By Helen Cordes
Photography by Bill Albrecht
Meander out some afternoon to Blanco, a sweet little burg located down a scenic stretch of highway just southwest of Austin. At the end of the jaunt—deemed Best Day Trip of 2010 by the Austin Chronicle—you’ll find the Redbud Cafe and its spacious dining room/art gallery, bathed in sunlight through the picture windows of the splendid 1890s former hardware store. Get a table with a good view of the historic courthouse across the street, and order away—the menu’s suffused with lovely goodies fresh off local farms. Then, get ready to listen as the small-town hive begins to buzz.
“How’s my favorite goddess?” asks Redbud matriarch and co-owner, Jan Brieger, as she hugs Doris, a nattily clad lady who’s a regular at Jan’s book club. Jan continues her rounds—catching up with a mom, offering some home-baked cookies to the kids happily coloring with café-supplied paper and crayons, and chatting with folks who are visiting Blanco for the first time. Tasha Brieger, Jan’s daughter and café co-owner, emerges from the family’s adjoining pottery and gift shop to trade crop updates with an older gent who, like her, owns an area lavender farm.
It’s clear that a key to the Briegers’ business successes has been the deep roots they’ve invested and nurtured in this community over the 18 years since potters Jan and her husband, Jon, first opened a postage stamp-size pottery shop in a corner of the hardware store building. The pottery shop showcased their elegant wares, and soon grew to include other local artisans’ work, an eclectic selection of gifts and Tasha’s array of lavender items, from lotion to linen spray. When the hardware space became available (it had previously been home to Real Foods health food store), the Briegers dove in. “We’re potters,” Jan says, “and we didn’t really have any restaurant expertise. But we knew we wanted to create a real community-oriented place for people to come to, so that’s where we headed.”
Luckily, what they had in spades was connections. “We get our eggs from the lady who works at the bank, and we give her all our food waste to feed to the hens,” Jan says. “And our seasonal vegetables are from McCall Creek Farms up the road.” Wimberley’s Groovy Greens are nestled amid the gourmet burgers, salads and savory soups that are Redbud menu mainstays. And armloads of basil for the redolent pestos come from the Arnosky Family Farms flower and veggie ranch nearby.
What the Brieger trio also had was some savvy about what folks—both locals and visitors who delight in wandering Hill Country roads—like to do for fun. Take beer, as many do. “I realized one day that we had this amazing brewery just a few miles away, but no one was offering their ales on tap,” Jan recalls. Soon, beer lovers savored eight Real Ale Brewing Company brews on tap, from the well-loved Firemans #4 to seasonal specials such as Oktoberfest and their just-released Shade Grown Coffee Porter.
Another brainstorm created “cask parties,” which draw beer aficionados from across the state. “Real Ale periodically makes special batches of cask beers that use natural carbonation techniques,” Tasha explains. “The beer has to be consumed right after opening . . . oh darn!” she says with a laugh. “So we get out the word about the cask parties and people show up. They’re really fun.” Redbud also offers a good selection of Texas wines like those from Becker Vineyards near Stonewall, Ste. Genevieve Winery in Fort Stockton and McPherson Cellars in Lubbock.
Once the word got out about the superior burgers and great beers at Redbud—not to mention the smells wafting from just-baked pastries and locally roasted coffees—Jan says they had to keep buying more tables and expanding the dining area. That’s when the Briegers decided to add local music, dancing and dining on Friday and Saturday nights. Among the weekend offerings is a crowd-pleasing combo of the band Zydeco Blanco (featuring former members of the famed ’80s band the New Bohemians), served up with shrimp creole made by Jennifer Oines—a band member’s wife who learned how to make the dish from Warren Ceasar, the trumpet player for legendary zydeco musician Clifton Chenier.
Jennifer’s also part of the team that helps with the less prosaic, but critical, aspects of the business. “Part of keeping a business flourishing are tasks like figuring out the most efficient ways to prep and serve food,” notes Jan. Of course, the bottom line must always be minded as well. “Jon is amazing with this,” Jan notes. “He got most of our restaurant equipment on Craigslist for a fraction of the going price.”
Tasha brings her business savvy to Redbud via the website design, photography and marketing she learned both in college and in the field. When Tasha was 10 and attending pottery festivals with her folks, she started a pottery T-shirt business and set up sales. In high school, she apprenticed at Blanco’s first lavender farm (chronicled in Jeannie Ralston’s book, The Unlikely Lavender Queen), and then bought the farm as a college junior when Ralston and family decided to move to Mexico. She and a handful of pals tend the farm and create the 70-some lavender products for her Hill Country Lavender line, as well as provide lavender to the Redbud’s menu for the lavender lemonade and lavender-tinged chicken salad and vanilla cupcakes.
“We’re lucky to have different areas of expertise among our family and friends,” says Jan. But the well of knowledge extends beyond the café. When the Briegers decided to build a home using freely available local stones, family, friends and neighbors joined in to carry out the craft of stone-wall building. And when the historic courthouse was threatened with the specter of sale and removal, Blanco-ites banded together to save the courthouse—selling ownership shares and throwing benefits from bake sales to Texas Hold ’em card tournaments to keep the courthouse thriving as a community center. “We couldn’t exist without the support of the community and visitors,” notes Jan. “That’s really the heart of our café.”
Redbud Cafe Market & Pub
410 4th St. (on the Square), Blanco