The Reale World
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
With Roy Pope Grocery about to open and Paris Coffee Shop in the transition phase, Chris Reale and mom Mona Reale Owens are busy. It’s a mother and son reunion, as the two are working together once again.
“Lasagna, chicken piccata — Mom’s Italian cooking was everything at home when I was growing up. It’s what got me into this business. I remember when I was 8, I made a chocolate cake for my grandfather. It was then that I knew I wanted to be involved with food somehow.”
Chris Reale is digging back into his memories of growing up in Fort Worth with Mona, his mother, in the kitchen. She smiles at his recollection of family dinners. “I was a young mom, but it was important to make good food for the family,” she says. “I always loved to cook, and Chris was the little sous-chef helping me with the chopping.”
Chris and Mona both have lengthy resumes in the local food and beverage industry, and they are back working together again, with Chris serving as owner/operator of not only the Westside Fort Worth grocery, scheduled to reopen this month, but also the historic Paris Coffee Shop, which Mona will manage. We’re seated at a fold-up table inside a dusty Roy Pope Grocery construction site as renovation goes on inside and out in preparation for its May opening. The two have just come from a staff meeting at the coffee shop.
The news of these two Fort Worth institutions changing hands ranks as some of the biggest in the local food industry this past year. Roy Pope had been in business since 1943 but had suddenly closed last April. A group that included Fort Worth real estate broker Rodger Chieffalo, developer Mark Harris, chef/restaurateur Lou Lambert and 31-year-old Chris, a protege of Lambert’s soon stepped in. News of the coffee shop’s sale began to trickle out toward the end of 2020; the group officially took over the coffee shop mid-April.
Of the group, Lambert has the most name recognition due to his long tenure as a chef and restaurant owner. He helped open Reata and then moved to Austin, where he later opened Lambert’s bistro, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue and Jo’s coffee shop. He returned to Fort Worth, eventually introducing Cowtown to Lambert’s Steaks, Seafood & Whiskey (it closed in 2012) and Dutch’s Hamburgers, still going strong near the TCU campus.
Chris started his restaurant career at Del Frisco’s Fort Worth; Mona was working front of the house there at the time. He went to work at Lambert’s, where Lou taught him not only how to be a better cook but how a restaurant kitchen works and what it takes to run a business. “Lou has you do everything and, yes, he can be intimidating,” says Chris with a smile. “He still is, but I understand him so much better now.”
Chris enrolled in TCU’s nutritional science program with a business minor and continued to work. He took a job at Grace, the fine dining restaurant in downtown Fort Worth, and eventually launched a cocktail program there. “I learned so much thanks to owner Adam Jones; it still feels like my second home,” says Chris.
Chris’ goal to run his own place came true with the launch of the Flores Barbecue food truck in the summer of 2019 with the end goal of a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Edwards Ranch. A few hot months spent in a small trailer was a learning experience, as was its shutdown after the departure of the pitmaster. But now, Roy Pope and Paris Coffee Shop have Chris busier than ever. (Read more details about the openings on Page 65.)
Mona’s career has taken her inside the kitchens of some of Fort Worth’s most well-known restaurants. In addition to her years as a server at Del Frisco’s in downtown Fort Worth, Mona, 52, worked at the now defunct Zambrano Wine Cellar and Bistro and helped open Grace. She also helped chef Donatella Trotti prep at Italian favorite Nonna Tata. She met her current husband, Ryan Owens, at Del Frisco’s. (The two also worked together at Waters; Ryan is joining the staff at Paris.)
While she’s already working at Paris as it makes its transition, she’s also keeping a close eye on Chris. “I’m a mom, so of course I worry about him. While it’s been wonderful to see him make his dreams come true, I know how much pressure he’s under with so many people watching both of these projects, so I encourage him, too.”
Chris plans to split his time between the two places, with Roy Pope being the bigger challenge because of his limited experience in running a grocery. “I look to my mom on how not to stress out,” he says. “She stays pretty cool and calm. I need that right now.”