An Old Victorian Home Gets Filled with Food,Friends, & Laughter
Words by Jessi Devenyns Photos by Eric Morales
On the corner of 11th Street and Rosewood Avenue looms a gabled 1890s home, its façade enclosing an unused space that has descended into the first degrees of dilapidation. Formerly the home of one of Austin’s premiere black physicians, Thomas DeLashwah, as well as one of Austin’s first City Council members, this structure has had its fair share of businesses call its historic walls home. Its latest revitalization, however, is truly a labor of love.
Jesse DeLeon, the chef of the location’s upcoming restaurant The Rosewood, laughs as he tells the tale of his renovation adventures. As a historical home, he explains that the city has exacting specifications on what can be altered on the property, and as he is attempting to convert the space into a fully operational restaurant, the regulations can be daunting.
However, DeLeon says it’s worth it because if he wasn’t cooking in a house, he doesn’t believe that he could truly call his food home-style cooking. “This house has influenced the direction of the food more than anything else,” DeLeon explains. “It has let me become much more casual and simple with what we’re planning on doing.” What he is doing is South Texas cuisine, which he hopes to offer in an earnest made-in-your-mom’s-kitchen approach to entice neighborhood residents to stop by and reclaim this historic property as their own.
As the house is nestled at the entrance into the Rosewood neighborhood, DeLeon feels that capturing the essence of the community is the critical component to successfully opening this restaurant. In order to accomplish this, DeLeon has taken the unusual approach of letting the house dictate the direction of the renovation. “The house basically told us what to do with it,” he shrugs. “Our goal is just not to screw up the space.”
The bones of this house are regal. With two levels that can be accessed by a tightly twisted staircase, the interior has an airy feel that is accentuated by the floor to ceiling, double-paned windows that sit atop well-worn wooden parquet. A pair of identical fireplaces proudly divide the front of the home from the back, their chimneys encircled in old oak panels that DeLeon intends to preserve for their continuity to the past. The overall effect is like stepping into a photo of your grandmother’s childhood home.
With surgical exactitude, DeLeon and a team of architects have been meticulously peeling back the layers of this historical home and, in the process, have revealed original ornamentation that DeLeon says is more ornate and inviting than anything he could hope to design himself. In a twist, DeLeon chose to mute these elaborate embellishments to create a feeling of curiosity and encourage diners to engage with the home. “I love the aspect of turning this into something much less in your face,” he grins and sheepishly explains that when you mute the gaudiness inherent to the Victorian architecture, one is compelled to look closer. “You kind of start just wanting to touch it.” Perhaps it’s due to his own inherent proclivities, but DeLeon has planned many portions of the restaurant to be interactive. From Bocce ball courts on the front lawn to a bar that faces into the kitchen, DeLeon explains his approach saying, “I don’t want people to be worried about being too loud or too happy.” After all, the best part of home cooking, according to him, is not the food but the atmosphere that it creates.
1209 Rosewood Ave.