Portrait by Jessica Turner.

Evelyn Goldstein stayed up drinking wine and listening to Miles Davis to write her dad’s eloquent obituary for the Jewish Post earlier this year.

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She called David Goldstein the last of the Deep Ellum Jewish pawnbrokers.

“I’m not a writer,” she says. “People have tried to write a book on my family so many times, that I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m going to write this’ … because dad was everything to me and to a lot of people.”

Her great-uncle was Honest Joe, aka Rubin Goldstein, whose pawnshop, with its glorious jumble of hand-painted signs, was a fixture of Deep Ellum for generations.

Honest Joe grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and dreamed of owning a pawnshop like the ones lining Delancey Street in the early 20th century. In 1931, he moved to Dallas, where he had relatives in the pawn business, and at age 23 opened Honest Joe’s at 2524 Elm St.

Once he was established, his kin started moving here, including brother Rocky Goldstein. That was Evelyn’s grandfather.

Rocky’s Pawnshop was at 2018 Elm St. Evelyn’s dad worked there starting in childhood and later co-owned it with his dad.

The place was crammed with stuff, an organizer’s nightmare. One of Rocky’s signs read, “Stop dropping cigarette butts on the floor, the cockroaches are getting cancer.” 

They did business with wise guys and petty criminals, but also musicians, housewives and working stiffs.

“When I was a kid, I always wanted to be at my dad’s shop,” Evelyn says. 

She grew up in Garland and graduated from Dallas Academy in Lake Highlands. 

David Goldstein worked all the time. He never took days off or went on vacation, so Evelyn and her brother, Jordan, have tons of childhood memories from the shop.

“There were gangsters in there all the time,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Evelyn Goldstein.

Guys she knew as East Dallas Louie and Johnny Tomato used to pick her up from school. Rocky put her into business around age 10 with gumball and candy machines. She had several in East Dallas, like at laundromats and Garland Road Thrift Store, and those drivers would take her around to collect her profits and refill them.

The Goldsteins received national attention for a couple of presidential incidents.

Honest Abe helped the FBI with tracing the rifle Lee Harvey Oswald used to assassinate President Kennedy in 1963. The pawnbroker reportedly had ridden in JFK’s motorcade, and he is mentioned in the Warren Commission Report.

In 1981, Rocky Goldstein sold a .22-caliber handgun to Highland Park’s own John Hinckley Jr., who used it in an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Every media outlet in the country wanted to interview him about that. The notoriety he received over it was so intense that they moved Rocky’s from Deep Ellum to East Grand about a year later, Evelyn says.

She remembers vividly the time, when she was 7 years old, that the shop on East Grand was held up.

“I was put into a back room,” she says. “That kind of stuff was very common then.”

David Goldstein, who was a staunch Republican his whole life, moved the shop to Garland Road at Peavy around 1990. He turned it into a police supply store, selling uniforms, holsters and vests to cops, while his dad also ran a small pawnshop inside the store.

“Have you ever heard of a pawn shop inside of a police store?” Evelyn says. “You had the police rubbing elbows with the criminals.”

The Garland Road store was safer than the two previous locations, she says. Evelyn started working there when she was about 15, mostly helping with inventory. In high school, her friends always wanted to hang out there, even when they could’ve been at the mall or Wet and Wild.

The magnetism was in her dad’s stories of old Dallas, and he also gave them candy.

David Goldstein, who grew up in Preston Hollow and graduated from Hillcrest High School, practiced painting and music and loved to romance beautiful women. He was married four times, and his final marriage, to Laura Levy, lasted 17 years.

He was known as a Jewish matchmaker and even introduced one of his ex-wives to the man she would marry and have kids with.

In 1986, he started a club with his three best friends, Bernie Schuster, Larry Strauss and Howie Miles, called the Weiss Guys. 

“Every Thursday night, they would go out — women weren’t invited — and they’d have a dinner,” Evelyn says.

The Weiss Guys grew to include about 200 men, and 40 or 50 would often show up to the dinners.

“My little brother was working in a restaurant, and he didn’t want to wait on them,” she says. “Separate checks, Diet Cokes, coffees with cream …”

About once a year, they’d have a big party at the Stoneleigh and invite the wives, she says. After her dad died in May, they held the last Weiss Guys dinner.

“They invited me and my brother and had us sit at the head of the table,” she says. “Almost all of them came. It was very touching.”

Evelyn still has two cousins who worked at Rocky’s back in the day. But so many of David Goldstein’s close friends and family members have died, she says. It’s a shame nobody wrote that book.

Honest Joe’s Pawnshop as it appeared in the 1970s. Photos courtesy of Evelyn Goldstein.

Life behind the bar

“I didn’t set out to be a bartender my whole life,” Evelyn says.

She’s lived all over Dallas, completed college courses and worked in several industries. But she always comes back to slinging drinks. She recently started at Al Biernat’s, a restaurant her dad loved.

Her first job was working as a bar back for the owners of Desperado’s Mexican Restaurant, who were friends of her dad.

But her favorite job of all time was at the Granada Theater.

“I was the first bartender they hired,” she says. “I have so much love from that family, it’s unbelievable.”

She worked there until 2013, when she had to quit because she was near death before receiving a kidney transplant.

“I was working a shift there one night, and it was real busy, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” she says. “I’ve never felt anything like that before.”

She went home and then drove herself to an urgent clinic, which rushed her to the hospital because she was minutes from stroking out. At age 28, she was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease.

First, she took nine months of chemotherapy, followed by six-and-a-half years of “grueling” dialysis. By the end, she weighed 70 pounds, and the dialysis, “felt like it was sucking the insides of me out.”

She received a kidney transplant Sept. 23, 2014, on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.

After that, she returned to work at the Majestic Theater, an easier job with fewer dates, and over the years has worked her way back into the restaurant business.

Eater interviewed her last year for their national publication after she contracted COVID-19 at work in a Dallas restaurant. The virus attacked her kidney and put her in intensive care.

Working in restaurants during the pandemic has been among the most stressful times of her life, she says. At a previous job, a customer threw a glass at her (and missed) because she told him to put on a mask. Around that time, “things were going on in Israel,” and she received antisemitic harassment from a customer who noticed her Star of David charm.

“Everyone was in a bad mood. No one wanted to be there,” she says. “It was a horrible time.” 

And then her father died.

A few days before, he told her he thought she should be working at Al Biernat’s.

“He knew,” she says. “He was just a character.”

An Associated Press photo from Rocky’s in 1981.