.
“The menu was just two pages, and from 4:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night, there was a line outside the door,” he recalled.
It was to the point that Isik had to grow a mustache, because people who came in to do business with him wouldn’t believe that this wiry, 24-year-old Turkish immigrant was the owner of a thriving diner with 60 employees.
“Our motto was, ‘Give them the best for less,’ ” said Isik.
And, it continued that way for years, until business slowed down due to first the recession in 2008 and 2009, and then the ongoing construction all along Route 13. With the factories shutting down, wages dropping and then the roadwork making it tough for people to find, let alone enter the establishment, Isik said things started to change.
“Now, it takes 30 or 35 minutes to get in here, but people only have an hour for lunch. They’re not going to come all this way,” he noted.
Fortunately, the Dallas Diner still has a few things in its favor: its menu, for starters, is now 12 pages and includes five-course meals with complimentary glasses of wine, each for less than $14. Still living up to that “best for less” slogan, choices include surf and turf and a variety of steak dishes along with the usual diner fare.
“I always look for what people are looking for, then design my menus from that,” explained Isik.
And, to combat the challenges brought about by the seemingly never-ending construction outside the diner, the Dallas Diner started offering delivery two years ago from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., first to businesses and now to homes and apartments, too. “If there’s lack of entry here, I’ll go to them,” he said
In fact, the lack of foot traffic right now doesn’t faze Isik all that much. He’s more or less just waiting for the construction to be completed so that people can make their way in again. “You have to change with the world. The world keeps turning, with or without you,” he said
And, this year, Isik is once again offering his anniversary special: 40 percent off everything on the menu on Sept. 22.
“I thank God and the people who supported us through this all,” he said. “They’ve given us the opportunity to see it through.”
The Dallas Diner is located at 705 Bristol Pike in Levittown. For information, call 215.547.0990.