By SHELLY WILKISON
BERTRAM – Although closed since February, people still stop by the Hungry Moose Restaurant from time to time hoping for the smells of freshly made pizza and the friendly company of Les Ware Jr.
The recent presence at the restaurant of Ware’s oldest sister, Mary Lou Wells, has the community and travelers abuzz with speculation as to a possible reopening of the Bertram landmark.
“Things here have kind of evolved, like everything does in a family,” said Mrs. Wells. “This building has been part of the evolution of our family.”
Just as changes in the Ware family have made reopening the Moose as a restaurant unfeasable, the possibilities are unlimited as to what it might be in the future.
The family will reopen the Moose under the name White Moose Hall in time for the Oatmeal Festival at the end of August. Vendors displaying crafts and various items will fill the hall, and concessions will be available.
As home to an air-conditioned craft fair, visitors will see a place of opportunity.
With a fully-functional commercial kitchen and two areas perfect for entertaining, the family plans to lease the facility for private functions. The Hall is an ideal venue for weddings, receptions, family reunions and other parties or special events.
Mrs. Wells’ father, Les Ware Sr., who passed away in October 2012, dreamed of running a business and built the tin building in 2001 at 360 W. State Highway 29. After raising a family in Austin while working for the Texas Department of Transportation, he retired and built a home on acreage outside Bertram that had been in his wife’s family for a century.
The building became home to The Country Florist and an ice cream parlour that served Texas-made Blue Bell ice cream. Mrs. Wells said her father introduced the ice cream as a way to bring people into the flower and gift shop. Soon, pizza was added to the menu, as well as sandwiches and other light lunch and dinner fare.
Well-loved in the community, Ware Sr. enjoyed delivering flowers for the business that was run by his daughter-in-law. Mrs. Wells said her father never met a stranger.
“He loved making people happy and seeing their faces when he delivered flowers,” she said.
The family closed the florist side of the business with the passing of Barbara Ware, and father and son focused on the restaurant.
Mrs. Wells described both her father and brother as “out-of-the-box thinkers.” The Hungry Moose was their dream and they worked tirelessly to make it a special place for Bertram families and visitors passing through town.
She said the restaurant became home to the lighted creature atop the building after her brother purchased the white moose on a trip.
“He just liked the moose and put it on top of the building,” she laughed. “It wasn’t planned, it was just something he ran across.”
At night, the moose was lit and became a landmark and popular stopping place for hungry travelers.
The Hungry Moose signature pizza brought customers from across Central Texas. And once inside, visitors got a glimpse of Bertram’s special place in the world. Old photographs and memorabilia lined the walls and a collection of school yearbooks was a treat for young and old alike.
Two months after their father passed away, her brother, Les Ware Jr., was diagnosed with cancer. He lost both kidneys and is undergoing various treatments. Mrs. Wells said when his condition improved late last year, he reopened the restaurant from December through February.
“He is amazing,” she said of her brother. “He is the most amazing man. He stays positive, is funny and has an incredible sense of humor despite all of these challenges.”
In February, it became clear that managing the illness was going to require Ware’s full attention. Mrs. Wells, a real estate agent in Georgetown, said she knew nothing about running a restaurant.
“This (closing the Moose) has been very painful for him (Ware Jr.),” she said. “This was their (her father’s and brother’s) dream.”
As time has passed, she said her brother has become more at ease with the decision to close the restaurant and is happy to know of its evolution into something else.
She said the family is trying to sell the building. It is their hope that keeping it open to the community for craft fairs and special events might draw the attention of another dreamer looking to make a difference in their beloved Bertram.