Heart of the Hill Country: Blue Bonnet Cafe
THE place to get pie for more than 80 years
Some places are just different — there’s a brightness to them, an energy, and they have the power to bring together people of all ages and all walks of life. They’re the lifeblood of our region, and over the next 12 months, we’ll be highlighting some of these special places across our service area. We’re calling them Hearts of the Hill Country — because when we’re there, we’re community.
What’s in a name?
Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls has been preparing Southern dishes in the heart of our community for more than 80 years. No doubt diners return time and again for the food, but it’s the cafe’s nostalgic, family-friendly atmosphere that has made it a gathering place for generations of Central Texans.
“The Blue Bonnet Cafe is a real Texas cafe, and not many cafes have been around as long as 87 years,” Marble Falls local and Blue Bonnet Cafe owner John Kemper said. “That’s what makes it special.”
Blue Bonnet opened in 1929 on Marble Falls’ Main Street and moved to its current location on Highway 281 in 1946. Kemper says most visitors assume the restaurant was named after our state flower, but that’s not the case.
“When the Blue Bonnet Cafe was on Main Street, it was named after a painting of a woman in a blue bonnet that was displayed on the restaurant’s sign,” he said. “We had the original lady in the blue bonnet reproduced for our new dining room, but we like to play off the flower now.”
Kemper and his wife, Belinda, were friends with Blue Bonnet’s previous owner, who asked them to continue the legacy of the lady in the blue bonnet when they bought the cafe in 1981, a move John says is the best thing that could have happened to their family.
Better than Mama’s
The Kempers like to say they were serving “comfort food before comfort food was cool.”
John and his managers — his daughter and son-in-law, Lindsay and Dave Plante — all agree that the chicken fried steak is a favorite. John says the authentically Texan, hand-battered cutlet is “something special,” and it’s the dish that has kept Marble Falls local Warren Dilsaver coming back for 33 years.
“The very first thing I ordered here 33 years ago was the chicken fried steak, and that’s what I’m eating today,” Dilsaver said. “I like all of what’s served here really, from breakfast to pies. It’s always good.”
Pie is what Blue Bonnet Cafe has become known for statewide. Serving 40,000 annually, the Kempers credit this success to consistency. The traditional recipes (topped with mile-high meringue) are never changed, so the pies that patrons remember from their childhoods taste the same when they bring their kids and grandkids.
During Thanksgiving alone, Blue Bonnet sells 3,000 to 4,000 pies, and that’s with an order cut-off two weeks before the holiday. John describes Thanksgiving time as “wild” but feels honored when he thinks about how families at home, much as they do at his cafe, gather together around each one.
Just down the road
Although John actively manages Blue Bonnet Cafe for now, the Plantes are in line to take on the family business.
Around the turn of the century, they married and settled in Fort Worth, but they longed to return to the Hill Country, especially Lindsay. Some of her fondest childhood memories took place at the cafe, from rolling silverware in napkins to spinning on cafe barstools. Blue Bonnet was a part of her.
When John invited his daughter and son-in-law to fill management positions, they jumped at the opportunity, and for 12 years, the couple has managed everything from food deliveries to marketing.
“Every business owner’s dream is for their family to be involved in the business,” John said. “Nobody cares more about business than family.”
As beloved family diners are being replaced across the country with commercialized chains, the Plantes are committed to maintaining the cafe’s magic when they take over.
“This is something that’s a little slice of Americana, which is still potent here,” Lindsay said. “We are pretty conscious about change around here because our originality is who we are.”
“We are like no one else around, and we won’t try to recreate it because it works,” Dave said. “Nostalgia is pretty important, and I think continuing that is how we keep each and every person happy to be part of our restaurant.”
Heart of Marble Falls
It’s nearly impossible to leave Blue Bonnet Cafe hungry or without a huge helping of Texas hospitality. By embracing generations of patrons as the heart of its business, the restaurant has become one of the hearts of the Texas Hill Country.
Whether you’re passing through Marble Falls for a weekend getaway or make a special trip just for pie, Blue Bonnet Cafe will give you a taste of authentic Texas. Visit bluebonnetcafe.net for menus and contact information.