AUSTIN (KXAN) — A beloved Austin restaurant served its final Thanksgiving meal Thursday as it prepares to close its doors for good at the beginning of December.
Threadgill’s announced in September the Riverside Drive location would close after Thanksgiving, which has always been the restaurant’s busiest day.
With a little more than a week left until closing, customers endured long waits to continue the tradition of spending the holidays in the iconic space.
“We look forward to a Thanksgiving dinner because some people don’t want to cook,” Cliff Wright said with a laugh.
He was finishing a slice of pie on Thursday afternoon after driving in from Bastrop with his wife, Carol, and a couple friends. It’s been a tradition for them to spend the holiday here, and they didn’t want to miss one last meal.
The restaurant’s owner blames rises costs and property taxes for the closure. Simply put, he can’t afford the prime real estate just south of the river anymore. “We understand,” Wright said. “That’s why we moved out of Austin.”
“It seems to me that a lot of the good old-time restaurants that we’re used to are closing in the Austin area,” Carol said.
What started as a beer joint in north Austin in the 1930s has grown into an Austin icon, with two locations including the Riverside Drive spot, called Threadgill’s World Headquarters, and the restaurant on North Lamar Boulevard, lovingly referred to as “Old No. 1.”
Owner Eddie Wilson combined comfort cooking with a popular music venue years after his previous venture, Armadillo World Headquarters, went belly-up.
Legendary acts have crossed paths with Threadgill’s in some form or another over the years, and now customers and musicians alike are heading back for a final farewell.
“We started to come here for Thanksgiving when our kids were little and it didn’t make any sense to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal that they wouldn’t eat,” Austinite Gary Thompson said Thursday.
Thompson still has a photo on his phone from years ago of his two daughters and his wife, who’s since passed, huddled together and smiling around a Threadgill’s table. The youngest, a small child, is kissing her mother on the cheek; Thompson brought her back Thursday, now a teenager, to share the last meal.
“When you think about what makes Austin Austin, it’s places like Threadgill’s,” he said. “And it’s the home cooking, and it’s the musicians with their pictures lined up around the walls.”
The pictures are all tagged with numbers, ready for the auction that’s set to take place on Dec. 8, six days after the restaurant closes its doors for good. The money he raises, Wilson said, will go to the 70 employees being laid off so he can keep paying for things like health insurance for a few more months.
Meanwhile, the Lamar location will remain open, though for how long appears to be an unanswerable question.
“We desperately need these people to come up North Lamar,” Wilson said. “I need a 10 or 15 percent increase in the volume of business up there. You know, that’s simple terms.”
He can’t predict if or when Old No. 1 will close, but the costs are rising there, too. “Best we can hope for is that everybody will come up North Lamar and eat with us every now and then.”
That likely won’t include the Wrights, at least not for Thanksgiving next year. After all, Cliff and Carol said, that’s not where the tradition was, where their memories are.
“Every time you come back it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, look what they’ve built here,’ or, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s apartments on that block,'” Wright said.
“So, yeah, it saddens us. But, hey, that’s Austin.”