Austin’s annual South by Southwest Festival came to a close recently, and the musical and movie “discoveries” anointed by the media reporters in attendance will soon be making their way to concert venues and theaters nationwide. But to experience Passport’s favorite new Austin find, you’ll have to make your way to Texas.
Jacoby’s Restaurant and Mercantile—opened by gay couple Adam Jacoby and Kris Swift in August 2015—is likely to become a hard-to-book hub at future festivals. It’s got quirkiness and quality to spare along with a tucked away setting that makes patrons feel like they’re in on a secret.
Driving down a dusty stretch of Cesar Chavez Street on Austin’s east side, its odd to spot a small crew of parking valets standing amidst the used car lots, roadside taquerias, and weather-beaten one-story homes. But sure enough, this is the place. Behind the undistinguished painted brick façade of a former electrical supply warehouse, Jacoby’s unfolds: Pass through the warmly lit front dining room with its stunning ceiling of reclaimed barn wood to a large al fresco patio dining area, and onward to a sprawling, tree-lined bluff where guests can sip a cocktail from a mason jar while looking down on a rolling bend of the Colorado River.
This sense of welcoming revelation seems altogether appropriate given co-owner Adam Jacoby’s path to proprietorship. The eldest of four sons, 28-year-old Jacoby was raised by Catholic parents on a 12,000-acre cattle ranch in Melvin, Texas, population: 184.
Jacoby came to Austin to get a degree in business at the University of Texas in 2005 where he remained closeted through four years of school and summertime internships with Smith Barney.
“My father had always hoped that all four of his sons would someday be a part of the family business,” says Jacoby who—still on the cusp of coming out—returned to ranch life in Melvin after graduation in 2009. Over the next two years he learned the operations and worked every job in the small café his family ran to feed workers at their husbandry and livestock feed business. But while he knew that the buttoned down world of financial management wasn’t for him, Jacoby quickly realized that small town rural life would not suit him either.
“I was coming out to myself and my family during those two years,” he recalls. “I remember telling my mother ‘I’m young and I’m gay, I just can’t stay here much longer.’”
Both coming out and moving away were initially uncomfortable ideas for Jacoby’s father, but the men gradually grew more at ease with each other and came up with a plan: If Adam worked in Austin restaurants for a couple of years to build on his café experience, the family would support him in opening a place of his own, serving meat from the ranch and recipes that included favorites from the Melvin Café—chicken fried steak, Mom’s mac and cheese, ranch grown steaks. “It was a way for me to stay involved but also lead my own life,” recalls an earnest, grateful Jacoby.
During his first year or so back in Austin, Jacoby worked as a server, busboy, and expediter in restaurants around town while going through “my wild child period”
as a fully out young Austinite. But in 2012 he met successful local designer Kris Swift, now 36, a Canadian-born alumnus of HGTV’s Design Star with a successful residential and commercial practice in Austin. “There’s a bit of an age difference between us,” says Jacoby. Adding: “Kris was more settled than I was. He helped me grow up a bit.”
As the pair grew into a committed couple, the Austin restaurant became a shared passion. Swift serves as the Creative Director for Jacoby’s and has attended to every detail of the restaurant’s aesthetic charms, from the vintage china and glassware—artfully mismatched on every table, to a bar crafted from chicken wire and bundled firewood, to peculiarly perfect dining room soundtrack—a feat of Austin alchemy that seamlessly fuses everything from twang to electronica.
Swift also curates the constantly revolving stock of the Mercantile, a small retail boutique adjacent to the restaurant, offering unique vintage tableware, preserves and pickles from the restaurant kitchen, and even vacuum packed cuts of Jacoby’s aged beef from Melvin. “Doing this from the ground up as a couple definitely had its stresses,” notes Swift. “But I think that being able to get through the planning and opening really showed how strong we are together,” says Jacoby.
Already a landmark in the couple’s relationship, Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile is on its way to becoming an Austin landmark as well.