For over 100 years there was a store in Cele Texas (pronounced like the aquatic mammal). There was never much of a town, but there was a combination general store, saloon, and restaurant that served the Czech settlers of the region and surrounding microtowns like New Sweden and Rices Crossing.
Every little town in Central Texas had a store, and one by one over the last century they shut down, unable to compete with the selection and services available in larger towns like Taylor and Manor. A few years ago it was the Clarksville store as old Clarksville got plowed under for cookie-cutter housing developments. Now we’re saying goodbye to the Cele store, which has been the heart of its small community since 1891.
The Cele store started out as the Richland Saloon when the area around Austin was almost the Wild West. It has been run by the same family since Marvin Weiss took it over in 1951 after he came back from the war. His widow is now in her 80s and the kids all have other jobs or have moved away.
Cele is facing inevitable integration into the outskirts of Austin, and the store has outlived its contemporaries and is one of the last of its breed. After the 28th of December it will join so many other stores as just a part of history.
What made the Cele store unique is that in addition to selling farm equipment, feed, and dry goods, every Friday and Saturday it turned into a barbeque restaurant and people came from Austin and beyond to enjoy their traditional brisket, sausage, and pork ribs.
The barbeque became famous, drawing diners from all over Central Texas for the unique experience. The store became a legend in its own right, as a bit of antique Americana preserved for posterity. It was featured as a location in several movies including Second Hand Lions and A Perfect World, accounting for the autographed photos of Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, and Michael Caine on the walls.
The Cele store offered more than just atmosphere, though it had that in abundance. The barbeque was also well worth remembering. When our family stopped in last Friday to say goodbye before they started auctioning off the fixtures and eventually the land and building, we got to refresh our memories with some great barbeque served the Central Texas way on butcher paper, with the sauce and condiments on the side.
We got brisket, sausage, and pork ribs, with bread, pickles, and sliced onions. The brisket came chopped into cubes and was pretty tasty. Some pieces were a little dry, but most of it was juicy with a rich flavor. The ribs were cooked a deep red on the outside and tender with rich flavor inside. They rank among the best ribs in the region and probably the best part of the meal. The sausage was also outstanding, and though I wouldn’t swear to it, I think it was imported from Meyer’s in Elgin, an excellent source.
I first had barbeque at the Cele store about 15 years ago, and I likely had it for the last time on Friday, but it’s just as good as I remembered. The store was bustling and crowds of people were coming and going. They’ve got four more weekends to go and then the tradition ends forever. If you happen to be in the Austin area, call ahead at (512) 251-3562 for a table and spend a Friday or Saturday night at the Cele store eating some good barbeque and being part of the history before it is gone from everywhere but our memories.