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

29 Nov

Mariel Street stands in front of Liberty Burger's motto: "Give me Liberty or let me starve!"

Meet Mariel Street

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.”

Building “A Better Burger”

A fast casual concept, Liberty Burger offers customers a great product without the “full service” price that comes with traditional sit-down meals.

“Fast casual is kind of the Pei Wei style,” said George, who has worked with Gene since 1976. “You place an order, you pay, and your food is brought to your table.”

The menu features 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. (The Nutella and graham cracker shake is one of Mariel’s favorites!)

Customers can also sip on a cool Chardonnay or Magic Hat beer, while sampling popular sides like skinny fries and big “O” rings.

“My mom’s calling them supermodel burgers,” said Mariel, whose mother, Edie Street, is doing the food photography for Liberty Burger.

With options for even the most adventurous taste palettes, Liberty Burger has something for everyone on the menu. In the mood for an exotic option? Try the Amore Burger, with Parmesan cheese crisp, baby spinach, cantaloupe, ham, and basil garlic aioli.

“Before you knock it try one. It’s just great,” said George of the Amore Burger.

Other great menu choices include a turkey burger called The Libertine, a veggie burger appropriately named Woodstock, and a sophisticated lamb burger called the Jackie-O. Customers can also try a menu item that might sound vaguely familiar–the Chicken Fried Burger–as chicken fried steak is a legendary Street restaurant staple.

The Road To Liberty

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.”

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 LaredoCool River, and III Forks.

“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.”

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.”

A Street Family Affair

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

“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.”

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.”

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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