by Elizabeth Winslow | Photography by Thomas Winslow
What if you could capture the essence of a real Texas cattle ranch—the wide-open skies; the acres of grassland stretching to the horizon; the herds of roaming cattle; the feeling of history held in the earth and the old weathered buildings that dot the landscape? Adam Jacoby, owner of Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile, has managed to do just that, and more, via an old commercial building on East Cesar Chavez overlooking the banks of the Colorado River—barely a stone’s throw from downtown Austin.
The new business was inspired by the generations-old, 6,500-acre Jacoby family ranch and the Jacoby Feed & Seed Mercantile and Café in Melvin, Texas. Both entities are deeply embedded in the fabric of that West Texas community, and Adam grew up in the family businesses—working the ranch and helping out at the feed store and café. Of course, you won’t find actual seed or cattle at this new restaurant, but you will find a strong, ranch-bred commitment to tradition and doing things right.
Jacoby Ranch was settled in the 1920s by Adam’s great-grandparents and is now owned and managed by his dad Jason. It has always been a cattle ranch. That kind of deep commitment and connection to the land made an impact on the man Adam became and on the business he’s created here in Austin. “The ranch has inspired me in many different ways,” he says. “The most powerful, I’d say, is the dedication it takes to make it your life. It takes blood, sweat, tears, heartache and triumph, all in one. The kind of passion it takes to make it work, alongside the respect you have to have for the land; that’s what inspires me.”
Of course in Texas, land is often associated with strong familial and community bonds, and this is certainly true of the Jacobys. “The land is a source of sustenance for our family,” Adam says. “It’s where everything began, and it’s what ties us together.” But Jacoby’s creative director, and Adam’s partner, Kris Swift, is quick to point out that in Melvin, it’s not just the longtime presence of the ranch and family that connects and helps build the community but, perhaps even more so, the beloved mercantile and café that serve as a vibrant and vital social hub. There, locals gather—sometimes visiting every day—to catch up on family stories and gossip, pick up a few supplies and grab a bite to eat. The mercantile and café represent not only the Jacoby family’s ongoing commitment to the area but the very beating heart of Melvin’s community and character.
Adam and Kris have a dream to recreate a similar social hub experience here. Perhaps for good luck, a sense of familiarity, or both, they brought pieces of the ranch back to Austin. “I still think about us being driven around the ranch, sitting in the bed of the pickup, drinking a cold beer,” Adam says with a laugh. “And me looking at Kris and saying, ‘We’ve got to get that to Austin! I’d yell to my dad who was driving, ‘Dad! Can you get this to Austin?’” “It was obvious to me what had to come,” Kris concurs with a smile. “You couldn’t have replicated it. The pieces we wanted were the ones used in the daily workings of Jacoby Feed or the ranch. The character and history of pieces like that are powerful.”
And they are; Jacoby’s interior is a thought-provoking, eclectic, freeze-frame of West Texas history played out in reclaimed ranch materials. Jason Jacoby had hoped that he would pass on a sense of respect for history, the land and the family business to Adam, and he’s proud to see that his son is indeed carrying the family’s earnest commitment to community forward—in his own way. “When you grow up around farming and ranching,” Jason says, “it’s in a person’s blood. You do whatever you can to continue the business.”