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The Backstory: Rich and colorful history of Texas French Bread building

From grocery store, to restaurant, to blues club, to punk rock venue, to French bakery – the varied life of the building in Austin that burned down Monday night.

AUSTIN, Texas — The building that served as home to Texas French Bread, which was destroyed in a fire Monday night, opened in 1939 and served as a neighborhood grocery store for many years.

Located in the University of Texas’ West Campus neighborhood in Central Austin, it had become an Italian restaurant known as the Rome Inn in the early 1970s. 

But in 1975, a new life began for the building as it became the hottest blues club in town. Legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan held court on Sunday nights and even got married at the Rome Inn in 1979.

Texas music legends Doug Sahm, Steve Fromholz, Jimmy Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Rusty Wier and so many more played to crowds packed shoulder-to-shoulder.

The Rome Inn closed in 1980 and was converted into a used book store for a while, then later a punk rock club called Studio 29.

In 1986, it took on a new identity as Texas French Bread.

In a 2018 KVUE News interview, Murph Willcott, who operates Texas French Bread with his brother Ben, talked about how their mom Judy started the business.

“My mom really enjoyed making bread and particularly French bread using a recipe by Juila Child,” Willcott said.

She was invited by the owners of Jeffreys, an upscale West Austin restaurant, to make bread for a Mardi Gras celebration and that eventually led to her opening her own bakery.

And for four decades, until Monday night, Texas French Bread became the gathering place for the famous and the not-so-famous who enjoyed pastries, snacks and dinners while surrounded by some pretty lively Austin history - patrons who now must say goodbye to an old friend.

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