Recently I met with Jeffrey Yarbrough, the driving force behind Texas Chicken Fried Steak Day, at one of our favorite spots in Dallas for the dish – Allgood Café which is located in Deep Ellum. Joining us for the luncheon was Allgood owner Mike Snider who regaled us with beautiful stories of music, Deep Ellum, Terlingua, and of course Chicken Fried Steak It was a historic Texas day. It is easy to see why so many flock to the tiny café for their fried steak fix when in Texas, and many have over the years.
Of course we took a tour of the kitchen and found part of the secret to the delight of the Allgood CFS. Snider uses beef tenderloin for make his thick slab. It is well seasoned, and battered before deep frying, which always makes for great dining.
But we wanted to learn the true magic of how October 26th became this historic Texas holiday that celebrates chicken fried steak. And Yarbrough told all.
“It was something that stuck in my craw that there were so many national holidays that celebrated different things like Mango Day, there was Peanut Day, but there wasn’t anything really Texan,” explained Yarbrough. That is when he approached the Restaurant Association. Then the Beef Council, who wished him luck. The next stop on this marvelous journey was the Agricultural Department of Texas who loved the idea but wanted to know how to collect fees from the day. Yarbrough shook his head and said he just wanted a holiday for Chicken Fried Steak.
The search for the answer escaped Yarbrough, but he actively pursued the issue for two years. It was one day when he was leaving Austin and stopped in Temple at Ralph Sheffield’s Las Casas.
“Ralph had just become freshman State Representative, and I was telling him how I was so freaking tired of trying to make this day happen. The government wants to collect fees, the associations didn’t know what to do. I just didn’t understand what could be done,” continued Yarbrough. He said it was like a light bulb went off on top of Sheffield’s head. He said promotional bills that would benefit Texas could be walked straight up the Hill for the governor to sign off on.
“I was teaching a leadership seminar inside the Restaurant Association in Austin when Ralph, a television crew and the Speaker of the House came in to present me with the proclamation. I’ve got fifty restaurateurs with me in a conference room when these guys come storming in. So they present me with the proclamation, and I was thrilled. The October 26th date was just the day the proclamation was signed and had no particular meaning.”
Then it became a matter what to do with the special date. And remember that Yarbrough is a master salesman. He owns a successful public relations firm, the previous owner of the mega Deep Ellum Club Clearview, owns several restaurants himself, and successfully manages real estate, among many of his other duties such as ranching. But he really wanted to just share the date with all of Texas. Anyone making Chicken Fried Steak could use this day to promote themselves, and the dish. The mom and pop diners, the large chains with roots in Texas, road-side stands indulging in good gravy, really anyone across the state.
Many restaurants now participate in the illustrious day that began as a quirky thought of one Texan who happens to love Chicken Fried Steak. Some restaurants use the day as a way of giving back to a charity with a portion of the days sales benefiting one organization or another. Some roll back prices to the beginning selling price of their first CFS. Others simply offer the very best they can and people enjoy the dish. However you might celebrate Texas Chicken Fried Steak Day, you now know the history and can thank Mr. Jeffery Yarbrough — a Texas legend in our book.