photographed by wynn myers
In the spring of 2014, newlyweds Chris and Katie Allcorn did what so many crowded Austinites only dream of: packed up and got out of town. Turned out the small town lifestyle they longed for wasn’t too far away — it lay quietly waiting about 30 miles southeast of Austin in the 7,500 people town of Bastrop, Texas. It’s there the couple purchased an empty historic building on the banks of the Colorado River and began to re-envision it as the hill-country hangout of their dreams: a place with great food, cold beer, and perfectly slow sunsets that fade into memorable nights of live music. Together with their partner Rick Brackett, Katie and Chris opened the doors to Neighbor’s Kitchen and Yard on August 1st. Since then they’ve booked Austin acts with cult followings like Mike and the Moonpies, WC Clark, and Two Tons of Steel to perform on their riverfront deck. Taking cues from the storied dance halls of Texas’s past, Neighbor’s may very well be set to take it’s place next to Luckenbach and Gruene Hall. There’s one major difference, though: don’t expect to order a chicken-fried steak with gravy. In a bold (and spot-on) move, the Allcorns decided to focus their thoroughly modern menu on pizza. Really, really good pizza. Six custom house pies, build-your-own options, and the varying daily slice keep patrons coming back for more. Like every good Austinite knows, when something’s really good around here, the secret tends to get out. We weren’t two minutes into our interview before a denim-clad local sauntered in with a friendly, “Hey Chris! What’s the slice?”
“That’s what we always say — Austin broke our hearts,” reflects Katie on the couple’s decision to move to Bastrop, Texas last spring. The slow, laid-back and friendly lifestyle the couple had envisioned in central Texas seemed increasingly lost in the ever-growing crowd that calls Austin home.
Chris was working in commercial real estate at the time and had a strong interest in historic structures. The nearby town of Bastrop, with it’s wonderfully preserved concentration of historic buildings seemed a natural draw. Observant visitors may recognize the town’s quaint Main Street from movies like Bernie, The Tree of Life, and Hope Floats.
It was the couple’s neighbor in South Austin who turned them onto the historic riverfront property. “That’s why we called it Neighbor’s,” says Chris. That neighbor, Rick Brackett, would eventually go in with the Allcorns as a partner in the business.
The restaurant, which was previously a brewpub, now serves over forty different beers. The re-introduction of domestic staples went over well with the locals: “Thank goodness you’re serving real beer,” one declared upon entering the newly opened restaurant in August.
Katie, who studied studio art and graphics at Mississippi State hand lettered Neighbor’s simple motto on the door:
“Chris has a way with people,” says Katie of her charismatic husband and business partner. “He’s not the kind of guy that’s just gonna say what you want to hear. He charms people with his honesty. Angry customers will come up to me and say, ‘I want to speak to a manager,’ and even though I could field those complaints, my response is always ‘Yes ma’am, I’ll go get him.’ Next thing you know, Chris is drinking a Topo Chico at their table, practically joining them for dinner and making them laugh. He’s a little rouge and that’s why I love him. He doesn’t play by the written rules — he handles things his way, which I think people find refreshing. He has an incredible mind — it never stops. Literally. But we would never have found this opportunity if he wasn’t that way. He’s always halfway to the next thing. I knew when I married him, there would never be a dull moment.”
In true pioneer spirit, Chris and Katie spent a little over one month renovating the space themselves — and never hired a contractor. They ripped out drywall, painted trim, and cut a hole into the back wall to reveal the kitchen. “We’re proud of the kitchen and wanted transparency,” says Katie.
“We definitely wanted a focus,” she says when it comes to the couple’s decision to focus on pizza. “There are a lot of restaurants in small towns that offer a little bit of everything and in effect, the food is mediocre. We chose pizza because we had a friend that could do it well — one of the original kitchen guys at Home Slice.”
The friend, enlisted from South Austin’s iconic pizza joint on Congress Avenue, contracted with the couple and showed them everything from which ovens to buy to how to throw dough.
“If it weren’t for him, I’d have literally been googling ‘how to make pizza’ on my laptop,” laughs Chris.
Katie holds a mouth-watering margherita pizza fresh from the oven at Neighbor’s.
Neighbor’s employees Hadley Tackett and Arlene Berthiaume share a laugh between taking orders.
When it comes to hiring staff in a small town, Chris considers himself lucky:
“I look for integrity and positivity. I want people that will do the right thing for the right reasons. Coming to Bastrop, people said we could never build a strong “staff” and boy were they wrong. We didn’t build a staff at all, we built a family.”
The back deck, with it’s idyllic view of the Colorado River, serves as the stage area for the steady stream of musicians who travel to Bastrop to play at Neighbor’s.
“Our focus is an Americana sound — pure traditional country, blues, bluegrass, and western swing. Our dream act right now would be Sturgill Simpson opening up for Willie Nelson,” muses Chris.
view Neighbor’s music calendar here
The two-step theme runs deep with this couple, who were married in 2013 in an abandoned dance hall in Fischer, Texas.
“We want to do a dance hall next,” Chris confides with enthusiasm.
When asked about his wife, he brims with genuine admiration:
“None of this would exist without her. Things develop in my mind in a pretty chaotic fashion. Katie is able to take those ideas or thoughts and not only turn them into a neatly executable concept, but is able to always take it a step further. She is in full creative control and I think it is very rare for someone that creative to have such a strong business acumen. I have always believed that a strong business is not much about what you see, it is about what you do not see. That is all Katie — she is our linchpin. If you removed her from the equation we would stall. Bottom line, she doesn’t get enough credit.”
“Everyone told us, don’t go into business together,” he confides. “Don’t open a restaurant in Bastrop. You’ll never find good staff. They were wrong on all those points. We’ve consistently made money since the day we opened.”
Chris and Katie stand on the front porch of their home, which sits on the property next door to the restaurant.
When asked what’s been the hardest thing about leaving Austin, the couple answers in unison:
“We’ll still make the drive into Austin for the biscuits and gravy at Counter Cafe, the duck molé enchiladas at El Alma, Elizabeth Street, Sway, and breakfast tacos from almost anywhere. And we never ever leave Austin without some Grandma’s Hummus in tow. If they had a subscription service, we’d sign up in a heartbeat,” says Katie.
Chris hangs with the couple’s two pups, Caroline (left) and Judge Judy (right).
“Judge Judy was never made for city life,” says Chris, “She has a long history of disrupting neighbors. Out here she gets to swim all day and never bothers a soul. And Caroline loves it anywhere.”
A friend of the couple gifted them the “Come and Take It” flag — a replica of the famous one flown at the 1835 Battle of Gonzales during the Texas Revolution.
“Chris is an eighth generation Texan, so it’s fitting to have some Texas memorabilia in our home,” says Katie. “We’ll be on a random walk, and he’ll start spitting off tiny Texas factoids that no one should know — like, “Stephen F. Austin made a speech on that porch… ” It’s insane. I love it.
Chris’s passion for his native Texas is evident in his interest in small towns across the state.
“So many Texas towns are just asleep right now. This was one of them,” he says of Bastrop.
But don’t assume everything about this Southern couple, who decided to call the pizza “pie” on their well-designed menus.
“My mom hates it,” laments Chris. “She says, ‘Chris, that’s what yankees say!'”
pictured: the El Camino Real House Pie from Neighbor’s
Katie and Chris with their friend and manager, Justin Kula.
“I don’t think Kula is capable of being placed into a single role,” says Chris of his longtime friend Justin. The two have come a long way since their days as roommates at Texas A&M.
“He literally does a bit of everything. He is there every morning before anyone else with a solution to a problem I wasn’t even aware existed. That’s the kind of guy you want.”
When asked what advice they’d give a couple who wants to move to a small town and go into business together, Chris and Katie offer unique perspectives:
“Do it,” says Katie. “There’s something about starting a business in a new place that makes you grow into one another. It teaches you to communicate in a raw manner on a deeper level.”
“Rip the band aid off,” declares Chris. “It’s so rewarding to be a part of a small community — the characters, the pace, the quirks. Small towns are full of opportunity just waiting for someone with the right idea.”
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