A McKinney breakfast: Bill Smith’s Café marks 60th year in the community

Bill Smith Cafe

Chris Beattie,  /  cbeattie@starlocalmedia.com

Editor’s Note: If you should ever make the trip to McKinney TX, this is the place to eat breakfast… 

Empty plates and full smiles are wall to wall. That same blonde woman is behind the register, her silver-haired boss behind the skillet.

It’s got the feel of a family get-together with purposed hustle and bustle. Most are customers, yes – standing-room only is the norm – but they’re more than that at Bill Smith’s Café.

Seated at its best-known breakfast spot, they’re as much a part of McKinney as the next person.

Some have been eating meals there since 1956.

“Since we’ve been here so long, we know a lot of people,” says Bill Smith Jr., son of the restaurant’s founder, Bill Smith Sr., on a brief hiatus from mingling with patrons.

The junior Smith – whose son, Billy, also makes frequent appearances – knew early on he’d keep the café going.

He was washing dishes in the back by age 16.

“I love people, and that’s the main thing here,” he explains.

The café, which opened when McKinney’s population barely tipped 8,000, hardly sticks out on the northeast side. Facing U.S. Highway 380 just east of U.S. 75, it’s flanked by a mini concrete jungle of fast food, fuel pumps and Walmart.

At one point, the elder Smith ran three restaurants: a townhouse at U.S. 380 and State Highway 5, one at the Woods Motel and another along then-U.S. 75 farther east, according to his son.

They’ve dabbled in 24/7 service and valet parking; the café now serves breakfast and lunch until 2:30 p.m. every day.

And that’s just fine by many.

“As soon as I moved here, people in my complex said this was the place to be,” says Earl Spradling as he touches off his pancakes.

Waitresses ask one question when the twice-weekly customer walks in: “Anything different?”

“Even the cashier, the one who takes my money away, she’s even friendly,” Spradling says, chuckling between bites.

A room over, the Lone Star Trim and Remodeling crew is finishing lunch. They show up twice a day during the week.

Cafe 60th

Their draw? “It’s good eatin’,” the group responds without hesitation. A couple have been coming to Bill Smith’s for over 25 years.

If there ever were a “mom-and-pop” diner, Bill Smith’s is it. There’s the hometown allure – high schoolers stop in weekday mornings; crowded guest appeal; and simple, mostly unchanged recipes.

Bill Jr.’s daughter, Debbie Smith, is the blonde behind the cash register. A 1988 McKinney High School graduate, Debbie stayed mostly away from the café growing up – her father kept her on sports fields.

Then she started making pies. “After that, I stayed full time,” says Debbie, noting how the café puts out a couple hundred pies on a given holiday. “I’m stuck here now.”

As are so many regulars. They follow the younger namesake’s lead: Bill Jr. gets there in the wee hours on weekend mornings to make biscuits and gravy for the day.

He jokes about quitting time.

“I’ll probably just fall out back there, and I’ll have them just put me in the freezer and keep going,” he says, only somewhat in jest.

It’s in his blood, after all, he explains. And that home-cooking, family-oriented approach still has a place in a booming city like McKinney.

Just like it has for 60 years.

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