New Ranch 616 owners and old friends of Kevin Williamson on what's changed, what remains
The Ranch Waters are once again flowing and the quail are flying off the grill at the iconic Ranch 616, which had been closed at Nueces and West Seventh streets throughout the majority of the pandemic.
Legendary Austin chef and restaurateur Kevin Williamson, who died of cancer in November, bequeathed the pop-art icehouse to his friends Pam Blanton, Katherine Clapner and Tony Trungale. The trio reopened the space on April 1 with a celebration that served almost 1,000 diners.
Blanton, Williamson’s best friend since the two met in the mid-1990s in Aspen, says her stewardship of the restaurant keeps her close to her longtime friend. She said that the partners take seriously the stewardship of the restaurant’s legacy while pointing it toward the future.
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“It’s the biggest honor and privilege I have ever had in my life,” Blanton said. “For him to entrust the three of us with his legacy is monumental. We strive everyday to make it honor Kevin, but we’re also striving to be better.”
Clapner, who owns Dude, Sweet Chocolate in Dallas and worked as pastry chef at Ranch 616 in the early 2000s, oversees the menu that has kept most of its crowd-pleasing classics, eliminated a few dishes and added a couple more.
Diners will still find quail, frog legs, fried oysters and steaks on the menu, as well as a new chopped salad. The bar menu will forever be anchored by the Topo Chico-and-tequila Ranch Water that Williamson made famous. The drinks menu also features a new frozen cherry limeade and Deep Eddy Vodka concoction called the K-Wow, in honor of the moniker given to Sonic-loving Williamson by his granddaughters.
Major damage from the freeze in February 2021 meant that the restaurant had to be “rebuilt from the ground up,” Blanton said. Some of the restaurant’s trademark kitschy art was lost, but Bob “Daddy-O” Wade’s 1940s Western swing band art is still the dining room’s centerpiece. There is now a wall that features a slew of framed photos of Williamson with his seemingly never-ending parade of friends.
The restaurant’s signature exterior signage, designed by Wade and created by Evan Broyles, also remains, and many of Ranch 616’s longtime employees have returned to the front and back of house.
“It’s a party. Even at lunch, it’s loud and people are drinking. The patio is always filled up,” Blanton said. “I’m seeing a lot of old faces, a lot of old blood, but I’m also seeing a lot of the youth who I haven’t seen over the last 10 years. Everyone says they were so scared we were gonna change it and make it different, but we have honored Kevin, and I feel very, very proud that he’s smiling down.”
Ranch 616 is open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner and Saturday and Sunday for dinner. The restaurant's new owners also plan to reopen the two-story bar adjacent to Ranch 616 next month, rebranding it from the Rattle Inn to the Wiggle Room.