Mother-son team brings new life to Buda Mill
Dodi and Saenger Ellis craft a community space steeped in history
The nine-acre Buda Mill and Grain Co. lot at the far south edge of charming downtown Buda is steeped in more than 100 years of history. It was the home of the town’s first cotton gin in the 1890s. Locals fondly remember having corn cob fights in the streets in the 1950s, when the site was a dairy feed mill.
In 2011, Gay Dahlstrom, her daughter Dodi Ellis and grandson Saenger Ellis began a massive renovation project of the mill site, which has been in the Dahlstrom family since the 1960s. Under their care and vision, the old offices, feed store, barns and storage buildings, which had fallen into disrepair in the last several decades, have undergone a dramatic transformation into a walkable, family-friendly complex containing a coffee shop, yoga studio, bicycle shop, bakery and more.
“We wanted to bring something new to Buda but keep the small-town feel,” Dodi Ellis said. “We’re inspired by the idea of the traditional community gathering place, where you could get a haircut and a piece of cake and run into your neighbor. People are weary of the big box store and the lack of customer service. People want that human relationship.”
All in the family
For the Ellises, the Buda Mill and Grain Co. site is steeped in family as well as local history: Dodi Ellis’s mother launched the revitalization with them in 2011, bringing boundless energy and passion to the project until her death several years ago.
“She loved fixing things up,” Saenger Ellis remembered fondly. “She kept saying, ‘This place is like a woman who needs a new dress!’”
Dodi Ellis said her mother’s open mind gave them the confidence they needed to take on such a huge project. “My mom really believed in mistakes,” she said. “If you don’t make mistakes, how can you learn? It was amazing to work with somebody so supportive.”
Old and new
Even as the old bones of the site take new form in the modern Buda Mill and Grain Co., preserving the mill’s past is integral to the Ellises and their family’s dream for its future.
“The city planner told us this project would be very hard, especially because we were dedicated to preserving the footprint of the place,” Dodi Ellis said. “If we’d been willing to just bulldoze the buildings, it would have been so much easier. But people love this sense of the history, the energy of the old and the new.”
To visit the shops and buildings of Buda Mill and Grain is to walk through traces of living history. Old Union Pacific rails serve as wheel stops in the parking lot. The flooring from the old feed store has been repurposed as accent walls in the bicycle shop and boutique. Even the trees in the parking lot are rich with family history: The Ellises transplanted them from Dahlstrom’s property after she died, a tribute to her hand in the project’s roots.
“We’re looking back and moving forward,” Dodi Ellis said. “We love that juxtaposition of the old and the new. That new interpretation is what revitalizes and gives life to the space.”
Saenger Ellis agreed. “It’s amazing to see the new personalities come in and fill these old spaces,” he said.
A community’s future
The Ellises are excited to be part of the larger new vitality taking root in Buda. The town just received its official Main Street designation (which grants access to federal funding and strategic and economic development training that foster healthy downtowns and “pride of place”). New businesses are opening up along Main Street, and this Thanksgiving, Buda will host its first ever Turkey Trot race.
“It feels like the growth here at Buda Mill and Grain is part of something bigger,” Dodi Ellis said. “We’ve got people who stop us and say, ‘Thank you for doing this for Buda.’ There’s a new energy here, and all around us, people are responding and saying, ‘I want to be a part of this,’ but also that they want to live in a small town and preserve that small-town feeling.”
In June, the Assemblage Contemporary Craftsman Gallery, which will host art talks, readings and more, will open in Buda Mill and Grain Co., followed by the Ellipsis Boutique. And renovations to two of the largest buildings on-site will complete in the coming months. The Ellises plan to lease the spaces to a new restaurant and a brewery or distillery.
“My dream for Buda is having more and more people coming in, walking the neighborhoods, being involved in and connected to their community,” Dodi Ellis said. “We’re proud of Buda Mill and Grain, partly because we love it so much. We’re so happy to see it take on a new life.”
To learn more about Buda Mill and Grain Co. and see photos of the Ellises’ archeological discoveries, visit www.budamillandgrain.com/blog/.