Mason, Texas in the 1880-1890’s was a bustling Hill Country town with a population that grew from 2644 to over 5000. The Courthouse Square boasted all the trappings of a good ‘Wild West’ town; a hardware store, tin shop, grocery and hardware stores and a saloon just off the corner of Fort McKavitt St. & Live Oak.
That saloon was owned by Theo Schmidt, who once referred to himself in an advertisement as “The agent for ‘Celebrated Bohemian Export, a Beer for family use, guaranteed to be first-class’.” After the saloon closed, the Schmidt building housed a variety of businesses owned by persons named Loeffler and Eckert whose descendants still live in Mason today. It should be noted that Angela is now married to Jodie Eckert, one of those descendants. One of the most notable businesses that operated at that address on Historic Mason Square was a Model-T Ford dealer who installed double front doors to drive his cars through. Those are the front doors still in use today at Willow Creek Café.
Spring forward to 1999. Angela Crouch, a Mason resident transplanted originally from nearby Burnet was a new mother already known to local folks as the pretty, efficient, green-eyed waitress at Zavala’s Restaurant. Her work came very naturally to her since she grew up around the restaurant business. At the age of fourteen she worked the front counter in her mother Marynell’s Round-Up Restaurant in Round Mountain, Texas. The Round-Up Restaurant adjoined a movie theater and auction house. Marynell provided concessions for the theater and food service at the auction. Angela worked in all three from that young age. One day Marynell fell ill during the lunch service, so ill that it required her to be taken to the emergency room. While they were taking her away on a gurney she turned to
Angela saying simply, “You are in charge now”.
As Ms. Eckert explained, “I never cooked before. I was scared to death for my mom being sick and for me being left to handle the kitchen during a busy lunch run. But really, I was more scared not to do what my mama said, “Be in charge”. I went in the kitchen and cooked every plate of food that went out for lunch that day. I was kind of slow but we didn’t lose one customer. I guess that’s been my goal ever since”. She opened Willow Creek Café in February 1999 and eventually bought the Schmidt Building. And she has never looked back.
Willow Creek has offers a full menu and daily specials. They make their own homemade rolls, voluptuous pies and fabulous cakes. And that has kept the fifteen year old café popular. Willow
Creek Café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week and has served several generations of locals. Add to that the many loyal Hill Country travelers and, literally, folks from all corners of the world who know and love Willow Creek. “We have some customers that are here seven days a week to eat with us and then there are people from as far away as New Zealand that come back to see us. We know each other by name! It is pretty nice,” said Ms. Eckert.
Today Angela and son Chase Crouch are stepping into the future armed with many years of Mason’s history around them. The Schmidt building still looks as it did in photos from the early 1900’s. And the fine reputation of Willow Creek Café is well known as they open the newly-finished Willow Creek Club. The private club will offer membership at no cost making it possible for long-time patrons, frequent Hill Country visitors and the flow of tourists to Mason to enjoy a great meal and a beer, glass of wine or a mixed or specialty drink during their visit.
Chase Crouch is a graduate of the pastry chef program at Escoffier Austin and the Mixology School of San Antonio and he will follow in his moms’ path into the future as he oversees the private Willow Creek Club. “It was great being involved in the design choices for Willow Creek Club including the 14 foot-long bar that features more than 30 local Hill Country cattle brands. It was fun to gather together local ranchers who are customers and watch them put their “mark” on the future of Willow Creek and Historic Mason Square,” Mr. Crouch commented. The large picture window at the back of the bar lets sunlight flow into the room that contains wine barrel tables with cushioned, wrought-iron bar stools and three 48” television screens. There will eventually be a nice garden area directly outback behind the building that will be visible from the back window. A beautiful arched thru-way connects the Willow Creek Club area to the center room of the Café allowing for lots of separation from the front dining rooms. Another new development will be Willow Creek Café and Club becoming 100% smoke–free. “We want to assure our loyal customers that the family atmosphere will remain intact in the Café. We will offer an abbreviated drink menu of beers, wines and frozen margaritas at lunch and dinner, the hours of operation for the private Club should provide for plenty consideration for our Café guests”, said Mr. Crouch. The Café’s kitchen will offer a variety of entrée items in the evening until the private Club closes on Wednesday through Saturday. And Willow Creek Café and Club will operate with the motto “Please drink responsibly” in mind. It will continue to be a great place for delicious food, social gatherings and is assured to become a destination for tourists and visitors to get a true taste of what Mason has to offer.
Grand Opening Ribbon-Cutting Celebration August 6, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.
Private Club Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 5pm -12mid
A variety of beers and wines and frozen Margaritas are available in the Cafe 11 am-Close Monday–Saturday and Sunday 2pm-Close.