It’s easy to spot Fred Walker at one of his Fred’s Downtown Philly locations across Dallas-Fort Worth. He’s the one sporting a huge smile and often giving his regulars the business.
“Coming to work just to harass people is fun. Life is too short, so I’m not going to take it with a grain of salt,” Walker said.
A degreed electrical engineer who worked for ITT Tech and IBM, Walker, who grew up in North Philadelphia, followed his passion and in the late 1990s opened his first location in Oak Cliff near Red Bird Mall.
Fred’s also had a location in North Dallas across from Jesuit Preparatory School. His Plano store on 15th Street opened in 2000.
“Plano actually is headquarters because it’s the oldest store right now. The customer base, they’re still coming in, the old school and the new school,” Walker said. “They’re seeing our new products to keep them coming in the door to try something different.”
Currently offering 22 different cheesesteaks, many named for famous Philly landmarks or personalities, Fred’s also offers burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, and side items like their popular Hockey Pucs (hand-breaded and fried jalapeño slices).
Among their cheesesteak offerings are the standard with steak, onions, and cheese, one with pizza sauce, another with chicken, an option with mushrooms and another with peppers. But no matter which selection customers opt for, they are all served on fresh rolls from Amoroso’s Bakery in Philadelphia, the mark of a true Philly cheesesteak.
Fred’s menu has remained largely consistent over the years, but one recent addition is the Cheesesteak Egg Rolls ($4.50), where customers choose either the standard cheesesteak combo of steak, onions, and cheese or Buffalo chicken delivered in a tasty egg roll.
“We make them in-house,” Walker said of the Cheesesteak Egg Rolls. “They’re made fresh pretty much every day. The sales on that between Plano and Carrollton are doing quite well.”
At one point, Fred’s had 10 locations spread around the Metroplex, but the mini chain is now down to seven (Allen, Arlington, Bedford, Carrollton, Fort Worth, Lewisville and Plano).
Like most Philly natives, Walker is a die-hard fan of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, a fierce rival of our local NFC East team the Dallas Cowboys. His restaurants prominently feature memorabilia from his hometown teams the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and Sixers.
However, when the Eagles and Cowboys play each fall, the trash talking between Walker, his fellow Eagle fans and Cowboy fans, ratchets up accordingly.
“Oh yeah. We have a ball when the Cowboys and Eagles play,” Walker said. “So much noise gets talked between the counter and the customers it’s fun. Then, other fans will jump in also. We just love it when it’s Cowboys/Eagles weekend.”
Like many businesses, Fred’s experienced some struggles in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. However, quickly shifting to a takeout and delivery model was a transition he and his employees embraced and made with ease.
“After that we’ve been pretty much the same. We haven’t missed a beat,” Walker said.
While his menu has remained largely unchanged over the past few decades, Fred admits he has seen one rather major shift in the restaurant business, but it’s been outside the kitchen.
“Business really hasn’t changed too much, just people’s attitudes have changed,” Walker said. “You’ve got to deal with a lot of people who feel as though they’re entitled to everything, so you’ve got to learn how to deal with attitude. That’s one of the hardest issues.”
Another change is that unlike in the early years of being in business, Fred’s now has several competing cheesesteak places in DFW, including one started by a former employee.
But Walker welcomes any and all competition.
“Competition is a good thing out there that you need. It makes you a little bit better. If they make a good product, that means I’ve got to step my game up and make a better product,” he said.
However, if there is one thing that has helped Walker not only build a successful business in DFW and one where he goes to work every day with a smile on his face, it’s been his belief in a simple yet powerful mantra.
“I enjoy life. I’m not promised tomorrow, so when I leave here, I’m going to leave with a smile,” he said.
Fred’s Downtown Philly
2229 W. 15th Street
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday