Gene Street’s Daughter, Mariel Street, Debuts Liberty Burger

November 11, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Kate Gardner
kateg@smu.edu

Mariel Street stands in front of Liberty Burger's motto: "Give me Liberty or let me starve!" (photo by Kate Gardner/Beyond the Bubble staff)

Mariel Street is tough. Smart. Passionate.

The daughter of Dallas restaurateur Gene Street, Mariel worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for 27 months in the Republic of Vanuatu, living in an abandoned hut without running water or electricity. Fluent in four or five different languages, she attended the University of Texas on scholarship, graduating in 2008 with a degree in linguistics. She even once worked as a bail bondsman.

So where did Mariel wind up after such a journey? At the age of 26, she is back in Dallas and following her father’s path. Mariel just opened her first restaurant, Liberty Burger, with the help of her two older brothers, Gene Street Jr. and Dace Street. Long-time Street family friend and associate, George Holwerda, is also helping with the project.

“I could have never dreamed this up,” said Mariel of opening a restaurant with her family. “This is not how I would have ever expected it to turn out, and I couldn’t have planned it better.”

Liberty Burger officially opened its doors Nov. 7 and sits near the intersection of Forest Lane and Inwood Road.

After returning from the Peace Corps in September 2010, Mariel decided that it was time to return to her roots.

“In the Peace Corps, what totally sealed the deal for me, was that the exchange of food became more than just a business,” she said. “It’s really about relationships and the way [food] brings people together every single day.”

Mariel’s father, Gene, built his restaurant empire around the same philosophy.

“Early on, I made it my business to know everybody,” said Gene.

His restaurants have included local favorites like the Black Eyed Pea and Good Eats chains. He sold the Black Eyed Pea for $47 million in 1986, but merged Good Eats into his larger corporate company, Consolidated Restaurant Operations, Inc., (CRO) that he started in 1998. Today, CRO operates more than 91 full-service and 24 franchise restaurants including, Cantina Laredo, Cool River, and III Forks.

Mariel says that her father tried to talk her out of pursuing the restaurant business.

“He just didn’t get that I’d rather be working for 365 days a year than bored for one,” she said.

Gene knows first-hand how tough the industry can be, having done 27 concepts and over 300 restaurants himself.

“The restaurant business is very hard on one’s family. Hard on your marriage, hard on your kids, because your work never ends,” said Gene. “Maybe you close down on Christmas, but you have to clean up on Christmas Eve.”

While Liberty Burger is his daughter’s own, Gene hasn’t strayed too far from the project.

“He’s been a total coach,” Mariel said of her dad. “I’m really glad that I could talk him into getting into this venture for one last go.”

Gene Jr. says that his father is never short on “out of the box” ideas.

“It’s never boring working with dad,” said Gene Jr., who co-owns Snookie’s Bar and Grill with his younger brother, Dace. “He’s very passionate and energetic. He can keep you on your toes.”

Getting Gene behind the Liberty Burger venture took some convincing. With a little help from Gene Jr. and a lot of persistence, Mariel finally got him to rally.

“She is very tough,” Gene Jr. said of his sister’s drive. “She’s got the passion, she’s been bitten by the bug.”

Just five years ago, Gene decided to officially retire from the industry and sold his interest in Consolidated Restaurant Operations, Inc. (CRO), where as founder and chairman, he oversaw 150 restaurants. Now at the age of 71, he shows no signs of slowing down.

“I was more surprised when he announced that he was going to retire,” said George of Gene’s decision to get involved with the venture. “He’s busier now being retired than you and I will be together at the height of our working lives.”

For Gene, his life will always revolve around his work.

“Dad doesn’t have a hobby. He doesn’t golf or play tennis,” said Gene Jr. “He’s always looking for that next deal or next adventure.”

While Gene brings a sense of adventure to whatever he does, he believes that a good work ethic is of the utmost importance.

“My dad’s greatest success is the fact that he was at the front door meeting everybody that came in and remembering every single name,” said Mariel. “It’s about making people feel at home and welcome.”

Mariel hopes to replicate that same family environment in her own restaurant that Gene created in his.

As a child, she recalls doing family meals at her father’s restaurants versus traditional sit-down dinners at home.

“[My siblings and I] were friends with the servers, we were friends with the managers, [Gene] knew every customer that came in there, so it was like a second family in a very public environment,” said Mariel.

Gene also didn’t mind letting his kids, including Mariel and Marco Street, help out with business every now and then.

Mariel said that her dad, “used to have two cell phones in his car with a laminated piece of like 300 managers cell phone numbers on there,” she explained. “He’d let Marco and I randomly pick a manager and we’d call and ask how many managers were there.”

Growing up around the industry, Mariel says that although she’s learned a lot from watching her father, she’s still learning.

“It’s not easy,” she said of starting a new business. “I have learned so much in such a short amount of time.”

For the Liberty Burger team, burgers seemed like a natural choice to build a concept around.

“Burgers are the [segment] that just continue to grow,” said George, who has worked with Gene since 1976. “Everyone loves a burger. A burger is All-American.”

The menu will feature 11 specialty burgers, in addition to its more traditional option “The Liberty Burger.” Other items include salads, grilled cheese, a chicken sandwich, and about nine original milkshake flavors.

“She had it together,” Gene said of his daughter’s vision for the restaurant. “I’ve just kind of sat back there and watched it.”

While only her first venture, Gene trusts that his daughter will make Liberty Burger a success.

“Mariel just has the gene,” he said.

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Comments

One Response to “Gene Street’s Daughter, Mariel Street, Debuts Liberty Burger”

  1. John Parker on November 16th, 2011 10:57 am

    Sounds like a great place to eat and work. I will try both today! I really enjoyed reading the part where the Peace Corps are involved in Mariel’s life. I am 49 years of age and have lived a life of enjoying volunteer work to help the older people who have done so much to build our country.