Hill Country Comfort
Under-the-radar Hill Country gem serves up Texas-sized hospitality
If you drive past it on a Saturday evening, you might wonder why there are so many cars at what appears to be a local convenience store. But Hays City Store in Driftwood has evolved into quite the gathering place since it first opened as a gas station and corner store more than 30 years ago. These days, Tamra and Travis Tindol have transformed the once slow, quiet spot into a haven for locals and visitors alike to kick back with a cocktail or enjoy a chicken-fried steak with visitors from across the Texas Hill Country.
The Tindols bought the building in 2015 after a previous owner gutted the gas station, moving the underground gas storage tanks and pumps to a new location. At the time, they were looking to buy a different spot to start a restaurant, but the plans just didn’t feel right, Tamra says. When the space finally came up for sale, the couple scrounged around for old booths and kitchen equipment from other restaurants and re-opened Hays City Store as a restaurant and live music venue on a shoestring budget.
Now, more than two years later, the restaurant has been successful enough for a few upgrades to the dining room and the kitchen, as well as plans for an expansion of the outdoor music space. The Tindols credit two things with Hays City Store’s instant popularity: scratch-made Texas comfort food and good, old-fashioned Southern hospitality.
“Our goal was to have a melting pot of the area,” Travis says, noting that their location puts them in an ideal spot to welcome visitors from Austin, Kyle, Buda, San Marcos, Wimberley, Canyon Lake, New Braunfels, and even San Antonio. When they were developing the restaurant, they ate at spots across the Hill Country and found that there were elements of all the places that they wanted to incorporate into their own restaurant.
“We’d go to one place, and they would just have beer and wine — and we like margaritas,” Tamra says. “Or we’d go somewhere else, and we like to sit at the bar — they didn’t have a bar to sit at. Or they’d have good burgers and salads, but no chicken-fried steak. So, we selfishly created this place to be where we want to hang out.”
Tamra and Travis have spent time working in the restaurant industry, and their expertise shows, from the care that goes into the hand-cut fries to the simple but well-curated cocktail list with a focus on margaritas.
In an area rife with mediocre meat and potato restaurants, Hays City Store sets itself apart by serving lighter fare in addition to Texas classics like burgers, enchiladas, and Frito pie, all prepared from scratch by chef Ricardo Gutierrez. Want a lighter meal? Try the fish tacos or veggie burger. Seeking something to keep you full for hours? The juicy ribeye, peppery chicken-fried steak, or massive BLT featuring enough bacon to feed a family will hit the spot.
And as the restaurant’s popularity continues to grow, so, too, does the space itself. A few weeks ago, the Tindols broke ground on an outdoor bar to anchor the event space where they host live bands three nights a week, as well as a wood-burning pizza oven. Once they started hosting bands from the area, they quickly realized they needed more space for visitors to sit and enjoy the music while leaving tables open for diners. The 30-seat outdoor bar will feature local craft beer on tap and siding that can be pulled down to keep the party hopping rain or shine.
For now, live music is offered on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and diners can take advantage of happy hour prices on food and drink every day of the week from 4 to 7 pm or brunch on the weekends. No matter when you visit, though, you’re bound to run into Tamra and Travis, as much a part of the space as the neon bar signs or the scent of burgers on the grill. While they move about the space, checking on diners and poking their heads into the kitchen, they’re frequently stopped by regulars just dropping in for a beer and to say hi.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or what you believe in, you’re here to have a good time and great food,” Travis says, summing up their goal with Hays City Store. “We want to be the 'Cheers' of Hays County, where you come in and everybody knows your name.”