The Bistro at Lark & Owl Bookstore Is Making Georgetown Cooler, One Beer and Book at a Time
Magic happens when a brother-owned bistro and biergarten joins a women-owned bookstore
Even though you can drink alcohol while walking around "the most beautiful town square in Texas," sometimes Georgetown can feel a little, well, square. But Matt Wright and Jane Estes are here to change that (or at least make Georgetown a little cooler) with The Bistro at Lark & Owl, their bookstore and bistro experience that opened last spring. Wright – of the beloved café turned all day brunch-spot Better Half, Wright Brothers' Brew & Brew, and Little Brother Bar – summed it up: "This is a little different, but it's a chance to try something new."
Estes, who grew up in Houston and moved to Georgetown 20 years ago with her husband and baby, added, "I think people are more open to things than is originally assumed. Georgetown didn't seem as diverse [as Houston]. But then my kids entered the school system, and it was like, wait a minute, this is a diverse community, but it doesn't look like it all the time. It was important to me to have our bookstore look like our community. I personally wanted to see what would happen if we just threw the doors open and welcomed everybody in, and made sure that there were obviously signs and cues that people could say, 'Oh, I'm welcome.' Within the first week we were open we had people pull us aside and say thank you for the representation."
Before the concept even began taking shape, Estes and her nine female co-founders crowdfunded Lark & Owl (over 300 donors contributed $35,500) in hopes of seeing an independent bookstore open in their town. She said, "It was just gonna be a little cozy bookstore in an old house with a walk-up coffee bar originally. It blew up into this much bigger thing than we anticipated."
In preparation for the bookstore, Estes and Wright collaborated on events before finding the space, including a driveway pop-up. From the get-go, "We wanted to provide an experience for people. I think that's what good coffee does, and handmade cocktails and delicious food and curated books and retail. We wanted people to feel like it was all thoughtful," Estes said.
The small bookstore boasts a large variety of books because it was important to Estes and her team to have something for everyone. "I believe that you should never make fun of anybody for what they read," she said. "Or where they're from, or what their name is. If somebody does that in front of me it's like, you're kind of dead to me."
At the Bistro tucked inside, the menu boasts a similarly wide variety, even without an open flame in the kitchen. They serve breakfast all day (including the croque madame), plus lunch, dinner, and brunch, with espresso and a full bar. There are local taps from favorite breweries, like Southern Heights, and Prosecco on draft. The first edition of the menu was created by Better Half's chef Rich Reimbolt, as evidenced by delicious concoctions like the Chana Masala Frito Pie with red curry chickpeas, Fritos, cucumber raita, and mint oil. And it continues to evolve, now featuring dishes like kale Caesar salad, ricotta toast, shareables like broccoli tots and baked mac & cheese, and specialties like the curry chicken salad sandwich. They're also hosting frequent mash-ups with Austin fan favorites like Pinthouse Pizza.
Which is all even more impressive considering chef James Reedy's busy day-to-day in a very small kitchen. Said Wright, "We're doing it all with induction and heating and cooking on hot plates and stuff, so we don't have to have a vent hood. I'm very proud of the menu that has come out of there."
As for everybody's favorite waffle-iron hash browns on the Better Half menu? "The people we work with were so adaptable and obviously chef Rich is an enormous talent. Everything Better Half is all him – he managed that team – but when we were planning (and he's got these guys who've never run a restaurant), I came in and I just said, 'I'm not gonna ask you to cook any one thing, I just want fried potatoes and gravy on the menu.' And the waffle-iron hash browns came out of that. But he's also receptive because he knows that even if that was my favorite dish when we first opened, if the sales hadn't been there, we'd cut some stuff we love. That's the good teamwork part that's nice," Wright laughed.
Wright and Estes attribute a lot of their success to having a good team, including Wright's brother Grady and Estes' team of best female friends. He said, "Grady and I were the weirdo kids who didn't fight, like siblings that just never fought." After the brothers coincidentally both moved back to Austin and met third business partner, Matthew Bolick, the guys decided they were tired of "grinding for other people," and went into business. Six years later, it's still working. "[Grady and I] think so similarly it's like having a backup. You can go to him with business decisions or emotional decisions, he knows what's going on in my life. You grow to support each other and you get good people on your teams and you grow to support them and they reciprocate. It's really cool. So it's a lot of trial and error and a lot of hands-on.
Estes added, "We have people who are really really good at what they do. I believe if you pick people who are really good at their jobs and trust people to do their job, most of the time that's gonna work out really, really well."
Even better, the Wright and Estes crews aren't done yet – there's much more on the horizon for the bookstore and the Wright Bros (plus Matthew Bolick) team, including a much-anticipated brewery, Hold Out, that's been in the works for some time. Wright joked, "I just wanna make my own beer finally!"
"The thing I'm looking forward to is getting that biergarten [at the bookstore] fully open. We're gonna put an outside bar out there with the weather getting fully nice. It won't be this full bar [inside] but it'll be a station with a couple beers and then you can order anything from inside and have it run out to you. So that's exciting – it will become a great venue for the community as a whole."