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A 94-Year-Old WWII Vet Still Runs This Texas BBQ Institution

A painting of Vincel Mares from inside his office.

Not much has changed inside Taylor Cafe since the beloved barbecue and beer joint first opened its doors in 1948. The plywood walls display accolades from publications across the nation. The old jukebox keeps pumping out the same classic country tunes it has for decades. And owner Vincel Mares still sits by the bar, watching over his Texas barbecue institution.

Mares, a World War II veteran, arrives at 6 a.m. sharp and stays until closing time at 10 p.m. every day. He greets every visitor that walks in, handing them a 2014 copy of the Taylor Daily Press with his restaurant on the cover. Even as the world changes around the little red building by the railroad tracks you can count on Vincel Mares and the Taylor Cafe.

The Pitmaster

Vincel Mares was born in 1923 in Fayette County and raised on a ranch, where his father had about 500 head of cattle. At 16, Mares joined the service and served as a combat medic during World War II, treating injured men on the beaches of Normandy. Shortly after he returned home from war in 1945, he started working at the Southside Market and Barbecue in Elgin, where he spent long hours cutting meat, making sausage and cooking barbecue. But Mares didn’t intend to spend his life working for someone else. He took all the money he had set aside and bought the building that now sits below the Texas 95 overpass.

“I saved up in the service and I took that money and invested in this,” Mares said.

The exterior of Taylor Cafe.

The building that now houses Taylor Cafe was built in 1887 and was once served as the town’s hotel, Mares says. It was originally two stories but the top story burned down in an 1879 fire that destroyed much of the town’s infrastructure.

Mares may have learned how to cook at Southside, but he perfected the art at Taylor Cafe. He adopted his style from an old German cookbook he keeps locked in a safe. Throughout the years, he’s instructed those that have worked under him, passing on some of the secrets that have made the restaurant such a success. Taylor Cafe has been featured in USA Today, Texas Monthly and just about every major paper in the state of Texas.

Frozen in Time

If stripped-down, casual decor is in style in Austin, Taylor Cafe gives new meaning to the phrase “no frills.” The interior is a loving hodgepodge of items acquired from decades in business. Re-purposed tractor seats serve as bar stools. A sign that reads “Bullshit Corner” hangs next to a table in the dining room. Inside Mares’ office, there’s a painting of Mares, along with 60 years of memorabilia and some balloons left over from his 94th birthday celebration just a few days ago. Across the bar, there’s a vintage cash register near a sign that reads “Refrain from using profanity!” The sign is a reminder of a rougher time in Taylor Cafe’s history. Mares said in the old days he had to break up several fights between patrons who had indulged in a few too many Shiners.

The decor inside Taylor Cafe.

Today it’s difficult to imagine anyone fighting – or cussing – in the serene environment. Gary Stewart’s “Ten Years of This” plays on the jukebox over the hum of the fan as patrons sip ice cold Lone Stars and munch on three-meat plates with white bread and saltines.

The decor inside Taylor Cafe.

 

The decor inside Taylor Cafe.

Along with Louie Mueller Barbecue and Davis Grocery, Taylor Cafe has helped make Taylor, Texas an important stop on the Texas BBQ Trail. In 2014, the restaurant was featured in a Chevy Truck commercial that aired during the 2014 Superbowl.

But even with tons of accolades and national commercials, Mares said his favorite part of running Taylor Cafe all these years has been the people. So if you’re ever in Taylor, stop in Taylor Cafe, try some true Texas barbecue, shake Vincel Mares’ hand and enjoy a piece of Texas untouched by time.

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A 94-Year-Old WWII Vet Still Runs This Texas BBQ Institution