When Dick Woodward turned 80, more than 250 people came to his restaurant, Dick’s Uptown Cafe, in Cedar Hill, Texas, to help him celebrate. “My life has been blessed with lots of good things: good parents, good children and a wonderful wife,” Dick said. “I’m someone who likes to help others. I try to look for kindness in people. I’m very outgoing and treasure all the friends I’ve had in my life.”
And what a life it’s been! He was born in West Virginia, graduated from New Mexico Military Institute, and joined the Marines. After working in construction and banking, Dick discovered he liked serving good people great food. He began by working with a college friend at the Sailmaker, in Fort Worth, Texas, which led to management jobs at Railhead, Tolbert’s Chili Parlor, and Hoffbrau Steaks. Eventually he opened his own restaurants: Woodways Cafe, Woody’s Grill, and ultimately Dick’s Uptown Cafe.
“I had wonderful parents,” Dick said. “My mother was an excellent woman. She once told me, ‘Dick, I hope you never get in the food business.’ She knew how difficult it was. My father was a gentle man. He taught me to be respectful to everybody. I still carry those things with me.”
Dick married Teril, and together they have two daughters, in addition to the two daughters he adopted in his previous marriage. Dick and Teril worked side-by-side building their businesses, which also included running a UPS store. “We didn’t know the first thing about running our own business,” Dick confessed. “Working with my wife has been, for the most part, very, very good, but it’s not easy. She ran the office; I ran operations. There were times we crossed over. We’d get mad at each other and butt heads, but we’d come home together and be happy. We didn’t take it home with us. We worked real well together. We’ve had very few arguments or disagreements in the 25-30 years we’ve worked together. Without her support we never would have made it. She is the backbone of me.”
“The restaurant we have now, was started at a terrible time in the economy. Nothing was developing around us. We couldn’t make ends meet for a while. It was really scary, but we held on and worked hard. It finally improved,” Dick recalled. “If you’re going to get ahead in life you have to take some chances. You have to realize it isn’t easy. If you think you’re going to make it right off the start, you’re crazy. Just because your wife is a good cook doesn’t mean you’re going to have a successful restaurant.”
“You need to have a background to start a business. In restaurants specifically, if you’ve worked in a restaurant, it will be a lot of help to you. I’ve seen guys who had gone to college and hotel management school who graduated but didn’t know how to fry an egg or cook a steak. They have knowledge, but no practical hands-on experience” Dick added, “Starting a business takes money. And you’ve got to be prepared to lose money. If you have nothing to put in the bank, nothing to fall back on, you will fail. Hopefully it turns out the other way; that you do make money. If you’re not prepared for it, you will lose everything. There’s more to it than knowing how to cook. There are so many costs you don’t even think about. You have to be prepared and have the resources behind you. You can’t go in half-prepared.”
“Today you see people who fail because they don’t have enough help. Since we’ve been in business for ourselves, we’ve really treated our people well. My wife and I want to help the people who work for us,” Dick said. “They are the people who make you successful. Without those people you’ll never make it. We’ve always treated our people good and we’ve got loyalty in return. Some have worked 10-15 years for us. One worked for 27 years and followed us from restaurant to restaurant. They know they can count on us.”
Dick’s Uptown Cafe has allowed Dick and Teril to invest in their community. “We’ve been involved with schools and the Education Foundation. We enjoy working with youth, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Tri-City Animal Shelter. We support our city,” Dick said.
“The most rewarding thing about the restaurant business is to see people walk through your door and leave with a smile on their face,” Dick said. “And some of the best friends I met in my life I met at the restaurant. When I make friends, I am just glad to have them as a friend. It’s not so much what I give to them, but what they give to me. We give back and forth. I don’t understand why people don’t hug more. Some of the best friends I have, I want to give them a hug every time I see them.”
Recently, Dick and Teril sold Dick’s Uptown Cafe, but he has no plans to take things easy. “I see people today who have nothing in their life to do in their retirement.” Dick urged, “Take up a hobby. Learn something new. Work a jigsaw puzzle. Read. Listen to music. There is always something you can find to do.”
Fortunately, Dick has a long list of things he enjoys: travel, family reunions, high school reunions, classic cars and classic music, namely blues, jazz, and big band. He is patriotic, but avoids politics. He’s especially looking forward to traveling. “I’d love to see more of our country,” he said. “Our country has so much to offer. Beautiful mountains, beautiful oceans, beautiful people.” But his favorite people are close to home. “I enjoy time with my wife, four wonderful daughters, and my grandkids so much. Children mean more to me than anything in my life. I hope to live another twenty years so I can see them grow up. I just love children! They are the greatest! I like old people too. I am one myself. I don’t think of myself as old. I still think young.”
“I enjoy reaching out to my friends, people I grew up with, people I met in school, people I met in other cities and in the restaurant business. The idea of Facebook is a wonderful thing. It has allowed me to keep in touch with a lot of people. I search them out and I’ll get in a car and go see them. I love keeping in touch with friends. That’s just something I want to do. My friends mean so much to me.”