Threadgill’s WHQ Will Close After Thanksgiving

Eddie Wilson done “clinging to the curb”

Amid rising rent and lease uncertainty, Threadgill’s owner Eddie Wilson tried everything over the last couple of years to keep “clinging to the curb” at 301 W. Riverside.

The beer garden at Threadgill's World Headquarters (Photo by John Anderson)

He’s attempted to negotiate an affordable long-term contract with his landlords. He’s sought help from several big-hearted real estate experts eager to help preserve a local cultural staple. He’s carried around architectural renderings of what Threadgill’s could look like as the bottom floor of a towering, mixed-use development.

He’s even explored relocating the comfort food cafeteria.

Now, the veteran businessman that helped catalyze Austin’s vaunted music culture as owner of the Armadillo World Headquarters (1970-1980) confirms that Threadgill’s Riverside location will close after Thanksgiving. His staff, some of whom have worked there for decades, have been notified of the closure. The original Threadgill’s, “Ol’ No. 1” on North Lamar, will remain in business.

Wilson says paying over $40,000 in monthly rent has become “untenable.” According to him, his landlords, the Crockett family – with whom he’s enjoyed a “great relationship” over the years – don’t want to sell the land and property taxes dictate a higher rent than inexpensive chicken-fried steaks and Five-Vegetable Plates can provide for.

This marks the end of Wilson’s career occupying territory on a once quiet, now bustling strip of W. Riverside. After his legendary concert hall, which once sat in the adjacent lot, closed on Dec. 31, 1980, it took until 1996 for him to open a second Threadgill’s just a few hundred feet away.

“It’s hard to be jolly right now, but that’s supposed to be my M.O., so ho-ho-ho,” Wilson grimaced this morning.

With its exit, Austin loses two great stages, indoors and outside. Just last night, the former hosted a packed HAAM Benefit Day concert with longtime Armadillo/Threadgill’s favorite Marcia Ball. The city also loses one of the most soulful, homey, and Austin-centric places to sit down and eat an affordable hot meal in the Downtown area.

While the state capital’s new crop of popular dining establishments are notably concept-heavy, Threadgill’s exists as a heartfelt tribute to its owner’s heroes. Most notable remains the namesake country-music-lovin’ entrepreneur Kenneth Threadgill, who opened a musician-friendly filling station in 1933 and fostered the early career of Janis Joplin, and Wilson’s mother Beulah, who served as an inspiration for Threadgill’s recipes.

Walls covered in concert posters from the famed Armadillo Art Squad and musician portraits from historic photographer Burton Wilson (no relation), Threadgill’s WHQ could be a museum for Austin’s magical musical confluence of hippies and cowboys beginning in the Sixties and Seventies. In recent weeks, Wilson considered auctioning off some of that material, but ultimately found someone planning to buy the entire collection and preserve it.

Both he and his wife Sandra Wilson, a crucial hands-on operator at both restaurants, have been dealing with astronomical rent increases and lease difficulties for years. There was a closing scare in 2012. Last October, Wilson told employees and patrons that Threadgill’s WHQ would likely close after South by Southwest in March. The next month, they got a stay of execution in the form of an agreement with landlords that could keep the place open for a few more years.

Even then, Wilson wasn’t overly confident about the future.

“I still have the challenge of getting by in a boom town,” he said at the time.

Eddie Wilson at Threadgill’s Ol’ No. 1 in 2015. Above him hangs a photo of the Armadillo World Headquarters, just one lot over from where Threadgill’s WHQ sits for now. (Photo by Kevin Curtin)

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Threadgill’s World Headquarters, Armadillo World Headquarters, Eddie Wilson, Sandra Wilson, Beulah Wilson, Burton Wilson, Kenneth Threadgill, Janis Joplin, Marcia Ball, Threadgill's WHQ, Threadgill's Old No. 1, HAAM Day 2018

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