Soul food Austin restaurant The Rolling Rooster opened its latest location last week, taking over the historic former blues club Victory Grill on 1104 East 11th Street, as of Friday, April 17. The restaurant is open only for takeout orders and third-party deliveries since Austin dining rooms remain closed through Friday, May 8 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I feel like people still have to eat,” explained owner Glenn Williams on why he decided to open the Central East Austin restaurant at this time. “A lot of consumers are running out of options to eat.” He lives in the downtown area and noted that “so many of my favorite places have closed up.” His customers “still rely on us to be open,” he said.
Williams also wanted to make sure that his staff had another place to work. He shared that Wells Branch location of Rolling Rooster has only seen a 25 percent decline in total business during this time.
Rolling Rooster’s full menu is available on East 11th Street, from chicken wings, shrimp, fried catfish, waffles, oxtails, hush puppies, peach cobbler, to banana pudding. Pickup orders can be placed over the phone. People with now-required face coverings can grab food within the lobby, and those without coverings will have to wait outside of the restaurant or ask for curbside service.
Then there are deliveries through Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats. Williams noted that there has been a “significant increase” of business through those third-party delivery companies for Rolling Rooster. He detailed that “40 percent of income” is currently coming from those apps, “versus maybe ten to fifteen percent” typically.
Johnny Holmes opened Victory Grill in 1945, and it became an important part of the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” the network of American-American music venues through the eastern, southern, and midwestern parts of the country. Victory’s stage has hosted performers such as James Brown, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Chuck Berry, and Janis Joplin. It’s listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1998 and is recognized by the Texas Historical Commission.
The Holmes family, who still owns the building, came to eat at Rolling Rooster’s Wells Branch restaurant. “They loved the food and vibe,” Williams said, “and they wanted something similar.” He was already looking to open a more central location at the time. “They proposed that I do it there.”
When Austin dining rooms and bars are able to reopen, this Rolling Rooster will host blues and R&B performances, as well as serve a full alcohol menu from its two bars.
Rolling Rooster started as a food truck in Pflugerville in 2015. Williams turned it into a physical restaurant in Wells Branch in 2017 and expanded into San Antonio in 2019 (which is temporarily closed right now). He also opened a breakfast and brunch restaurant, The Breakfast Bar, in North Austin in 2019.