The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Restaurant brightens aging area

Monica Greene knows good business. She has proven to the Dallas community that good business sense transcends gender. Her visionary foresight has brought her restaurant, Aca y Alla, consistent success since its opening in 1991.

“I just saw Deep Ellum as a natural gateway to downtown,” Greene said.

Aca y Alla is located on Main Street in historic Deep Ellum, Dallas’ music and arts district. Greene saw the future in urban living long before she opened Aca y Alla.

Greene opened Aca y Alla as Eduardo Greene in 1991, but in 1995 she had gender reassignment surgery and became Monica Greene. The newly transformed Eduardo had a lot to live up to as Monica, but she did so with the class and grace that has come to win her many friends and business allies.

“She has done a lot for Deep Ellum and she loves the area,” Tim Frazin, owner of Zini’s pizza, said.

Monica has long been a proponent of urban planning and her affection for art and music pushed her to open Aca y Alla. Greene believed the downtown area would be more receptive to the concept of blending art, music and food than other locations she seriously considered for the site of her restaurant, including Highland Park Village.

She fondly refers to Deep Ellum as “the bastard child of Dallas,” hinting to the crime, lack of transportation to and from Deep Ellum, and other issues that have afflicted the downtown music district for years.

But today Deep Ellum is getting a facelift. The area is being transformed by the building of the Dart Light Rail green line extension that will connect Deep Ellum to downtown Dallas and provide quick transportation from the suburbs.

Greene is originally from Mexico City but came to Dallas in 1974 at the age of 17.

She has successfully owned and operated many award-winning restaurants including Ciudad, Baby Routh, 8.0 and Pegaso Grilll, and her unique way of blending art and music with food has kept her restaurants successful, even catering to such celebrities as Mick Jagger, Harry Connick Jr. and Oscar de la Renta.

“Monica’s will always do well,” Pete Zorbos, owner of St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin, said.

As Monica, Greene ran for a seat on the Dallas City council in 2005 seeking to replace John Loza and finally provide a voice for business owners and residents of the Deep Ellum area. She lost the race by a small margin but continues to play an active political role as a member of the Deep Ellum Association. Greene said she will not run again for a council seat. She acknowledged that success in politics often means compromising morals, values and personal beliefs.

“To be successful politically you must play the game and sometimes compromise your integrity,” she said. “I made a decision a long time ago not to do that.”

The Deep Ellum area beloved by Greene has seen hard times since the boom of the 1990s. The district is known as the birthplace of such jazz greats as Blind Lemmon Jefferson and Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins. In the 1950s and 1960s Deep Ellum was instrumental in helping to blur color lines by providing a place to enjoy great music regardless of race. In Dallas, a city with a history of racial tension, this was quite an achievement.

Most recently the area has been under construction as the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system (DART) makes plans and lays the groundwork for the green rail line that will connect downtown, Deep Ellum and Fair Park to the rail system already established. The green line extension is projected to be finished in November of 2010, but until then, Deep Ellum businesses are stuck trying to make the best of the loud construction equipment and roadblocks that hinder business for many retail stores and restaurants.

Greene believes the green rail extension will benefit both residents and businesses in Deep Ellum. She is firm in her belief that investors looking into the area need to build around historic landmarks and preserve Dallas’ culture and history.

DART has already raised issues about preservation of the music district when it bulldozed the Deep Ellum tunnel, an area on Good Latimer Expressway famous for a mural painted by local Dallas artists and the landmark that designated the entrance to Deep Ellum. According to Greene, DART has not followed the policies they claim to promote, working around businesses and providing accurate signage when their construction blocks off large areas. She acknowledges that the rail extension will help businesses and especially Baylor hospital but wonders if DART could have been more sensitive to the history of the area.

“I always believed Deep Ellum would become an integral part of downtown,” Greene said.

But she knows the Deep Ellum she loves is gone. The dark bars, tattoo parlors and nightclubs will be replaced by upscale residences and shopping. Greene knows she won’t be able to sit in a club sipping a glass of wine and enjoying good jazz as she used to, but she looks forward to the progress and change the light rail will bring.

The city needs to understand the value of the area, both historically and from a business sense she says. As far as moving Aca y Alla, never.

“I plan to be here a long time,” she says. “We all have missions and sometimes it is better to be a human being than a businessman.”

Aca y Alla will stay in Deep Ellum even though many businesses, not as successful as Greene’s, have closed. Looking around the area Monica sees the vacant storefronts as ghosts speaking of the lack of communication between city and district, but she believes this notoriously difficult district will rise to become the heart of downtown.

“Until then, I am just holding my breath,” Greene said.

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