Haben, who manages that location near The University of Texas, began his career in the restaurant industry as a server for the original location on Kerbey Lane in 2000. Having worked for Kerbey Lane Cafe for 14 years, Haben’s career shifted from serving comfort food to fine dining at resorts and hotels, including The Driskill Hotel, before returning to become general manager of the University location on Guadalupe Street.
“It was not exactly what I wanted to do,” Haben said. “I really missed the casual family environment we have here. Coming back as a GM [for Kerbey Lane in 2019] felt like coming home.”
That coming home feeling turns literal when stepping through the doors of the original Central Austin location on Kerbey Lane, marketing manager Ellen Gruber said. The location is a renovated 1930s house that opened in 1980 and is the longest standing location. The original owners, David Ayer and Patricia Atkinson, lived in an apartment behind the cafe with their son Mason Ayer, who is now the CEO.
Kerbey Lane Cafe has opened seven other locations since its inception. Four of those locations reside in the Southwest and Central Austin areas, each with their own unique styles.
For example, the South Lamar Boulevard cafe is known for matching the level of quirkiness and cool Austin gives off, Gruber said. Daisy Mot, a team member who has worked with Kerbey Lane Cafe for nearly two decades, can be seen working at the restaurant wearing bright leggings, hats, scarves and themed clothes, Gruber said. He is considered to be the unofficial mascot of Kerbey Lane Cafe.
The company took a financial hit when COVID-19 change how restaurants operate in March 2020, Haben said. A significant portion of revenue was lost and relationships with multiple vendors were paused. Without the help of their vendors, team members and staff came together to give the Southwest Austin location on William Cannon Drive a facelift while indoor dining was shut down, Gruber said. Employees also repainted, power washed and landscaped themselves to cut costs. However, other projects companywide were delayed, such as the construction of a new location in San Marcos.
Many obstacles still stand in Kerbey Lane’s way to overcoming lasting challenges the pandemic created. However, Haben’s confidence in his team gives him hope they will pull through.
“One of the things I really like about Kerbey Lane is the family feeling of it,” Haben said. “At all the locations we try to help each other out and we go over and cover for each other. There is an overall productive and positive feel to the company because of the people we bring in.”