Earl Abel’s Is Back in Business, Back on Broadway

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A group of patrons occupy one of the large corner booths at the new location.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A group of patrons occupies one of the large corner booths at Earl Abel's new location.

Brightly lit with bold art, fast counter service, and a full-service bar, this is not your mother’s Earl Abel’s anymore. Or is it?

Recently relocated from its former digs on Austin Highway back to a Broadway address after a 12-year absence from the street – this time near the Pearl – the restaurant brought with it much of what made the San Antonio institution a favorite since its start in 1933.

That includes some of the same cooks and servers who have worked at the restaurant for five decades, the famous fried chicken and baked-from-scratch pies, and of course, those Abel-isms: “Eating good food keeps you able. Eating here keeps Earl Abel.”

Those who may doubt the restaurant’s authenticity need only look to the back corner of the small diner where every single one of the restaurant’s thousands of original, top-secret recipes are stored in an antique iron safe.

Only owner Roger Arias knows the combination. “There’s no money in this safe, but what we have in here is priceless,” he said.

Many thought Earl Abel’s had seen its last days when Jerry Abel, son of the original owner Earl, decided to sell the original property at Broadway and Hildebrand in 2005. A developer purchased the lot and erected a high-rise, luxury condominium tower now known as The Broadway.

Arias, a loyal Earl Abel’s customer, wouldn’t have it. A former controller for Church’s Chicken, he purchased the business with Gene Larsen in 2006. They moved the concept to a former Hometown Buffet space on Austin Highway and worked with architect Joe Stubblefield to recreate the mid-century diner, right down to the counters, sconces, and private dining rooms, the “Petite” and “Venetian.”

The restaurant’s regulars came back and business was good, Arias said. Then, in 2011, demolition and construction began all around them. His property taxes were increasing 30-45 percent every year.

“I was killing myself,” he said. “I thought there’s got to be a better place for us that’s more manageable, where San Antonio can enjoy the food Earl Abel’s is known for. We had to move for the survival of the concept.”

A citywide search commenced, and Arias discovered you can perhaps go “home” again. In December, Earl Abel’s quietly opened in its new location, a few miles further south on Broadway than its first home, occupying a space vacated last summer by another old favorite, Timbo’s.

“I thought this is just the place to reintroduce Earl Abel’s to the city,” Arias said. “Because this is where everybody comes … and not just millennials or young people, but also older folks and our loyal customers. I spend many a day just talking to them.”

On Thursday, Jan. 25, the restaurant experienced its busiest day yet, he said. Starting with a crowd that had just come from a funeral for lunch and continuing into the afternoon when an older couple came from their residence at the Pearl, the restaurant was being discovered by both locals and tourists hungry for the comforts of home.

The new Earl Abel’s can seat 75 inside, at both tables and booths, but when the weather gets warmer, a patio with seating for another 50 will open. The familiar bakery is back by the bar, and you can watch pies, cakes, and pastries being made and chicken being fried through a window into the kitchen.

Large murals pay tribute to the future and past of Earl Abel's.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Large murals pay tribute to Earl Abel’s past.

In vivid orange and teal blue, floor-to-ceiling roosters designed by artist Tina Blumenthal adorn the walls – a nod to an old Earl Abel’s breakfast menu.

“A restaurant needs to reinvent itself,” Arias said. “The restaurant industry is changing significantly, and you have to change with it. We felt it was time for a change.”

The wall-mounted menu offers the home-style cooking Earl Abel’s customers expect, with chef’s specials on Friday and Saturday. Diners order at the counter and the food is delivered to the table. To-go orders can also be placed at the counter, and Arias said the restaurant will soon offer online ordering and delivery via UberEats. Arias also has plans for additional San Antonio locations.

Earl Abel's owner Roger Arias sits for a portrait in his new restaurant.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Earl Abel’s owner Roger Arias sits in his restaurant’s new location.

Arias, 64, runs the restaurant, having bought out Larsen four years ago. A son, Jordan, 25, works as a food research scientist for nearby C.H. Guenther & Son, and Roger’s wife, Diana, operates the catering business for Don Strange of Texas.

Twelve of the 35 Earl Abel’s employees who worked at the Austin Highway restaurant now work in the new, smaller location. And though Arias tried to persuade longtime server Josie Garcia to stay on, she recently retired after almost 50 years with the restaurant.

A grand opening of the new Earl Abel’s at 1639 Broadway St. is planned for later next month, and Arias said he will break out of the safe some of those classic recipes. “They are just as good today as they were back then.”

15 thoughts on “Earl Abel’s Is Back in Business, Back on Broadway

  1. Can anybody confirm whether or not EA still serves breakfast? We popped in right after they opened and at the time the one staff member in there said no breakfast but we couldn’t tell if it meant that day there was no breakfast or never breakfast.

  2. We do not serve breakfast currently but we do have a brunch every Saturday & Sunday where some of the breakfast favorites are served, such as the Thins pancake combo, served with one egg & two strips of bacon, and chicken & waffles.

    And who knows what the future may bring. If the demand for breakfast is there, we may introduce it at the new location at a later date.

    • That really all depends on how far back you want to go but we plan on rotating daily specials and eventually bring back more home-style favorites like pork chops & chopped steak.

  3. Happy to hear this news! Yay for Mr Arias and his commitment to keeping Earl Abel’s legacy alive and San Antonian’s memories alive.

  4. I’ve been a long-time Earl Abel’s customer. I visited the new location recently.

    I understand the need for change, but I was a little disappointed. The woman at the counter said that the new location was an attempt to appeal to younger generations. I’m 25, and I was not impressed. There could easily be a long line going out the door, which is great for business, but not for taking my grandmother who loves/d this place.

    I also was disappointed in the limited menu. I used to order from the petite plates, which have disappeared. Also, biscuits are served with the entrees instead of rolls.

    What was redeeming for me was the conversation I had with a server who has been with Earl Abel’s for years. The food I had was also great and tasted just the same. I would return if only to see the staff and maybe if I’m extra extra hungry or if some of the pies are brought back, or I might only take food to-go. However, because of the set-up, it’s not a place I can bring my grandmother (we used to go often on Saturdays for lemon chess pie) or other relatives.

    Thank you.

    • That really all depends on how far back you want to go but we plan on rotating daily specials and eventually bring back more home-style favorites like pork chops & chopped steak.

    • I want you to bring your grandmother back and have her take a seat at one of our comfortable booths & one of our servers will take your order at the table. We would do anything for our loyal senior customers. And we want to appeal to everyone. Also, we do serve our freshly made yeast dinne rolls, or, you can have a biscuit as well.

      Finally, if you call ahead, we will make your grandmother her favorite lemon chess pie.

  5. How can a restaurant 🍴 survive without fresh cauliflower and an open roast beef sandwich on the menu at least once a week?

  6. Oh my God, we were just talking about Earl Abel’s while at lunch and we passed by Broadway and saw the Earl Abel’s sign and we all were like “what ?” could it be? That is so awesome that you came back to Broadway and we are going there for lunch. We used to go a long time ago and the best food, service, prices and I always bought a whole cake to go. Oh, great memories and again, thank you so much for moving back to Broadway and God bless you and see you soon.

  7. Glad you’re closer. When you moved to the Austin Highway location I would always be late returning to work from lunch. It would take about 25 minutes to get there and 25 minutes back, leaving 10 minutes to order and eat, but it was always worth it. I am disappointed that the enchilada plate isn’t on the menu and where is the split pea soup?!? Please bring them both back.

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