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Texas French Bread heightens its ambitions with new executive chef Max Mackinnon

Matthew Odam
Chef Callie Speer opened Holy Roller in July 2017.

Downtown Austin will be a little less colorful and a lot less flavorful when Holy Roller closes after a final brunch service next weekend.

Chef Callie Speer opened the comfort food restaurant and bar in July 2017, and the modern take on Texas diner cuisine reflected the creativity, whimsy and irreverence that Speer has brought to her 20-year career as a pastry chef at some of Austin’s top restaurants. Dishes like fried chicken biscuits, meatloaf sandwiches, migas kolaches and Soft Serv-topped yellow cake pancakes, along with strong cocktails and a spirited sense of fun and indulgence, made the restaurant one of Austin’s most popular brunch destinations.

Speer said that while the restaurant at 509 Rio Grande St. had done an admirable job weathering the rocky times of the pandemic, thanks in large part to the tireless work of her team and a Paycheck Protection Program loan, the uncertainty of the length of the economic pain brought on by the coronavirus, especially in a now-quiet downtown, posed too daunting a challenge to continue.

The Austin native and veteran of restaurants like Swift’s Attic and Geraldine’s said she and her team, comprised mostly of female chefs, managers and bartenders, can walk away from the project with heads held high.

“My goal was to hopefully create something cool and take care of people and treat everyone with kindness, and sell a lot of food while did it, and I think we did that,” Speer said. “The most gratifying part of the whole experience is the relationships I built.”

Holy Roller, which landed the #38 spot on the Austin360 Dining Guide in 2019, reopened its dining room to 50% capacity in late May, but due to the size of the space and seating arrangements was never able to open to much more than that.

With bachelor and bacherlorette parties curtailed, booze-fueled group brunches almost non existent, tourism down and office workers more sparse, Speer said Holy Roller’s sales are down at least 50% compared to this time a year ago.

Holy Roller will serve its final brunches from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this coming Saturday and Sunday, and Speer promises a big party, and Speer left the restaurant’s fans with some parting words of gratitude on Holy Roller’s Instagram.

Speer says she has other projects in various states of development, some of which have been percolating since before the pandemic, but the chef intends to take a few months off to see how things develop in the dining world and to savor what she sees as a success that ran into some historically tough times.

“We accomplished what we came to accomplish,” Speer said. “Was it cut short because we’re in the middle of a pandemic? Sure. Would we do it again? Hell, yea. Because there were so many things that were worth it.”