Fire at Texas French Bread Ravages Storefront

Beloved restaurant was housed in a building rich with music history

via Instagram @AustinFireInfo

Last night, Texas French Bread burned down; the Austin Fire Department is calling the building, built in 1939, a complete loss. The potential loss of Texas French Bread is devastating for the Austin community.

In 1981, Judy and Paul Willcott opened Texas French Bread, Austin’s first French-style bakery. Over the course of five years, the operation expanded from supplying wholesale clients like Jeffrey’s and Basil’s (an upscale Italian restaurant) to running three retail bakeries. At the height of its operations, TFB had 11 shops across Austin and was loved for its sandwiches, soups, breads, salads, and pastries.

Business contracted in the 1990s, though, and the shops slowly started to close. In 2006, brothers Ben and Murph Willcott assumed operations, allowing their parents to step back, and reimagined Texas French Bread as an arbiter of local eating, sponsoring a weekly locavore supper club that eventually evolved into a nightly farm-to-table dinner featuring light, simple French country fare comparable to what one might find on the menu at Chez Panisse.

Chef Murph Willcott and his crew ran the venue as best they could after COVID hit, pivoting toward to-go and delivery where possible, remodeling and reopening with patio service and popular wine-paired dinners during that brief respite we had last summer, forging ahead with his lifelong culinary project despite Our Pandemic Situation … until this Monday's fire.

In addition to Texas French Bread’s importance to the Austin dining community, the building at 29th and Rio Grande itself is historically significant to the Austin music scene. Before it was the last outpost of Texas French Bread, the building was the home of the Rome Inn, an Italian restaurant-turned-music venue that was operated by C-Boy Parks from 1975 to 1980. The Rome Inn hosted a wide variety of notable Texas musicians, including Steve Ray Vaughan and Triple Threat, Jimmie Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Rusty Weir. After the Rome Inn closed, the building was briefly home to Paperbacks Plus, before transforming back into a music venue, Studio 29, which hosted punk icons like Butthole Surfers, Big Boys, and Hüsker Dü.

While it’s too early to tell whether Texas French Bread will eventually rise from the ashes, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of both this restaurant and the building that housed it to Austin culture and history as we know it.

Update Jan. 26, 11am: A GoFundMe fundraiser was created to benefit Texas French Bread staff. As of Wednesday more than $100,000 has been raised from community donations.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Melanie Haupt
Some of Our Favorite Plates (So Far) From Hot Luck
Some of Our Favorite Plates (So Far) From Hot Luck
Food photos from the fest to feed your fomo

May 26, 2023

Counter Culture Is Back, Baby!
Counter Culture Is Back, Baby!
Taco salad and Mac & Cheeze for everyone!

May 17, 2023

More by Wayne Alan Brenner
Pinthouse Pizza’s World Beer Cup Win, More Spring Menus Sprung, Texas Wine Auction Soars, It’s Kimchi-a-Go-Go Everywhere, and More
Pinthouse Pizza’s World Beer Cup Win, More Spring Menus Sprung, Texas Wine Auction Soars, It’s Kimchi-a-Go-Go Everywhere, and More
All the news that’s fit to get your taste buds quivering

May 24, 2023

Butterfly Bar Hosts a Night of New Classical Music
Butterfly Bar Hosts a Night of New Classical Music
Some of our city’s best all in one place

May 22, 2023


Texas French Bread, Murph Willcott

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle