It has been years since I ate at the Omelettry, but it hasn’t changed…and that’s a good thing. The place has been at its current location on the corner of Burnet Rd and 48th Street for 30 years, and it’s still one of the more popular breakfast spots in north Austin. I visited the restaurant three times in the past seven days, and there was always a steady flow of customers. Just as I had remembered, the outdoor sign board at the entrance was covered with posters. Inside, I found tables with vinyl tablecloths, a friendly wait staff, and customers of all ages — also as I had remembered. Fortunately, my last visit was on a weekday, and I was able to get seated right away. Be prepared to wait if you’re going on a weekend morning.
The Omelettry specializes in omelets and pancakes; however, they also serve sandwiches, soups, and other fare. Although they have a variety of omelets to choose from, for me, their House Special omelet with grilled onions, mushrooms, cheese, and ham with a side of buttermilk pancakes was the obvious choice. The young wait staff are friendly and efficient. I like the fact that they pool tips, so you don’t ever have to wait long for a coffee or water refill.
I met with Kenny Carpenter, owner of the Omelettry (see photo above), on a Friday morning. He stands about 6 feet tall, with a medium-length beard and graying hair, and is the kind of guy that makes it easy to start up a conversation. He said the idea of opening a restaurant that specialized in omelets was an idea he brought with him from Santa Barbara. For about 6 months he worked at a place there called Omelets, Etc. Austin didn’t have anything like it at the time, and he thought it might do well here. Immediately before coming to Austin, Kenny lived and worked at a restaurant in Denton. While he thought about opening up in Denton, his friends at UT convinced him his chances for success would be better in Austin. Nothing was certain, but Kenny and his girlfriend—later his wife—moved to Austin in 1978 to give it a try. Kenny said he only had $10,000, which he thought would probably just get him through 3 or 4 months. Only 23, he thought if it didn’t work, he’d just do something else. His market analysis regarding location consisted of driving around until he came upon the current building, which had a For Rent sign in the window. He looked in, saw it was already set up as a restaurant, and that concluded his location search.
Back then, his only competition was Denny’s, IHOP, and Flapjack Canyon down in south Austin. Initially business was slow, and as part of the novelty of the place the wait staff would juggle. Word soon got out, though, that the restaurant had good omelets and the wait staff would juggle for you while you waited for your food. I don’t know if many people remember the juggling wait staff because it apparently didn’t last long. The new breakfast destination got too busy to keep it up.
Kenny says the restaurant has maintained a pretty steady business over the years. It trailed off a bit in 2000 and 2001, causing him to close at night. Burnet Road gets pretty quiet at night, and there wasn’t enough business to justify staying open late. Since then, the Omelettry’s hours have been 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and that is just fine with Kenny. At one time he was a partner in two other Austin restaurants, but it made his life too hectic. In 1981, he partnered with one of his former wait staff and opened up Omelettry West on Lake Austin Blvd. The partnership lasted until 1986 when Kenny sold off his interest. That restaurant was renamed Magnolia Cafe.
The Omelettry is the only restaurant Kenny has now, and that suits him. His 25-year old son Jesse (photo on the right) works at the restaurant waiting tables and managing the front. Jesse has been working the restaurant since he was 12 years old and seems to enjoy it. Like his dad he’s a friendly guy, making him a good fit with the customers.
One of the memorable events at the Omelettry was the recent filming of a Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez movie, Grindhouse. The film crew set up the back of the restaurant to look like a greasy spoon joint in Lebanon, Tennessee. As Kenny says, the experience was all right, and the job paid well, but he’s not interested in doing it again. It was disruptive. They had to close for three days and abandon their regular customers.
If you are like me and you have not been to the Omelettry in a while, let me suggest you check it out. If you’ve never been at all, you must go. It’s one of those places that represent a part of Austin that many hope sticks around. Dress casual.