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Artz Rib House founder Art Blondin dies

Matthew Odam

Longtime Austin restaurateur and champion of live music Art Blondin has died. An employee discovered Blondin upon arriving for work at Blondin’s Art’s Ribs & BBQ in Florence, Texas, on Saturday morning. An autopsy Monday will determine the cause of Blondin’s death, and police say they do not expect foul play.

Blondin opened Artz Caboose Restaurant and Barbecue at 1120 W. Fifth St. with his wife, Zenobia Sutton, in 1986. But he made his name in the restaurant business when he opened Artz Rib House at 2330 S. Lamar Blvd. in August 1992.

The restaurant at the corner of Lamar Boulevard and Bluebonnet Lane was known for its sweet, St. Louis-style babyback ribs, chargrilled burgers, and convivial atmosphere overseen by the affable Blondin.

“Art was very gracious and way too humble for his talent,” J. Mueller Meat Co. trailer owner John Mueller said. “He was probably the most underrated barbecue person Austin ever had.”

Artz Rib House was a classic South Austin haunt and served as a home for many singer-songwriters and bluegrass musicians, including Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, who held her “Bummer Night” on Monday nights at Artz for years. Blondin was a bass player who performed in Jon Emery’s band.

Artz Rib House hosted regular Sunday bluegrass jams, in addition to its regular schedule of live music on weekends.

Fiddle player and violinist Thomas McGregor began regularly attending the bluegrass jams in 2008, and said Artz became a second home for him.

“Art was always extremely friendly and accommodating to the musicians that played during the jam and/or who performed in the evenings on the weekends,” McGregor said. “The interaction between Mr. Blondin and the musicians was one of mutual respect. Art loved the music as much as the musicians loved being there. … The passing of Art has hit everyone in the music community extremely hard.”

The music community’s love for Blondin was evident in 2009, when a group of musicians gathered to perform a benefit for the restaurant owner, who was burdened with tax problems and dealing with the illness of his wife.

The benefit raised $10,000 to help keep the restaurant running, but Blondin filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010. He closed the restaurant permanently in March 2012 and cooked at Hill’s Café and Jax Neighborhood Café before opening Art’s Ribs & BBQ on Main Street in Florence in January.