The new Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile in East Austin lies beneath a roof of weathered, corrugated tin. A fence of gnarled, rough cedar posts flanks its entrance. Barn wood in an artistic, puzzle-like pattern covers the ceiling of the main dining room, where one wall is lined with pale red bricks.
All of these materials were salvaged from a family ranch and its environs in the small town of Melvin, Texas. The ranch belongs to Jason and Kelli Jacoby who, in addition to raising cattle and sheep and selling animal feed, have run the bustling Jacoby’s Café since 1981.
The underlying idea for the new location was to meld together Melvin and Austin, the rustic and the urban, and to create the same kind of community gathering place as the original.
The family has been planning a second restaurant for a long time. “We saved barn wood for years in Melvin,” says Adam Jacoby, the oldest of Jason and Kelli’s four sons. “We’re using wood from at least three Jacoby barns and another old barn in the area.” The bricks on the wall came from an old bank and mercantile on the main square in Melvin, and an old neon sign from that same building forms the base of a new neon “Jacoby’s” sign gracing the front of the Austin restaurant.
The Jacobys settled on Austin for a location when Adam attended The University of Texas. After graduating, he worked several restaurant openings in Austin to learn the ins and outs of that process. In 2012, he met Kris Swift, an interior designer with a passion for food, and they began designing the place together.
“We wanted the character of the property to, in some way, reflect Melvin,” says Adam. “We must have looked at 25 to 30 properties. My dad would drive all the way here, we’d go look at a place and he’d say, ‘No, it doesn’t’ feel like Jacoby’s.’ I’ll admit it got a little frustrating.”
Then they walked into 3235 E. Cesar Chavez. The main building had a small apartment upstairs and offices downstairs, with a large storage building behind it. It had been an electrical supply business run by a family for multiple generations, similar to the Jacoby family ranch and feed business.
Working with salvaged materials can be difficult and time consuming, but Adam notes that using these pieces of history provide a certain sense of satisfaction. It’s as if the people of Melvin are part of something bigger, he says. It is also, Swift adds, a thrill to repurpose something in a respectful and unique way.
In addition to reflecting the original café’s history, the design of the new restaurant blends in elements of Austin. In front of the bar, hexagonal floor tiles undulate like flowing water, homage to the Colorado River running behind the restaurant. Outdoor sections take advantage of the river frontage. A chicken coop is a nod to the popularity of backyard chickens in the city.
A chevron pattern on one wall of the café in Melvin repeats on the Austin location’s wooden outdoor deck, and reclaimed railroad ties from Melvin (one of the family businesses there is a rail center) edge a shady granite patio. Large rocks and cattle pen wire fencing, both brought from Melvin, separate an adjacent grassy picnic area.
The two places blend on the Austin menu as well, with some items directly from the Melvin menu, others that reflect a new twist on old favorites, and new dishes particular to the Austin location. All the beef served is Jacoby beef — and this is the only place in Austin you can get it. There will also be Jacoby lamb in season, and wild boar as available.
“It’s not like picking up Jacoby’s in Melvin and moving it here,” Swift stresses. “It’s more like taking a seed from Melvin and planting it here to grow in a way that reflects this place.”
Jacoby’s Restaurant is a true labor of love for the entire family, and that, they all believe, will be reflected in the final product when it opens later this summer.