In recent months, we’ve had to consider whether perhaps, painful though it might be, Texas French Bread had simply run its course. We held conversations with all manner of wise advisors and their collective advice was fairly consistent. The writing was on the wall. The GoFundMe money so generously donated by our community was pretty well exhausted. The time had come to stop the financial bleeding, lay off our remaining staff and put the commercial real estate that had been TFB’s home for the better part of four decades on the market.
With any luck, a sale of the TFB property would pay off the mortgage, meet our tax obligations, and offer Carissa and I the possibility of walking away whole. Perhaps we’d get lucky. Maybe there was a buyer out there with ample resources who might want to resurrect TFB and buy the property at a price point that would be attractive.
As April rolled around, we began dutifully making moves in accordance with the advice we received. We shifted the remaining staff to unemployment status and did our best to think of the business as closed (or at least dormant).
But I struggled with this. Nothing about it felt good. Every day I would wake up thinking about the bond I had with the TFB community - our staff, our guests, our vendors - and how sustaining and personal that bond had been for me over the years. It literally took a village to make TFB go. All of you showed up and you kept showing up, steadfastly getting behind the crazy idea that this old-world, distinctly non-digital business where we made things from scratch with our hands each day and the next day and the day after that - was worthy of your ongoing support.
I couldn’t help but recall that even on my very worst days - days when I would wake up paralyzed with worry and discomfort, carrying whatever personal darkness and distraction happened to be my cross to bear at the time - I had only to walk down the street to TFB and get to work and everything would feel better. That’s it - just show up. The darkness would wash away like so many dreams from a poor night’s sleep.
I’d walk into the dining room. There were almost always two or three tables with folks I knew who were happy to offer a smile and a wave - a friendly conversation the essence of which was simply “I’m happy to be here and glad you are too.”
I’d grab a coffee and check on things in the back of the house - usually starting with Gloria who would grin at me as she chopped the day's birds for chicken salad, or assembled a batch of ranchero sauce for the breakfast tostadas. On the way through the dishpit I’d greet Chris or Ruben - sunshine pouring through the service doors. Maybe Zach would offer up a few nuggets on the the previous night's Mets game. (How does a guy from Nebraska end up being such a die hard Mets fan?)
By the time I would make it upstairs to the office, I would be feeling pretty good. We were doing real stuff here - making things for people - stuff we could be proud of. We all need a place to go each day where we belong and TFB gave me that in spades - a gift of purpose and usefulness that renewed itself each day.
With each year that passes, the internet with its constant flow of toxicity and competition for “eyeballs”, and it's battle to the death for cultural predominance comes to feel like our only shared reality, everything monetized and supercharged for maximum outrage and calculated to hijack our attention.
Perhaps the reason I have loved TFB so deeply is because it’s so definitively not all of that. And while I will confess to being not entirely displeased when some of our younger patrons used the “so chill” sign over the door to the storage jail in the parking lot as a backdrop for Instagram selfies, I have never worried that somehow we might confuse our priorities.
Our purpose has always been to make things with love and with our hands and share them with our community. This has been a sacred trust from the earliest days when we would meet in the old shop at Guadalupe & 34th at 4am, shuffle through the rituals of making sleepy coffee and mixing baguette dough and rolling out croissants as we waited for first light to peer through the casement windows and the first customers of the day to walk up.
In those days, I was a part time baker and a full time UT student. In recent years, my role as the ringleader in all this has been to set the tone, insisting that we hold to our core values, and practice being present - that we treat everything at TFB, be it the breads, the pastries, the coffee, and especially each other, with respect, awareness, intention, and kindness.
So, sure - I could talk about the organic flour we bring in from Barton Springs MIll, the farm eggs from Kris Olsen’s flock near Smithville, or the weekly trips to Boggy Creek for produce. And although those things are essential, they kind of miss the point. The real point is that whether it was a warm flaky croissant fresh from the oven, a freshly pulled shot of espresso brimming with a thick layer of crema, or a cold glass of rosé on a warm summer evening - we had a chance to make beautiful things and be of service.
I suppose on a more personal level the point is also that I have loved this work. Who knew when my parents set to work on this project 40 years ago that TFB would take up such a long term residence in my psyche? There has been so much about it that I’ve missed the past few months - the big messy work family, the way the smell of cinnamon rolls baking drifts down Salado Street, the lines of customers at lunch - all of it really.
As some of you no doubt have heard, a few weeks ago we signed a lease on a new bakery commissary space at Prep ATX, a shared kitchen facility in northeast Austin. At present, we are wading through the bureaucratic niceties required by the city, getting our permitting in order, etc. We hope to be baking again for Farmers Markets and wholesale clients by mid-July.
Our target date to restart baking is the week of July 11. We plan to offer a selection of baked goods for home delivery through Farmhouse Delivery and we will post info about which markets we will attend.
But today I would also like to share what feels like bigger news, because this week we closed on the purchase of 2904 Rio Grande, the TFB Garden property with the enormous old oak that sits adjacent to the TFB parking lot. This property, which we had rented in recent years changed hands in 2021 and we lost access to it. And now rather miraculously, it found its way back to us just when we needed it. Talk about serendipity.
So while we don’t (yet) have a plan to rebuild our building - the expense is great and the hurdles are real - what we do have is space for outdoor dining. We couldn't be more excited. We plan to spend the balance of the summer cleaning it up and then stage a food trailer out there in the fall once the summer weather moderates, where we plan to offer some classic TFB fare.
I wish it could be sooner, but I think I can speak for our whole team in saying that we can’t wait to get back to work and we look forward to seeing all of you in the garden this fall.
keeping the faith,