The Leander City Council’s long-laboring efforts to kick-start the Old Town District revitalization are seeing success.
AJ’s Bar and Grill, a restaurant located at 105 W. Willis Street in the old Shea’s Place building, hopes to open within the next 30 days pending final city approvals. Patchouli Joe’s Books & Indulgences, an independent bookstore located at 106 W. Willis Street, Ste. B, plans to open nearby on Aug. 31. My Steel Magnolia, a boutique located at 106 W. Willis Street, Ste. C, opened just last week.
Council member Chris Czernek said he’s excited for AJ’s opening and feels it “is a great sign that more business will come to Old Town.”
“Having a sit-down restaurant, and prayerfully more restaurants in our future, will add value and opportunity to a growing entertainment district,” Czernek said.
Council member Jason Shaw said he believes businesses are more excited about Leander in general because the city has "a council that is making decisions based on common sense, citizen input and actual data."
"We are literally talking with the land owners and businesses to get an idea of how we should proceed. I believe success for Old Town depends on communication between the land owners, businesses and the citizens. That is my focus for Old Town, and I am going to make sure it happens."
Neither Leander Mayor Troy Hill nor the other council members responded by press time. However, Hill, a long-time advocate of the Old Town revitalization, has put a heavy emphasis on the district this year, presenting several Old Town boosting agenda items and arguing the council has an unique opportunity to make it a "destination" that draws people to Leander.
AJ’s owner Andrea Jobes credits Hill and Shaw with personally talking with her and convincing her to sign to the lease.
She said Hill had urged her to consider the Shea's location after her plans to open a restaurant at the Crystal Falls Golf Course fell through. She said she remained extremely hesitant to go forward with it because of the district’s limited traffic and the fact the building has been vacant for about 4 years.
However, she said Hill and Shaw convinced her there was a possibility for a strong lunch crowd drawing from the staff at nearby city, school and hospital facilities.
“Now, I see it differently. I love the idea of being able to be part of the growth of Old Town Leander,” Jobes said. “I saw there was a need ... for a really good restaurant. I wanted to help by doing something to meet that need."
The restaurant will offer “upscale craft American food,” ranging from orange-glazed salmon to black garlic, truffle and rosemary ribeye, while keeping prices down, she said, and a menu with items that “meet everyone’s dietary restrictions and needs,” including Keto diets and vegan or gluten-free options.
The restaurant will keep as much of the original building intact as possible, including the old U.S. Post office signage, while providing a dining area, a separate bar and an outdoor seating area that can host live events.
“It will be upper scale food in a family-friendly environment with family-friendly prices," Jobes said. "We’re not going to have plates that are $30.”
The restaurant’s hours will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday with a brunch buffet offered until 2 p.m.
Jobes said she's confident about the restaurant because she has a strong team to support her, including her oldest son Joey Taito, who manages the Mighty Fine Food Truck on 620, as the restaurant manager and Chef Nathaniel Bolt, with over 20-years of experience, running the kitchen.
Jobes hopes her opening - along with the book store's opening- will give business owners enough confidence to finally open in the district.
“Rising waters raise all ships,” Jobes said.
The other business opening in Old Town is Patchouli Joe’s, which will offer new and used books. The store will also sell coffee, soaps and candles. The store hours will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the location closed on Mondays.
The store plans to offer drawings and giveaways on its opening weekend.
Separate from Old Town, Hill posted on Facebook that the owners of Foxhole Culinary Tavern in Cedar Park are planning to open a new restaurant named The Republic in the former Da-Fan Club Bar & Grill location, stating they had a tentative opening date for October.
The owners could not be reached for comment by the time this article went to publication.
In prior posts, Hill noted the he and the city have been negotiating with the owners of restaurants ranging from The Salt Lick to Hat Creek Burger Company about potentially opening a location in Leander.