Ed Lowe’s Legacy of Sustainability at Celebration Restaurant
Nov 30, 2019 09:16PM
Ed Lowe at his beloved Big Bend.
by Sheila Julson
More than a year has passed since beloved Dallas restaurateur, ecologist and river advocate Ed Lowe died after slipping off an embankment while exploring one of his favorite places, the banks of the Rio Grande in Boquillas Canyon, in Big Bend National Park. Through the Texas River Protection Association and Friends of the Brazos River, Lowe had worked tirelessly to protect Texas waterways from pollution and other threats. He regularly led youth groups from all socio-economic backgrounds through guided hikes and canoe trips, ensuring that everyone had access to these serene natural treasures.
Lowe’s dedication to sustainable and socially just food systems is still impacting people through his signature project, Celebration Restaurant & Market, the farm-to-table eatery he founded in 1971. Natural Awakenings reached out to some of Lowe’s friends at Celebration and asked them to reflect on his visions for sustainability, and how they’re carrying on his legacy.
President Shannon Lindley believes Lowe’s family values and his approach toward teamwork contributed to Celebration’s longevity. “I think he was a true pioneer and visionary in a lot of aspects. He stayed ahead of the curve in the industry. The concept behind Celebration was to serve food to people that is similar to the way his mom would serve their family—a protein, veggies and salad—and have everyone sit down and share it together,” she reflects.
Today, there are many farm-to-table restaurants offering what Celebration has been doing since day one, but Lindley believes Lowe’s passion for investing in each person and considering them a partner rather than an employee helped build a dedicated staff —most of whom have been with Celebration five years or more. Those relationships helped Celebration succeed in the competitive restaurant business and maintain support of the local farmers and vendors where they source wholesome foods.
Lindley affirms that Celebration is continuing to support projects that Lowe built, such as community gardens at Jack Lowe Sr. Elementary School, named after Lowe’s father, a Dallas businessman. She says Celebration regularly donates to schools, charities and organizations Lowe was passionate about.
“He was a very humble person, both through the life he lived and how he wanted to help others. He was very generous, and if he heard of a situation where someone needed help, he’d step up. There was a partner here through a work program, and she needed eye surgery. We were able to help her pay for her surgery. He was proud to be able to help improve somebody’s life to be better and give more,” Lindley shares.
Gerald Johnson, catering manager, has worked there since 1979—testament to how the family culture Lowe had established retains employees with very little turnover. “I was hiring people for the upcoming holiday season, and I was kind of out of rhythm with the hiring process because we don’t have to do it that often,” he laughs.
Johnson fondly recalls Lowe’s passion for helping children explore Texas’ waterways, instilling in them an appreciation and respect for the environment. “He took underprivileged kids out on the water. Many of those kids had never done things like that before. It really helped them to grow,” he explains. Lowe was dedicated to bringing in students from the Dallas Independent School District through internships to gain work experience.
Celebration maintains direct relationships with many long-time farmers and vendors from with Lowe had sourced for decades, thus keeping local farms strong. Johnson notes those vendors have also become part of the Celebration family over the years. “We don’t treat vendors as people we just purchase food from. We treat them like part of the family, because they are. Lowe felt it was important to make everyone feel needed.”
Johnson believes many Dallas area farm-to-table restaurants modeled themselves after Celebration, which remains competitive today because Lowe’s vision was very clear and he never veered from it. “He was firm about the kind of food he served, and he wanted it to be affordable for everybody,” Johnson says. “He cared about every little detail, from recycling to conserving energy, and not taking good food for granted.”
Johnson emphasizes that whether Lowe was at Celebration working alongside his employees or paddling on the Brazos River, he had a fiery passion for everything he did. “We still feel that he’s proud of us and watching over us,” says Johnson. “A lot of people feel this way outside of his restaurant. He was a genuine, true friend, and I think that rubbed off on other people, too.”
Bar manager Jon Radke has worked at the restaurant since 1986, when he first moved to Dallas from Chicago. He remembers his first encounter with Lowe while waiting for his job interview. “I saw this tall guy walking through the bar toting a bunch of broken-down cardboard boxes out to the dumpster. He called over, ‘I’m Ed— I’ll be with you in a second.’ I was struck by how the owner was breaking down boxes and taking them out to the trash,” Radke says. “He wasn’t a guy who just bossed people around. Ed was willing to do what it took to get things done and would never ask you to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. We try to carry that forward. That was a beautiful message that maybe he didn’t realize he was sending at the time.”
The positive, family-like culture Lowe fostered at Celebration is reflected in the community, Radke says, because they draw many regular customers that live right in the neighborhood and don’t have to travel far to enjoy healthy, local foods. “The amazing thing about Ed is that Celebration has been open almost 50 years, which is an incredible thing to accomplish, especially in Dallas, where so many restaurants come and go,” he says. “Ed was a hippie kind of guy and always kept things simple—providing good food in a nice environment for people to enjoy themselves.”
Radke recalls frequently hearing stories of Lowe’s preparations for Celebrations’ opening day in 1971. “They were so busy getting the menus and everything ready, and he fell asleep in one of the booths. The following morning, the milkman knocking on the door awakened him—he had a milkman delivering the milk!”
The farm-to-table concept has now come full circle, and Radke believes that exemplifies Lowe’s vision of how people have come to think about food. “I feel proud to help carry on that tradition. It’s always exciting when we get to the peak of the growing season and can tell customers that their produce was on the vine yesterday. Our customers are people who appreciate that, and it’s a big part of why we’ve been successful for so long. It’s groundwork that was laid by Ed.”
Celebration Restaurant is located at 4503 W. Lovers Ln., in Dallas. For more information, call 214-351-5681 or visit CelebrationRestaurant.com.