HURST -- Nina Albert has a simple explanation for why she has ordered the meatloaf at Neighborhood Cafe almost every Wednesday for two decades.
"It's made with really good meat, and Al cooks it," she said.
Not surprisingly, Albert showed up Wednesday for the meatloaf. But this time, Al and Barbara Kappus, owners of the oldest restaurant in Hurst, had a surprise for their oldest customer: a 100th birthday party.
"She's the sweetest person, the sweetest lady you've ever met," Barbara Kappus said. "She's also a very sharp lady, just amazing."
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The cafe owners were in cahoots with the sweet, sharp lady's son and daughter-in-law, Mike and Sharon Albert of Colleyville. The couple gave the Kappuses time to get ready before Albert arrived for her weekly lunch at the restaurant on Trailwood Drive.
A sheet cake with white icing was tricked out with pretty words and borders in purple, Albert's favorite color. Her jaw dropped as she stepped into the cafe and 18 friends and relatives -- including her other son and daughter-in-law, Jack and Debbie Albert of Christoval -- started singing Happy Birthday.
It was at least the fourth time she had heard the song in the past several days. Her birthday was Aug. 12, but she's been feted again and again since July 28, when 175 people showed up for a party at a country club in San Angelo.
Indeed, Albert was still recovering from a celebration at her hairdresser's, Duvall's Hair Salon in Hurst, when she joined the Neighborhood Cafe soiree.
Sharon Albert said Duvall's is another part of her mother-in-law's routine.
"She goes for the meatloaf every Wednesday after she has her hair done," she said.
When she finds something good, she stays with it, Nina Albert said.
"Mike and Sharon brought me here once, and I decided that this is it," she said. "It became a Wednesday ritual."
If she strays from the meatloaf (which Chef Al makes with the same secret recipe he's used since opening in 1966), Albert is likely to order the chicken fried steak.
"It has a lot of gravy," she said. "Real cream gravy, not that imitation stuff."
Albert is the real deal, too. She's held such down-to-earth jobs as librarian, homemaker and office assistant.
Born in Upland to George and Mary McLaughlin in 1912, she was the sixth of seven children and the only girl.
Her family moved to San Angelo in 1919, and she married Harold W. Albert in 1934. He died in 1998.
She has been making the four-hour trip to Dallas-Fort Worth for 20 years, and finally moved in with her son and daughter-in-law in Colleyville two years ago.
Up until then, Albert lived alone and drove herself around.
"My children asked me 14 years ago to live with them, but said they wouldn't push me," she said. "They said to move in when I no longer wanted to live alone. It was Thanksgiving two years ago when I decided it was time."
Mike Albert said his mom is a 100-year-old treasure who still gardens, cooks, reads, walks, quilts, plays piano and "enjoys bridge, gin and blackjack on her computer."
The centenarian credits her longevity to having a positive attitude and a happy disposition.
"I express love and receive it in return," she said.
Her long life might also be related to "one or two glasses of wine every evening," she said. "I prefer a good chardonnay, chilled."
Terry Evans, 817-390-7620