Back in 1979 when Brave Combo had just started, the “nuclear polka” band played on the back patio of Captain Nemo’s, a sub shop that had cheap pitchers of beer and legendary steak sandwiches.
Mark Sandel, a student at what was then North Texas State University, remembers dancing on the patio after dining one night when the restaurant was relatively new. He went overseas to do oilfield work from 1980 to 1987, and the first place he went stateside was Captain Nemo’s.
“They just had the absolute best cheesesteak sandwiches I’ve ever eaten in my life,” said Sandel, who is now the social work program director at Texas Woman’s University. “To this day, I compare every steak-and-cheese sandwich to Captain Nemo’s, and I’ve never had one as good.”
For the first time in 20-something years, Sandel was able to have one of the hot, sizzling steak sandwiches last week. Milton Fette, the owner of the original sub shop, decided to resurrect the restaurant in Denton and opened on June 27.
“It’s just been nuts. We’re having people that remember the sandwiches that just rant and rave,” Fette said. “We have just been slammed since we opened the doors.”
The amount of business has been so great that they ran out of steak three and a half hours after opening on Monday because Fette did not anticipate the amount of traffic the restaurant would get.
He shouldn’t be that surprised though, said Randy Smith, a local real estate developer and Fette’s friend of more than 10 years. Even though Fette had a different career, Smith and others kept asking when he would be ready to open another Nemo’s. Whenever a building became available, Smith would ask if Fette was ready yet, and he finally said yes this May.
“Well over half the people who have come in have been previous customers,” Smith said. “It shows me I’m not the only one who loves Captain Nemo’s sandwiches. Everyone says they are exactly how they remember them, and they’ve been waiting 25 years to get another sandwich.”
After Nemo’s was priced out of its rent and Fette decided to close in 1991, he started working at Buckeye Liquor Store in Lake Dallas. Customers began to recognize him as the man who owned Nemo’s, and some even pretended to place their regular Nemo’s order when they saw Fette in the store.
Nemo’s found other ways to creep into Fette’s life during his time away from the restaurant business. One woman pulled building records to find out who owned Nemo’s, then found one of Fette’s sons in the phone book and immediately called to ask about the steak sandwiches. Fette ended up befriending the woman’s daughter, a Nemo’s loyalist, and even had the family over for steak sandwiches.
“It seems there’s been a lot of things that pushed this to come to be,” Fette said.
When he decided to go forward with the restaurant, the people pushing Fette to reopen got involved. His youngest son Brian is the restaurant manager, and even though he was a kid when the store closed, he instinctively knows how to make the signature steak sandwiches.
Sandel found out the restaurant was reopening at a funeral both he and Fette attended, when they were introduced. Despite the circumstances, Sandel was thrilled and promised to promote the restaurant on social media as soon as it opened.
“I thought he was going to kiss me,” Fette said, laughing.
When Sandel made his first trip to the new restaurant, he was just as excited as when he returned to Denton in 1987 from overseas.
“I guess I’m grown up, but I was still really excited about Captain Nemo’s,” Sandel said. “It was great. There is no better sandwich in Denton.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.