Posted by: Josh Hinkle | April 29, 2009

Easy As Pie

Pie Happy Hour at the Blue Bonnet Cafe

Pie Happy Hour at the Blue Bonnet Cafe

As a journalist, I don’t want it to seem like this post is any sort of advertisement. But once I tasted the soon-to-be-mentioned pie in this post, I must admit remaining unbiased became truly difficult. Thank goodness we aren’t talking politics.

A few months ago, I flew to Texas from Iowa to interview at KXAN. There was an opening at the station in the Hill Country bureau, which wasn’t exactly Austin. Small towns. I needed some convincing.

80-year-old Blue Bonnet Cafe

80-year-old Blue Bonnet Cafe

Part of the trip involved a tour of the bureau itself in Round Mountain, Texas… population 111. Great. One big sarcastic great. At that point, I wasn’t sure I would fit the position. Lunch came next, and my tour guide (KXAN’s chief photographer) took me 15 miles to the east. Coasting over the Colorado River, my feelings started to change. Marble Falls sprawled lushly ahead, and I felt more at ease. We pulled into the parking lot of a place called the Blue Bonnet Cafe. Hmm… quaint.

People packed the dining room, and we had to wait for a booth. The anticipation blended with a familiar smell – fried heaven. Growing up in Oklahoma, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ ranch, and this reminded me of Granny’s cooking. Typical? Predictable? I didn’t care. Two orders of okra please.

img_0464Then came the dessert discussion. Did we want pie? An older woman leaned her head over the seat behind me and made my decision. Her accent was perfect, and her pitch was convincing. “You have to try the coconut,” she said in her thick Texas drawl. I loved it. Of course I would try the coconut.

img_0460It was breathtaking, the five full inches of meringue on top. Ready for a nap, I noticed that same woman and her husband walking by the booth to pay (cash only, mind you). I thanked her for the suggestion/mandate, but she had already set her eyes on the KXAN logo on my future colleague’s shirt. He explained to her that I was a job candidate. I didn’t catch her name, but her previous advice was dead on. It was no surprise that she insisted on this, too.

img_04631        I eventually found myself back at the Blue Bonnet a few weeks after starting at KXAN, even more packed than before. On this particular day, the owners were celebrating the cafe’s 80th birthday. From the Depression to our current recession, business couldn’t be better. At 80 cents a slice, pie was going fast.

Owner John Kemper

Owner John Kemper

John Kemper and his wife Belinda bought the place in 1981, after the previous owner “begged” John to buy it so he could then retire. John grew up with the restaurant, so it was an easy sell. Some of his employees have stuck around for more than 20 years. His oldest daughter and her husband are poised to take over when John retires. He hopes his granddaughter takes an interest, too. People like Willie Nelson and George W. Bush added to the fame of this Hill Country staple. But on this important day, the regulars let the Kempers know how much they love what’s on the menu.

I think it’s the unfaltering charm that makes this place succeed, even in hard times. I now live just a few blocks from the Blue Bonnet and like to think the example it set had a lot to do with my move to Texas. So far, I’m glad I listened to that pie-pushing woman from my initial dine-in. The decision has me appreciating something delicious and different everyday, that Hill Country quality quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Watch my KXAN report on the Blue Bonnet’s 80th Anniversary and serve a piece of pie at the cafe by clicking on the Flipcam video below.



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