Farm to Fork headed to Liberty Hill
By Rachel Madison
A familiar location in town will be home to a new restaurant in early 2021. Formerly the home of Hobo Junction, Farm to Fork is slated to open its second location in the same building, once renovations are complete.
Since purchasing the Hobo Junction building in late 2017, Anderson Price, president of Life Long Property Management, has been excited to see what the restaurant’s potential is.
“We have bought several retail buildings in Liberty Hill, and when we saw Hobo Junction for sale, I talked to my partner,” he said. “We wanted to preserve the funky, old aspect of the place. We didn’t want to tear it down and put a Taco Bell there, which would have been the easy thing to do, but we wanted to keep what was unique about the restaurant. We wanted to keep that little piece of Liberty Hill there.”
Improvements to the restaurant started in mid-2018, when former owner Nacona McDowell was still there running Hobo Junction. But because of the building’s condition and lack of insurance approval, the restaurant was closed in March 2020. McDowell had talked with Price about remodeling the building, but over time, and after opening the Junction Café in Bertram, she decided to dedicate more time to that location and move on from Liberty Hill. That’s when Farm to Fork came into the picture, Price said.
“We’re talking with Amy Schaffner, who runs Farm to Fork in Leander,” he said. “It’s a delicious place. I happened to be eating there and I brought it up with the owners that we were in the process of remodeling this building and our current tenant wasn’t interested in continuing to operate, and they were excited.”
Price said the lease is not a “done deal” yet, but they are working on the final lease terms as well as kitchen design and associated costs, and then his hope is to announce that Farm to Fork will be the new tenant.
“Amy grew up eating at Hobo Junction, and her food is very similar to the food that has been served at Hobo Junction over the years,” Price said. “It made sense to have another chef with ties to the area serving a similar type of fare.”
The remodeling process has taken much longer than initially expected, Price said, adding that the coronavirus pandemic added another layer to an already difficult permitting process. The permit for the building was submitted in January 2019 and was not approved until July 2020.
“We were trying to get a permit from the City [of Liberty Hill] for over a year, and it was extremely difficult to get that done,” he said. “Hobo Junction was in a historical building, and it has a certain amount of character we want to preserve. However, if you have to abide by every single new rule created since these buildings were done, it’s impossible to save those buildings. The costs of abiding by those rules—you just can’t do it. You’re better off tearing the building down.”
Price added that the contractor and his team are working as quickly as they can on the project, but with delays of materials due to the coronavirus and working within the City’s rules, it’s slowed the process significantly.
“We’ve done as good a job as we can to abide by the rules but also keep the original character of that building,” he said. “It would have been cheaper to tear the building down, but we wanted to preserve the artwork on the interior and exterior, because those murals are a part of Liberty Hill, and we did what we could to keep the memory of Hobo Junction alive.”
Price said a name change to the restaurant is up to Schaffner, but that the menu will change to focus more on scratch-style cooking, which is what Farm to Fork is known for.
The kitchen Hobo Junction staff was working with was not great, Price said, adding that it was small, and there was not enough room for storage, staff or equipment. The kitchen is now three times the size, has all new equipment, and provides a much better facility to put out higher quality and more food, Price added.
Once the kitchen design is finished, the next steps will be plumbing and electrical, followed by drywall and carpentry. All new windows were recently installed, the ceiling was raised, and major improvements were made to the AC unit and bathrooms.
“As soon as the building is done, we will have to get a certificate of occupancy, but as soon as we have that, we hope to have Amy up and running within a couple of weeks,” Price said. “We are hopeful to have everything done by end of the first quarter of 2021 and open then.”
If the City allows it, Price said he also hopes to put in outdoor seating, with picnic tables along the tree line parallel to the railroad tracks.
“We’d love to do drink and appetizer service outside, and create a really family-friendly environment,” he said. “Tentative plans include adding a playground, so if you go, you can sit outside and order nachos and beer and watch your kids play. That’s something Liberty Hill will benefit from, and that’s the kind of place people like to go. All of that will be dictated by what the City of Liberty Hill and local fire officials allow us to do.”
Price said ultimately, he is looking forward to giving Hobo Junction the facelift it needs while keeping it a part of the community.
“We put in retail strip centers and those are great, but a brand-new retail strip center never has the character of an old restaurant going back 75 years that most people who live in Liberty Hill went to when they were kids,” Price said. “That’s why we did our best to keep its character. It won’t be a brand-new restaurant, just a better version of what was already there.”