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Owners of Lamberts and Perla's planning a Vietnamese cafe for former Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse site

Mike Sutter

When chefs go looking for somewhere to wind down after dinner service, it's usually a place with food that's stylistically worlds away from what they cook professionally.

For Larry McGuire and Tommy Moorman Jr. — who split their time between fish and oysters at Perla's and ribs and brisket at Lamberts Downtown Barbecue — that place will be Elizabeth Street Cafe, where they can get a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich or a noodle bowl. The difference is that they'll own that place, too.

The two chefs plan to open the Vietnamese bakery and noodle house in June or July where South First Street meets Elizabeth Street, the former home of the Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse, which moved a few blocks south earlier this year.

"It's not a very big project. It's just kind of a neighborhood-y thing," McGuire said. "We're not trying to compete with the traditional Vietnamese places. We're just interested in the cooking and really like eating it, so we just thought we'd do one."

The 40-to-50-seat space will be open for moderately priced breakfast, lunch and dinner daily until around midnight with baguettes, croissants and pastries baked in-house by pastry chef Alexandra Manley, coffee drinks, beer and wine, plus pho, banh mi and other Vietnamese standards. McGuire said the cafe will make its own pâtés and pickled vegetables for the sandwiches, which will run $5-$8, with noodle bowls running $8-$12.

The cafe will take over what for many was a revered place for vegetarian food, coffee and bumper-sticker activism, the kind of changeover that makes for classic South Austin theater. But Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse owner Leslie Martin said the move was an act of necessity, not the result of being squeezed out by something new.

"The bottom line is that we were totally undersized. We did not have enough space," she said. At Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse's new location at 1900 S. First St., Martin has added table service and parking and doubled her staff from 30 to 60 people. "We had made so many improvements in the food and the quality of the coffee and building a clientele that was diverse. And I was ready either to take it to the next level or do something else."

Martin said the cafe will add to the diversity of the street. "I think it's great. I was happy that they weren't tearing it down, and I was happy that someone had the means to fix it up. And I love Vietnamese food anyway," she said.

McGuire has addressed one of the issues that dogged Martin by working out parking agreements at adjacent lots, he said.

To oversee Elizabeth Street Cafe, Perla's, Lamberts and other projects, the owners have started a restaurant group called McGuire Moorman Hospitality . The group includes Continental Club owner Steve Wertheimer, Jett Butler of Foda Studio, accountant Carla Work and project manager Margaret Vera.

The task of turning the eclectic coffee space into a Vietnamese cafe modeled after French Colonial architecture in Hanoi falls to Jamie Chioco, who owns Chioco Design and worked on Perla's as well as the Royal Blue markets and Galaxy Cafe at the Triangle.

The old house will stay, with some cosmetic, landscaping and functional changes. "For this space, it really is important that we bring a mood and a feel to it," Chioco said. "It's such a great corner and an important corner on South First. There's going to be a lot of outdoor area, the same kind of feel as what was there originally with Bouldin Creek."

The new tenants "wanted to keep that South Austin feel — a little bit funky and not too complicated," Chioco said. "We're going to be using a lot of wood. There's going to be some bright colors. That's one of the things that the Vietnamese do in a lot of their spaces, both on the inside and the outside."

McGuire doesn't seem too worried about the new culinary direction. "We didn't really know how to do barbecue before we did Lamberts, and we weren't really oyster or seafood experts before we did Perla's," he said. "We find something that we're interested in, learn about it, then kind of put our spin on it."

msutter@statesman.com; 912-5902