Dallas comfort food pioneer Norma Manis dead at 80



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Posted on February 25, 2013 at 11:46 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 26 at 3:47 PM

DALLAS — If you're just driving through Oak Cliff, you might wonder: What's so special about Norma's Café?

The regulars who have been stopping there for decades might answer simply, "everything."

That includes the down home cooking and those treats with towering meringues described by manager Pam Spell as "Our mile-high pie."

But what truly made the fare at Norma’s seem like genuine comfort food was the restaurant's namesake, and the woman who originally served it up.

"Everybody knew Norma," recalled longtime patron Elizabeth Worley.

Norma Manis started the business in the late 1950s, but sold it in 1986 to Ed Murph. She subsequently opened Mama's Daughter's Diner in Dallas, Plano, Lewisville and Irving.

It’s no wonder those later ventures were also successful.

Back at Norma’s Café in Oak Cliff, Ed Murph said Norma was the special ingredient.

“She was very warm and welcoming," he remembered. "Her laugh sometimes would just fill this place up."

Norma Manis turned that diner into an institution. Along the way, she became one herself.

Murph told WFAA.com how Norma "was one of the first people to open up her restaurant to anybody who wanted to come here. She was known for breaking the color barrier and serving folks."

Whether for her home cooking or her refusal to discriminate against diners, Norma was fondly remembered Monday at the café that still bears her name.

Norma passed away Saturday at the age of 80 after suffering a stroke.

When he heard the news at the diner Monday evening, Ken Worley said, “I thought it was a dirty crying shame."

Norma is certainly missed, but her legacy lives on.

Spell said those signature mile-high pies are still baked "just like she made them," giving 21st century customers a taste of Norma’s magic.

The café’s motto is that the desserts are so decadent you should eat them before your meal.

Whatever order they consumed them in Monday night, patrons savored some very sweet memories of a woman who — for a long time — made this little diner and the people in it feel special.

Funeral services for Norma Manis are scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.

E-mail jwheeler@wfaa.com