By Kirk Dooley
Earlier this summer the grand opening of the new Schlotzsky’s in Preston Center seemed more like a college pep rally than a restaurant premiere. The atmosphere was “campus hangout” although there was no campus.
The official greeter was Billy Bob Harris, who let his legendary personality set an upbeat tone for every person who walked in the door. Then all heads bowed and Monsignor Don Zimmerman blessed the restaurant and everyone in it. Sandwiches were sampled, drinks flowed and congratulations rained down on Fernando and Adriana Lara, the University Park couple who opened the new eatery just west of Snuffer’s.
But why did the place feel like a college hangout?
The answer lies in the popularity of the Lara children – Pia, Fernando, Pablo and Sofia. Each had a group of friends at the grand opening. Pia, who just graduated from Southern Methodist University, was an SMU swim captain and is now the manager of the new Schlotzsky’s. Fernando (a junior) and Pablo (a freshman) are both on the Mustang swim team. Both boys were Highland Park swim team captains and Fernando was a high school all-American. Youngest sister Sofia is a 6th grader at McCulloch Intermediate School and she swims for the Dallas Mustangs club team, as did all of her older siblings.
This is Fernando and Adriana’s seventh Schlotzsky’s franchise. Their first six are in Carrollton, Farmer’s Branch, Addison and Richardson. All have been hangouts for the SMU swim team, but this one is different because it is much closer to campus. The swimmers like to play soccer on Fridays then head over to the Preston Center Schlotzsky’s afterwards. “They all feel at home here,” said Pablo.
Pia is the new manager. She is learning from her parents and oversees her brothers, who both work part-time.
“It’s nice working with family members because you can trust them,” said Pia. “And I like being the manager because you get to see the whole picture. And it’s nice when sales go up.”
The family moved from Mexico to Dallas in 2006. The four Lara children quickly made friends while the parents quickly opened Schlotzsky’s franchises. Swimming continued to be a family tradition. Pablo, who recently graduated from HPHS, was voted the school’s Hi-Lite King by the all-girl Hi-Lite Club.
“We are already busy during lunch,” said Pia, “and we just started offering breakfast, beginning at 6:00 a.m. Family dinners are picking up because we offer our oven-toasted sandwiches, pizza, soups, salads, wraps and desserts.
We serve breakfast all day long. And we have a nice group of families on Sundays after church.”
Schlotzsky’s began in Austin in 1971. It grew to 759 locations in 2011 and has recently been undergoing a systemwide reimaging and remodeling with its “Lotz Better” look.
With several thousand people working in the PReston Center office buildings, the new $1.99 breakfast Schlotz-ka-dillas and addictive Cinnabons will be a big hit. The free wireless internet already is.
If you go to the Preston Center Schlotzsky’s and don’t know what to order, just look for any SMU swimmers in the place and order whatever they have. Tell them you’re a “friend of the Lara’s” and they’ll treat you like family.
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