It was November 1933, when silent film organist Earl Abel opened his first ten-seat restaurant on Main Street. The Great Depression was in full swing and the onset of "talkies" left high paid entertainers jobless. Earl, who had once shared top billing with such celebrities as Rudy Vallee, Charlie Chaplin, and Bing Crosby, was forced to find a new way to support his family. Unable to find work in the theatre, even as an usher, he decided to travel the country in hopes of finding a job.
As fate would have it, he never left San Antonio. Instead, he took what money he'd saved, found a small house on Main Street, filled it with dime store plates and utensils, and opened for business. The rest is history-well, not quite.
The Great Depression was not the ideal time to start a business, especially when you're well known as an organist, not a restaurateur. In fact, the majority of the time, the small diner brought in less than fifty cents a day. That's when Earl realized he was going to have to make some changes and apply all of his skills as an entertainer.
As air conditioning was not yet wide-spread, his first act was to move the restaurant outside, better known as The Garden of Eatin". There it was a cool 85 F compared to the indoor temperature of lOO F. From there he put his showbiz skills to work. For every nickel beer he sold, he'd tell the customers a few jokes and in return he'd get a few more. Pretty soon he'd collected a large repertoire of jokes and stories, which attracted as many customers as the great food.
Times were still tough; however, and Earl was down to his last $100 dollars when Duncan Hines featured the small diner in his book "Adventures In Good Eating." That proved to be the turning point towards success. The restaurant expanded as its popularity grew, with Earl opening six other locations (even one in California). The advent of WWII caused severe labor shortages; however, forcing him to sell the other restaurants and concentrate solely on the Broadway location (built in 1940).