Famous East Austin restaurant earns historic designation amid neighborhood changes
During its 105-year existence, the two-story building at the corner of East Sixth and Comal streets has served as a butcher and meat market; The Austin Packing Company; The Little Corner Tavern; and, finally, Cisco's, the legendary diner still operating there today.
Today, Cisco's sits amidst a changing neighborhood. Over the past decade or so, East Sixth has been the backdrop to enormous growth, adding bars, restaurants, and, of course, condos to the bustling strip. Despite the seemingly ever-changing street, the modest blue building has stood as a remnant from another time.
On January 28, Austin's Historic Landmark Commission took a step towards preserving the building for good when it unanimously granted it Historic Landmark status. The designation provides a tax exemption to the building's owners, easing a huge financial burden in a neighborhood that continues to see its property taxes skyrocket. In turn, the owners must have modifications and potential property sales approved by the city.
The new designation is a natural step for Cisco's new owners, who purchased the building in 2017 after the Cisneros family put their namesake restaurant up for sale. The group, which includes grandson Matt Cisneros, has maintained its commitment to protecting the history of the restaurant while adding modern, business-growing measures such as a full bar and dinner service.
"We’ve been more vertical than horizontal," Cisneros says of the growth. "We’re not going to do gimmicks, we’re doing everything as my grandfather would have done it."
Cisernos' grandfather, Rudy, moved his doughnut and coffee shop into the building in 1955, setting the course for what would eventually be the modern-day Cisco's. Over the past 60-plus years, the restaurant has become a must-visit for UT students and Longhorn football fans; tourists; neighborhood residents; and just about every local, state, and visiting politician. "It's brought together so many people," says Cisneros.
In its application to receive historic status, the owners lay out the incredible legacy of 1511 E. Sixth St., along with a few of the legendary things that have happened over Cisco's biscuits and a plate of migas.
According to Rudy Cisneros' 1995 obituary in the Austin-American Statesman, Cisco's celebrity diners included Walter Cronkite, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Ben Crenshaw, among others. Lyndon Johnson was another famous diner — one who purportedly enjoyed a side of gossip along with his eggs.
Aside from protecting the building, Cisneros says the designation will ensure that a whole new generation of Austinites, visitors, and newcomers can experience the legendary restaurant.
"Our goal was to preserve it, which we're doing, and pay homage to iconic piece of Austin history," explains Cisneros before adding, "The designation allows us the opportunity to be special."