Callie Speer is ready to do her own thing. For her, that means a punk rock-inspired restaurant dedicated to brunch and drinks all day and night long, while being surrounded by an extremely talented group of women. The end result? Holy Roller, coming this July.
Speer, along with Britt Castro (pastry chef), Jennifer Keyser (bar manager), Nicole Cruz (assistant bar manager), and Sarah Bevil (general manager), aim to bring their high-caliber food, drinks, and service to the Rio Grande Street restaurant that’s, in every sense, theirs. She wants everyone to go down their own paths, they can do whatever they want.
Speer collected former colleagues from over the years, and offered them the opportunity to work somewhere that encouraged creativity and really thinking outside of the usual Austin restaurant box, with a “try anything once” attitude. The women have all worked with each other: Speer and Bevil at Swift’s Attic; Speer, Castro, and Keyser at Hotel Van Zandt and Geraldine’s; and Keyser and Cruz at Contigo.
Building a team of female leaders wasn’t Speer’s outright goal, but the happenstance was a good one. “You have to look at somebody and say, ‘Here’s the baby, don’t drop it, don’t shake it, please.’ I don’t worry about the baby with these people,” she told Eater. There is trust and respect and consideration amongst the crew.
“When the four of us are sitting at this table [in the upstairs command center], it just feels super good,” Keyser said. “Knights of the square table.”
After working at Hotel Van Zandt, Speer was ready to embark on her own adventures where she was the leader, especially after her ideas were usually turned down because it was “‘not fancy enough,’ or someone thinks it’s too weird.” She added, “This was just my ‘stick it to the man’ moment.”
Holy is meant to be fun. “I wanted to open something that was lacking in pretension, lacking in the sort of ‘give a shit,’” which turned her onto the punk rock descriptor for the restaurant, “the spirit of punk rock but with the whimsy and art behind it.”
Holy Roller née Bombshell came to be when Wahoo’s Fish Taco owner Gary Della Croce wanted to shutter the West 6th area location, but he was particular about what would take over the space. Speer’s husband, Philip (who was already in the middle of opening his French bistro/American diner Bonhomie on Burnet) told her about it, and it sparked an inkling of an idea. Speer quickly put together some plans and lookbook, showed it to Della Croce, and voilà, it was hers.
This all happened in September. Ten months later, Holy Roller is ready.
Holy Roller treads that “fine line of doing things we like,” Speer said, “but also selling to the neighborhood.” It’s meant to service the West 6th Street neighborhood, which means, “you’re not going to sell a bunch of drunk people at night salads. You’re going to sell them a sandwich or brisket biscuit.”
“I feel like we have something for everybody,” Keyser explained. “The partiers, the shot drinkers.” On the other end, families are more than welcomed, too.
“We’re doing that in the most creative way we know how,” Speer said, “with the least amount of bullshit behind it. We can’t hide behind plateware.” Holy’s food will be served on trays, pie tins, liner paper, and soda parfait glasses, and there will be condiment caddies (with hot sauce) on the tables.
The 6th Street crowd is ready: people are already walking by the restaurant during the construction period, asking if it was open yet.
The Work Culture
The drive to want to come into work is important to “getting the quality of life back that we all lacked for so long,” said Speer. Spearheading that efforts is Bevil, the general manager.
“It’s a sense of family,” Bevil explained, emphasizing trust and respect, while also focusing on individual needs. The team affectionately refers to her as the restaurant's mother, the mama bear.
Along with managing, Bevil can be seen in the trenches with her staff, doing everything from bussing to hosting. “If I ever thought I wasn’t any of those things,” she said, “then I wouldn’t be able to get that group of people to believe in me and what we’re working for.” That makes for a happy team, which in turn means happy customers.
The Food and Drink
Holy Roller embraces the fun with its all-day brunch menu. Most items will have pastry components, from the fried potato dumplings that resemble gnocchi to migas kolaches. She’s looking forward to offering what she deems as her correction to “Trudys [Tex-Mex’s] shitty migas enchilada dilemma” by adding hash browns, beans, and queso. Plus, it’ll span the usual diner fare: meatloaf, burgers, sandwiches, salads, chicken, steak, etc.
Weekend brunch will be different from weekday brunch, and the Saturday and Sunday highlight will be the Seven Deadly Sins. It offers various edible interpretations of the illicit vices, like gluttony and envy, in the team’s clever, visual ways, with drinks, food, and pastries, on view with display case (remember Speer’s bloody zombie Willy Wonka cake?). People will be able to pick and choose which sins they want to indulge in, or opt for the all-out ultimate sinner package.
Castro is in charge of what Speer dubbed the pastry corner, as well as the rest of the desserts and breads. “I want to make food that I want to eat,” she explained, “and not have to worry about other people’s opinions.” Expect her take on choco tacos, cornbread tres leches parfait, cookies, and more. Instead of typical slices of pie, she’s creating what she calls “chips and dip,” which means pie filling and mashed-up crust.
“Punk rock religious kitsch” is Keyser’s approach to Holy’s drinks, drawing inspiration from the music genre, churches, and day drinkers. Cocktail names and flavor profiles were derived from songs, which means Bolivian Bible Thumper, Ruby Soho, and Swizzle for Sheena (“Sheena was a punk rocker, and she liked things bitter,” she explained.)
The drinks menu is focused on refreshing drinks, using ice, soda, ginger beer, and other light ingredients. There is the Jagermeister pina colada ("I didn't want to like it, but I did enough to put it on this menu," she said); the Moscow Mule with tamarind soda; the Black Flag, a whiskey sour with a red wine balsamic reduction.
As for beer, there are all-local drafts (including one of the first kegs from returning Austin brewery Celis), along with bottles and cans. Wine sticks with the all-day theme, which means a lot of bubbles, from prosecco and rose, ranging from low to high prices. For weekend brunch, the beverage menu will include pitchers of spritzers and Bloody Marys, along with a garnish bar.
The space of Holy Roller is one to be explored, with various corners and nooks and crannies. It is set up to transition seamlessly from morning hours meant for working and getting ready for the day to the midday lunch break to happy hour and dinner to late night drinks and bites.
The entrance features the lounge area with comfortable sofas and chairs, along with the pastry and coffee bar and counter. Then there’s the main dining room with tables, chairs, and love seats, and the secondary dining room — which can turn into a semi-private dining area with velvet curtains — with banquettes. Underneath the giant Iggy Pop portrait is a big round table meant for larger groups. The skylight brings in a nice touch of natural light to brighten up the darker space. Speer’s most prized possession is the light-up crown sign that came from Club de Ville, where the Speers had their first date.
A Return to the Casual
Speer wants Holy Roller to usher in a wave of casual restaurants that actually make great food instead of what she called “overdone” establishments. The recent Austin restaurant landscape “has become about pretension or the fuss and pomp put into a place, and you’re not getting a lot of love out of it.” There is this mentality of “we’re going to do this because this is what we were told is the cool thing to do.” This isn’t the case with Holy Roller.
Holy Roller is, essentially, Speer in restaurant form: “It’s a resting place for the weird ideas I had resting in my head that I wanted to put cohesively in one environment,” all found on Rio Grande Street.