Exclusive: Freedmen’s barbecue near UT is closing. Here’s what’s next.

Freedmen’s — the barbecue restaurant near the University of Texas that has consistently held a spot on the Austin360 list of Top 10 barbecue restaurants in Austin — will close Aug. 31 amid plans for construction of an apartment complex around the historic building at 2402 San Gabriel St.

Freedmen’s is closing Aug. 31. (Contributed)

Cuatro Kowalski earlier this summer sold the building, which has been home to Freedmen’s barbecue and cocktail bar for the last five-plus years and which is registered and protected as a historical landmark by the City of Austin, to a group called AMS Retail Two. The group plans to develop the surrounding area into a horseshoe-shaped apartment building that caters to student housing in West Campus, Kowalski said.

Kowalski, who bought the building in 2010 and opened Freedmen’s in December 2012, said he wanted to stay in the space, but when he realized that the coming construction would surround him, taking away his parking and introducing obstacles such as temporary interruptions of gas and electricity, he decided to sell. Once the housing complex, which includes the land where the former Tap 24 and current 7-Eleven stand, is completed in approximately two years, Kowalski said he hopes to reopen in the historic space.

The building was originally constructed in 1869 by former slave George Franklin and served an important role in the early African-American community of Austin, including a stint as home to the Rev. Jacob Fontaine, a community leader and newspaper publisher.

While the storefront is closing, Kowalski said he has found a commissary space that will allow Freedmen’s to continue to operate and service the company’s catering and event business. Additionally, Kowalski said he is working on securing a lease for a new business called Four Stones, which the Austinite said will be “a sexier Freedmen’s.”

When he opened Freedmen’s in 2012, Kowalski intended the space to be a cocktail bar first and restaurant second, but that equation got turned on its head over the years. Four Stones, which Kowalski hopes to open by the end of the year, would be a return to that intended business model, focusing on whiskey and an expanded wine list while serving Freedmen’s barbecue cooked at the commissary.

While the future of Freedmen’s sits in limbo with the new development coming and the new focus on Four Stones, Kowalski said he has not completely given up on the idea of relocating Freedmen’s if he found an appropriate space.

“Freedmen’s has a certain feel about it. If we find that in another location, we would open a Freedmen’s in another location, but the location I’m negotiating right now doesn’t have that feel,” Kowalski said. “We didn’t want to force Freedmen’s into this location.”

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