Farm to Fork to open in former Hobo Junction location
By Rachel Madison
Things have come full circle for Amy Schaffner, chef and owner of Farm to Fork, as she prepares to open the doors to her restaurant at the former location of Hobo Junction—a place she enjoyed as a child.
Schaffner, along with her business partner Shelly Pogue, opened the original Farm to Fork in Leander in 2015. What started out as a small venture with a couple of sandwiches on the menu grew into a casual fine-dining restaurant.
“We learned quickly that people in Leander wanted to eat good food and they didn’t want to travel into Austin to get it,” Schaffner said. “Both Shelly and I are classically French trained, so it really worked out for us.”
In 2019, Pogue decided to move on from Farm to Fork—she moved out of the country and opened a bed and breakfast—so Schaffner purchased the business with help from a new financial partner, Frank Riha.
“Frank and his wife, Sue, started becoming customers of ours in Leander in 2016,” Schaffner said. “They came twice a week and ate the same thing. When Frank found out Shelly was moving on, he offered to help me buy her out because he didn’t want to lose his favorite burger, so if that’s what it took, he’d do it. He is not a part of the daily operation—he is 81 years old—but he is still around often.”
After the transition, Schaffner said Farm to Fork continued to grow in popularity.
“We modified the menu a bit and made a few changes, but that was kind of that,” she said. “By that time, we had exceeded the amount of people we could feed in Leander. We only had eight tables, and there was sometimes a two-hour wait on Friday and Saturday evenings. We just didn’t have enough seats. We did our best to expand, and even tried to move into the suite next door for us, but it didn’t work out. We couldn’t find anything that suited us and then the pandemic hit, which slowed us down.”
Farm to Fork stayed open during the pandemic, providing to-go services to the community as well as feeing first responders, elderly citizens and school children, and once the dining room was able to reopen, they opened their doors again. But then the winter storm hit in February and created another major roadblock.
“On the second day of the storm we got awakened to an alarm in our building that there was glass breakage and water,” Schaffner said. “Something inside had frozen, ruptured and flooded us out.”
Anderson Price, owner of the former Hobo Junction building, had been a customer at Farm to Fork for some time, and had been telling Schaffner she needed to come see the building for a possible expansion of her business.
“I was hesitant, because I ate there as a child and loved it, but I knew the work the building needed,” she said. “When the flood happened, Anderson took the opportunity to get to my feels and said, ‘Come and walk through it with me, and let’s talk.’ My husband, Jim, and I did, and I don’t know what it was, but walking through the doors felt like we were where we needed to be.”
Schaffner, who has been a chef for 26 years, said when she was a child and she’d eat at the restaurant with her parents, it was always a memorable experience. Her parents have since passed away, which added to the feeling that she was coming full circle by moving into the space. After that, Schaffner dove right in. She left the Leander location behind and turned her focus to the Liberty Hill restaurant, which is more than double the size of her previous restaurant.
What was supposed to be a 60-day remodel project turned into a longer project than expected, but now the restaurant is prepared to open July 1, as long as all building inspections go well, Schaffner said.
“We will continue to do some of the fine dining options where folks can enjoy a higher-end meal on Friday and Saturday nights, but we will also be a seven-day-a-week operation, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Schaffner said. “We want people to come sit at our bar and have eggs and a good cup of coffee, but we also want to offer beef wellington.”
Schaffner said the menu will remain 90 percent the same as it was in Leander, but the breakfast menu will be new as well as several “blue plate specials” for lunch. Dinners will consist of Southern homestyle type foods, like chicken fried steak, grilled pork chops, beef tenderloin, collard greens, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Beer and wine will be available, and eventually a full bar will be as well, pending TABC approval.
“We are super excited to be here,” Schaffner said. “Leander grew so quickly—leaps and bounds every year—and we will miss our community over there, but I take no less than 30 phone calls a day and answer private messages from customers all the time asking when we will be open in Liberty Hill. This just feels right for us—we are a family owned and operated business.”
Schaffner said most of the servers and cooks she’s had for the last seven years are coming with her to the new location. She and Jim Schaffner have five children, and their kids have pitched in to run the front end and manage the restaurant as well.
“One of the greatest things about being a chef and owning a restaurant is seeing people get engaged, married, have babies, go off to college,” she added. “Seeing that line of people out the door, and they’re here because they want your good food, is just the greatest. I want everyone to sit at the table and feel like they are sitting at my table.”
Schaffner said she prides her restaurant on sourcing as locally as possible. A local baker makes all their bread, their beef always come from Texas, the pork comes from Glen Rose and the chicken comes from Stephenville.
“We try to source everything within Texas as much as we can,” she said. “If you want to know where your tomato came from, I can probably tell you. We go to local farmers’ markets to meet local farmers and ranchers, talk to them and ask about visiting their operations. We love to host big dinners where we showcase local farms. We’ll be bringing a whole lot of Texas into Farm to Fork.”
After the restaurant opens, Schaffner said the focus will turn to the restaurant’s outdoor space, which will have outdoor dining and seating, a playscape for kids, and eventually a beer and wine bar. The outdoor area will be dog friendly, and Schaffner also hopes to utilize part of the yard for small catered get togethers, like birthday parties and reunions. The area will also have spritzer fans and will be able to accommodate live music.
“That’s been our one-year plan of getting things rolling,” she said. “We will do little projects after we get open to make it easier to get around the parking lot. Eventually we want to bring the porch out a little more as well.”
The former Hobo Junction was home to two large murals, which the Schaffners tried to preserve. The outdoor mural, of a train, was able to remain, but the indoor mural could not be salvaged because of the condition it was in, Schaffner said. She knew the importance of the mural to locals, so she had an artist take about 200 stills of the mural and put it on a canvas, which will be hung in the restaurant.
Ultimately, in addition to serving good food, the Schaffners want to make Farm to Fork a “go-to place” in town.
“Our customers come for what we represent,” said Jim Schaffner. “It’s the total package. We want them to sit down and have a meal, and they might come in as a stranger, but they will leave as a friend.”
For more information and updates on the grand opening, visit www.farmtoforktexas.com or search for Farm to Fork on Facebook.