Mark Wootten, general manager of the Garden Cafe in Dallas, said gardening is a big part of his family’s culture and inspired the restaurant when his father opened it.

“[My dad] always said gardening was his form of therapy,” Wootten said. “When I was a kid, I had an okra stand instead of a lemonade stand.”

In a nutshell

Wootten said his father, a bankruptcy attorney, opened the Garden Cafe in 2002 and styled the restaurant after the old-school diners he enjoyed in his youth.

“The typical cafeteria line—a meet-and-greet kind of place,” Wootten said. “When he retired from practicing, he decided that it would be a fun idea to open a restaurant.”

The garden was always a big part of the restaurant, Wootten said, adding that the it was one of the first things he set up in the space to provide fresh produce to the restaurant.

Wootten said he started working in restaurant kitchens when he was in high school and eventually took over operations in 2010.

What makes it special?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Garden Cafe was a counter-service restaurant and only opened for breakfast, brunch and lunch. When the restaurant closed because of the pandemic, Wootten said he and his father decided to make changes. First, the restaurant would become full-service. Second, they applied for a liquor license so they could serve alcohol, which Wootten said was a tough process because the restaurant is located in three historic districts: Junius Heights, Munger Place and Swiss Avenue. Lastly, they expanded the hours to include dinner.

Additionally, Wootten said that because the restaurant is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, it offers a “small-town downtown diner” vibe to residents, adding that he holds neighborhood meetups at the restaurants once a month.

What’s on the menu?

Wootten said the restaurant serves American food with Southern influences, adding one of the more popular dishes includes Cajun shrimp and grits served with collard greens. Other popular dishes include chicken and dumplings, made from a family recipe, and the watermelon salad, served with watermelon, cucumber, cherry tomato, red onion, feta, mint vinaigrette and cilantro.