It has sobered up late-night revelers and fueled early-morning joggers, played host to Little League teams and at least one president of the United the States, and its friendly and funky spirit helped defined an era of Old Austin. After 41 years of serving guests and playing the role of de facto community center on Lake Austin Boulevard, Magnolia Cafe West has closed its doors for good.


The restaurant made the announcement late Thursday night on its social media channels. The permanent closure comes about a month after Magnolia and its sister restaurant on South Congress Avenue announced they were closing temporarily in response to the health threat posed by the coronavirus.


The loss of income from the coronavirus-impacted closure and an uncertain future compounded what had already been a slow few years at the original location, according to owner Kent Cole, leading to the decision to permanently close. The South Congress location will reopen when management thinks it is safe to do so.


"Magnolia Cafe Lake Austin had a great 41 years offering our fare, our style and, most importantly, a place for people from the neighborhood and from all over the world to come together and do what people do best — have a meal and talk to each other," restaurant management posted on Facebook. "And we, our family and all the staff and management through the years got to do what makes people their best — take care of other people."


Cole and then partner Kenny Carpenter opened the restaurant as the Omelettry West in 1979, then a sibling of the Omelettry on Burnet Road. Cole bought out Carpenter in 1987 and changed the name to the Magnolia Cafe, naming it haphazardly after the famed Camellia Grill in New Orleans.


"Their attention to the customer experience had a profound effect on me as a young person," Cole said of the New Orleans diners as beloved for their hospitality as their burgers and freezes.


A similarly friendly staff, pancakes, migas, and 24/7 hours defined the restaurant with the notoriously tricky horseshoe shaped parking lot across from Deep Eddy Pool. But a lot of diners serve comfort on a plate. The regulars of Magnolia Cafe kept coming back for more than the food.


"It wasn’t the food — it was the vibe," said Evan Smith, the CEO of Texas Tribune, who has lived most of the last three decades in West Austin. "Laid back, unpretentious. Kid friendly: How many times over the years did we mindlessly end up there after a ballgame? Those vinyl booths. That hot mess parking lot. It was the best kind of throwback to another era and another Austin — before everything got frou-frou."


The sentiment is undoubtedly shared by thousands of others. After news of the closing, customers took to Magnolia’s social media channels to share their memories and bemoan the restaurant’s shutter.


Cole, who grew up about eight blocks from the restaurant, says that the striking thing to him was how many customers considered Magnolia to be the place where they grew up.


The Magnolia Cafe has long been one of the city’s most popular multi-generational hangouts, and Cole says some of the kids and grandkids of the original customers and employees had become regulars themselves.


The restaurant’s role in bonding families is a familiar one, echoed by Mike Sutter, the San Antonio Express-News restaurant critic and former Statesman critic who lived in Austin from 1981 to 2018.


"Magnolia means watching my 4-year-old shiver after a day at Deep Eddy, warming up with Love Migas. It means a tattooed waiter named Laura who talked to us about Wrestlemania. It means my daughter’s first cup of restaurant coffee in that paperweight mug," he said. "Back in Austin from her college shut down by the coronavirus, she texted me, ‘The last time I walked in that place I never dreamed it would be my last.’"


The restaurant wasn’t just a staple for families, it was a calling card and a symbol of Austin recognized by everyday tourists and the famous alike. While many famous faces have passed through the restaurant, arguably none was more famous than that of Barack Obama. The president visited the Austin institution on a summer morning in 2014 to have a meeting with University of Texas student Kinsey Button, who received the honor after writing a letter to the president urging him to work with Congress to alleviate economic woes that had led to her father being laid off from a manufacturing engineering job for an oil company in Houston.


What did Obama order? Magnolia general manager Ross Harper said he was too busy maintaining the normal flow of business to notice much beyond the fact that the president drank a mug of hot tea.


But one of the most charming things about Magnolia Cafe is that, like family, regardless of your title, everybody was treated with the same warmth.


"We’ve always trained management and staff that when we recognize a celebrity to just treat them like a regular person, so we very rarely ever acknowledged who they were," Cole said. "Let everyone have a normal life. They’re just regular people."


Cole credits the restaurant’s enduring success and special place in the Austin community to two simple ideas: "Good manners and the Golden Rule."


While he admits to feelings of both gratitude for the restaurant’s long run and sorrow for the closure, Cole says his most profound emotion was one of sadness for his employees who, during such a terrible time, have no place to return to work.


As for what he will miss most at the restaurant he co-founded in 1979: "All the love," Cole said.


The restaurant concluded its social media farewell post with a statement of gratitude for their longtime customers and a call to action.


"To our neighbors and loyal customers of that location for so many years, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. The West is where we’re from," Magnolia posted. "Y’all are where we are from. We couldn’t have done it without you, and now we hope all you north of the river folks cross one of the handy bridges and head up the hill to our location on South Congress for your T. Rex omelette, your jalapeño cheese burger, your gingerbread pancakes, your Love Veggies, your Mag Mud, your Pasta Alfredo, your Magnolia brownie. We hope to reopen the South Congress location when it is safe to do so."


The restaurant is acutely aware of the community it fostered and is asking their longtime fans and regulars to share stories and photos by emailing magnoliacafeaustin@gmail.com.


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Complete coronavirus coverage on Statesman.com/coronavirus.