Lake Highlands resident Ken Helfman, along with his son Kory Helfman of East Dallas, runs the “Cheers” of menswear: It’s the store where everybody knows your name, Ken says. Visit Ken’s Man’s Shop at Preston Royal Shopping Center on any given afternoon and you’ll find several dapper-looking dudes sitting around — glass of wine or a cup of joe in hand — telling tales, or laughing at the elder Helfman’s jokes. But don’t let the joviality fool you; the Helfmans are hardcore haberdashers. These guys can sell cashmere to Texans in August. They know men’s fashion like Landry knew football. But it is their wholehearted appreciation for people and community, to which they have given back in spades, that makes Ken’s more than just a store.
Q. When did you open Ken’s Man’s Shop?
A. July 29, 1964. It was a Thursday, and we opened at 9 a.m. in the Ridgewood Shopping Center in Garland, Texas. In 1993 we moved to Preston.
Q. Ken, how’d you get into the men’s clothing biz?
A. My dad and brother were doctors, but during my time in college I really didn’t discover what I wanted to do. As a teen, I worked for a friend of my mom who taught me the men’s clothing business, and I really loved it. In the 1960s I worked in shoe sales for a store in Casa Linda called Persian Peyton’s … one day the men’s department salesman asked me to take over during his lunch break. By the time he got back, I’d sold thousands worth of clothes. I wound up becoming a manager, and after that, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It really came down to loving people. The business just suited — pardon the play on words — my personality.
Q. Ken’s gained a good rep and fast. How did you get such momentum going?
A. The Dallas Cowboys practiced near the store, in North Lake Highlands off Forest Lane, and Lee Roy Jordon became a customer. Many of the other Cowboys followed. We used to do the Ken’s Big Play Award at Cowboys games, where the player of the game won a suit or sport coat of his choice. That association with the Cowboys ignited a lot of good things.
Q. Did the coach shop at Ken’s?
A. Landry shopped here. Ten years ago, we had a 35th anniversary fundraiser and the Landry family donated one of Tom Landry’s fedoras for the silent auction. It garnered $2,500 of the $100,000 we raised that year.
Q. What’s the craziest thing in men’s fashion since the ’60s?
A. The leisure suit. The polyester double knit and pastel colors had otherwise distinguished men looking like they worked for Baskin Robbins … there’s a difference between fad and fashion. We never sold them.
Q. Ken started Ken’s, and Kory, who has two sons of his own, will take over someday. Kory, will your boys go into the business, too?
A. I started when I was 24 and discovered a passion for it. If they have that passion, I’ll be happy to teach them all I know.
Q. Ken’s seems like more than just a store. It has a rich yet homey feel and people seem to want to hang out here. Why?
A. It’s kind of the Cheers of menswear. People like to come visit, drink coffee. I love the relationships that have been built here in the store.
Q. Other than the clothes, there are some cool things around the store. What’s the story?
A. My wife, Jerri, and I shop for antiques to sell as special gifts, and you can find them throughout the store.
Q. What about that giant chess table near the front door?
A. That belonged to my father. He was the chess champion of New York State at age 16 … he played blindfolded chess! He was so good at it, he probably could have taken it up as a profession rather than becoming a doctor. Every piece in the store has a story behind it.
Q. Every year you do major fundraisers, but you’ve got a huge one planned this year. Tell us about your Super Bowl raffle and its beneficiaries.
A. The Scottish Rite Hospital, as many know, is an amazing institution. They have never charged for a surgery. The Bill Hunt Scholarship fund is in memory of Ken’s first employee, a Garland High School student, who was a phenomenal young man. His reputation brought people into Ken’s. People would say, ‘If Bill works here, it must be a good place.’ When he was still a relatively young man, Hunt had a mental breakdown and eventually took his own life. Along with Bill’s family, I announced the scholarship fund at his Garland class’s 20th reunion. That night, Bill’s classmates wrote $5,000 worth of checks. We’ve presented scholarships every year since. This year, we have two tickets to the 2011 Super Bowl — we are selling 1,964 (for the year the store opened) raffle tickets at $200 each. The money will be evenly split between the two charities, and the winner will receive the tickets plus brunch prepared by Dean Fearing, and a [Lincoln] Town Car to and from the game. Lee Roy Jordon will draw the winner in early January. We figured this Super Bowl was going to be the biggest sporting event Dallas has ever seen, and I wanted to find a way to make it work for these charities.
• Also online: Kensmanshop.com