Story and photos by Pamela Price
Originally printed in April 2010 issue of Leon Springs Community News
Sixteen years ago a Dallas Morning News journalist described Leon Springs as “not so much a town as a laboratory.”
The writer went on to relate how then-upstarts Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q and the first Romano’s Macaroni Grill were running full-tilt on the IH-10 frontage road, attracting an estimated 15,000 visitors each weekend. Although the Macaroni Grill location closed in the late ‘90s (The Grill at Leon Springs has since opened in its place), both then-young businesses mentioned in the story went on to greater success—and franchising.
Mike Taylor, Leon Springs Business Association president, recalls dining at Phil Romano’s Italian restaurant. “Going to the chain-style versions today is not the same. It did have a real country store, family flavor and of course waiting for a table was never an issue because the wine flowed ‘freely.’”
Taylor regrets that kind of local story isn’t more top-of-mind for residents, especially given how businesses and entrepreneurs past helped shape the community today. “I would personally like to see Leon Springs devote more attention to recalling its history,” Taylor says. “I think everyone on our board would welcome any organization to work with us to put some of the history back into our community.”
Celebrating Leon Springs’ history could have positive economic benefits. In an age when the elusive quality regional economists call “authenticity” serves to lure new residents and businesses to an area, stories of risk-taking entrepreneurs—past and present, large and small—can foster wider appreciation for a community’s uniqueness.
Locally there are a number of tales to be shared dating back to the 1800s, several of them related to Max Aue—father to Rudolph Aue of Rudy’s fame. Local historian Marlene Richardson calls Max “the epitome of a Leon Springs entrepreneur.”
In the 1800s as the first European settlers arrived, Aue built a general store that also served as the first post office and a stage stop.
“As a single man, Aue lived in the loft and basement of this tiny place and then, as more people settled the area, expanded into a larger supply store,” notes Richardson, co-author of The Settlement of Leon Springs, Texas: From Prussia to Persia. “When the military presence enlarged he built a two-story hotel, then an icebox that would hold a boxcar of [Pearl Beer] for the troops on weekends. Until he could build a dance hall/saloon, he erected a beer tent complete with bar, brass foot rails and spittoons.”
“My perception is that the dedication to one’s work found in the Aues and other families continues in Leon Springs today,” says Charlotte Kahl, chair of the Old Spanish Trail Centennial, a group that has helped to educate the public about Boerne Stage Road’s historic significance. “Farmers, ranchers and shop owners are at their work morning to night. Even the artists are painting or pounding brass with focus.”
Richardson says the Leon Springs entrepreneurial spirit “is alive in Mario Obledo, whose vision brought the very successful farmer’s market to the area, and in the tiny Rickati’s Espresso and Gelato Shop.”
“Five years ago, I had a dream. I saw a need for a newer, Italian-style, authentic coffee shop,” says Kat Pennington, who opened Rickati’s in 2008 with her husband, Rick. “And I wanted something special for the whole family, from two to 92, which is why we offer coffee, gelato, Italian soda and our homemade chicken salad.”
Situated in the Fairview Shopping Center, the shop is directly across IH-10 from a Starbuck’s franchise operation—a move some might call bold.
“We briefly considered setting up in Fair Oaks, but I decided that here we are ideally situated between Boerne, Fair Oaks, San Antonio and in the heart of Leon Springs. We have customers from all those places,” says Pennington. “It was an intentional choice to be here, where the hills are beautiful. It’s a rustic place, unique. We designed the shop’s interior to complement it.”
On occasion locals will find Pennington selling cups of Rickati’s signature, medium-bodied “Taste of Leon Springs” blend–the shop’s top selling coffee–at the same weekly farmer’s market mentioned by Richardson.
It’s also not unusual to find Doug Young at the three-year-old market, hawking fresh eggs raised just down Boerne Stage Road.
“We’ve had the chickens for awhile. And we used to give the eggs away or sell them,” says Young, a Harlandale ISD schoolteacher. “Then my kids wanted to sell the eggs here and use the money for Wii games…. We’re definitely a grassroots business.”
On most Saturday mornings when Young and his children set up a booth in the Leon Springs Baptist Church lot, the family runs out of eggs.
“Local [food] is convenient, yeah, but people seek some unique quality or characteristic in these eggs, a freshness,” says Young thoughtfully of his micro-business success.
Just as the Aues and others before him, Young and his brood have carved out a profitable niche in Leon Springs, adding another paragraph to the community’s unique story.
All text and photographs are copyrighted 2010 by Pamela Price. Use *may* be granted with request–but please ask first before copying and pasting materials.