Vicki Bly surprised her daughter, Sydney Sue, with a question after Sydney’s graduation from the University of Texas in 2013.
Bly had been eyeing 3 acres of land sandwiched between Bee Cave Road and the Barton Creek Preserve, an area thick with live oak trees and not much else. She thought what Westlake Hills needed was a gathering space for the community, and it seemed an ideal spot for a little cafe.
“I was looking for a different career and a change,” says Bly. “This property came up for sale, and I asked Sydney if she wanted to go into business together.”
Her daughter’s response: “Heck yes.”
So began a five-year journey for the two to develop the Wayback, which opened in December. The property doesn’t just include that cafe but also eight neat little board-and-batten cottages for overnight guests, a drive-thru espresso hut offering cheery window service to morning commuters, a saltwater pool and cabana bar and plenty of space for outdoor events overlooking the lush Hill Country terrain.
A lot happened over those five years: “She got married, I got divorced,” laughs Bly, and her first grandchild was born. The mother-and-daughter team learned a lot in the process.
“We became close,” Bly says about the business venture with her daughter. “We work well together. We have the same vision, but we have different talents, so it’s divide and conquer.”
RELATED: Mother knows best? The mom-daughter duo behind popular Austin-based fashion line
And Sue developed a new appreciation for her mom.
“Growing up, I didn’t realize the efforts that took for her to own a company and raise four kids at the same time.”
Though the two didn’t have formal training in architecture or design, Bly was formerly the owner of Austin’s historic Bremond House Bed and Breakfast. They started by considering how they wanted their guests to feel.
“We didn’t have a business plan, we just wanted to create a place where people could be happy,” says Sue. “We drew every square inch of this property on graph paper.”
She pulls out those original pencil-scratched sketches with lift-up flaps and clipped magazine photos, and she and her mom laugh as they look around the cafe, seeing the real-life actualization of their dream around them.
At one table, a husband and wife enjoy a quiet lunch, while at another, a group of female friends giggle at an inside joke. Honey-toned wood against crisp, white walls and a hearth give warmth and elegance to this minimalist space that welcomes travelers and locals alike with its simple, fresh and locally sourced menu.
“We wanted a camplike feeling. We tried to add colors that make you relax and get back to this intimate space that’s more like sitting in your dining room than in a restaurant,” says Sue.
After dining there one evening, a guest remarked that she felt like she was in a Nancy Meyers film ("The Holiday," "It's Complicated"). It was the perfect compliment.
“I almost cried,” says Bly.
Elevated camp cuisine
The Wayback is now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and offers a special brunch menu on weekends.
Complementing the stripped-down, rustic Southern chic vibe of the entire property, the menu currently offers a handful of entrees and appetizers created in collaboration with chef Austin Alvarez, plus cocktails and caffeinated concoctions from bartender Coleman Dewayne.
The menu will change seasonally, but the beef burger on freshly baked brioche with caramelized onions, Gruyere and house-made pickles ($15) will be a mainstay. Breakfast favorites include a biscuit sandwich with breakfast sausage, sharp cheddar and aioli ($8), or plantain pancakes ($8) for a touch of sweetness.
The wine list is populated solely with organic wines from estate vineyards, and Dewayne has had artistic license to delve into some new flavors for his coffee and cocktail program, including a turmeric and black pepper-infused Golden Milk Latte, or the just-this-side-of-sweet Ranch Hand cocktail, starring Cardamaro and vermouth.
The coffee hut offers a full slate of coffee and espresso drinks, plus Southern scratch biscuits and house-made jams to go (based on what’s in season, you’ll find jams such as ginger pear or fig and currant).
The Wayback is starting out with a small canvas, focusing on craft and quality, and looking to expand from there, with plans to plant an on-site garden and host outdoor dinners on the patio.
Memories from way back
Bly relished her role welcoming out-of-town guests to the Bremond House in the ’90s. “People came from all over the world. This was before cellphones, and I got letters from guests, people saying how much they loved staying there,” she says.
Sue remembers as a young girl witnessing the excitement of introducing guests to Austin — so small compared to what it is now.
“It was before the big high rises, and you could still hear the Austin Symphony and see the Fourth of July fireworks from there,” she recalls.
They wanted to bring that excitement of finding a hidden Texas gem to their guests.
Each cozy cottage (priced at $275 and up per night) is thoughtfully decorated with delicate Southern touches like cowhide rugs, hand-tooled leather keychains (“No magnetized cards — we wanted traditional keys,” says Sue) and locally produced toiletries. Some of the cottages include beds tucked into nooks and private backyard spaces. Classic white plush bedding plus the fresh Hill Country air is an ideal formula for restful sleep.
Her mother always tried to instill an appreciation for art and creativity in her four kids, Sue says, sometimes driving the family around the country or to Mexico to meet with favorite artists. She also remembers dreaming up a special headboard in middle school with hot pink velvet fabric and green buttons.
“My mom made it for me,” she says.
Bly was always one to encourage the realization of dreams, whether the dreams were made of hot pink velvet or 3 acres of tree-covered land.
And this time, they created the dream together.