It has been through a combination of leveraging new ways of serving its customers while still keeping true to its roots as a warm and familiar environment with delicious Southern-style home cooking, owner George Mickelis said.
“We’re serving you comfort, not just food,” George said.
George was “born on top of the restaurant,” growing up alongside his sister, Angela Mickelis, upstairs above the cafeteria in a large twelve-room house, supported by two large trees located in the dining room.
George’s parents, Nick and Patricia Mickelis, first bought Cleburne Cafeteria in 1952 from the original owners, Anabelle Collins and Martha Kavanaugh. At the time, the cafeteria was at Cleburne and Fannin streets.
In 1969, Nick and Patricia opted to move the restaurant to its current location on Bissonnet Street, where it now serves customers with table service and a buffet-style line.
Since then, COVID-19 has not been the only challenge the local cafeteria has faced.
On Aug. 9, 1990, the cafeteria was destroyed by a fire, rebuilt and reopened the same year Dec. 2 before being destroyed yet again by a fire in April 2016 then rebuilt.
When COVID-19 came to Houston, Cleburne Cafeteria was steadfast.
“We told ourselves that we are resilient,” George said. “We will get through this.”
George has made it a point to ensure Cleburne Cafeteria continues to serve high-quality food, a lesson taught to him by his father.
“We’ve always done everything from scratch,” he said.
Offerings include fried chicken, turkey and dressing, blackened catfish and fresh salads, as well as homemade dessert offerings such as pies and bread pudding.
Though Cleburne has maintained its consistency, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced it to adapt. Curbside pickup was added this year, as was drive-up service and some delivery for customers.
Through it all, though, the customer has remained Cleburne Cafeteria’s focus.
“You serve people every day, and they become a part of the family,” George said. “We’re very honored and privileged to serve this community.”
3606 Bissonnet St., Houston
Hours: Sun.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.