The Commerce Journal

January 6, 2012

College Corner Cafe provides a taste of Austin in small town Texas

Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — Step into the College Corner Cafe, a recently-opened restaurant located at Lee and Mayo Street, and the first thing you’ll notice is the music memorabilia. There are hundreds of pieces guitars, pictures, album covers and more- framed and hung on almost every square inch of space in the restaurant. The art is the personal collection of restaurant developer Larry “Smitty” Smith whose interesting life has led him from Texas to California to Colorado and, now, back to Texas. During his travels he’s met hundreds of musicians, including the Doobie Brothers, Bad Company, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lou Ann Barton and more. Smith is many of the pictures, standing next to the musicians.

“90 percent of the memorabilia in the restaurant is my personal collection,” Smith said. “The rest friends have gotten for me over the years. It wasn’t bought off e-bay, like you would see in a Hard Rock Cafe.”

The process of turning the property that was at the corner of Lee and Mayo into the bright and open restaurant took a little bit of work and had some setbacks, although co-owner Jeanenne Oglesby believes that the partnership between her, her husband and Smith was “meant to be.”

“We had always wanted to put a restaurant in at the property, but we just kind of put on the back burner,” she said. “Then one day we got a call from someone who wanted to put in a restaurant in Commerce and was looking for an older building.”

Smith had been invited to look at places to develop a restaurant in Commerce, and while his first trip proved unsuccessful, when he saw the current location of the College Corner Cafe, he immediately envisioned what it could become.

“When I first came to Commerce I thought, ‘I’m not going to do a restaurant in this town,’” Smith said. “But once I saw how much money the A&M System was putting into the campus, I changed my mind.”

Oglesby hopes that the restaurant can become a hangout for both local adults and college students.

“We wanted a place for people our age and we wanted to give the students more eating choices,” she said. “We didn’t want something too expensive, but something that was geared towards professors and groups that wanted to come in and have a drink after work.”

Smith is all about being around music, and the Cafe will have more than memorabilia. Live bands from around the state will play Saturday nights and some Fridays. Local resident and Grammy Award-winning musician Brad Davis has put his full support behind the restaurant, and the local songwriter’s night that had been hosted by Davis at the Cowhill Express Coffee Co. has been moved to the Cafe. Smith is also involved in setting up a music festival in downtown Commerce later in the Spring, with many of the showcase bands playing sets at the restaurant. For those that enjoy singing themselves, however, the College Corner Cafe isn’t for them.

“I don’t do karaoke,” Smith said. “Or iceburg lettuce.”

What Smith does is big burgers, hotdogs, and sides made from scratch.

“Everything is going to be big,” he said.

Already the College Corner Cafe has begun to make an impact on the community. The restaurant is a member of the A&M-Commerce football team booster club, they have provided financial support to the A&M-Commerce track and field team and to Jasmine Sanford, who is training for the Olympics is Commerce. A member of the Commerce Chamber of Commerce, the College Corner Cafe has a corner devoted to framed pictures of other chamber members.

“I have never had so much support from a city,” Smith said.

The restaurant will be open, for now, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, with the bar open an hour after the kitchen closes. Smith said that hours could change as business demanded.

Above the restaurant are five apartment units that the Oglesbys plan to rent out: four one-bedroom apartments and one three-bedroom unit. The apartments range in price from $650 to $700 and feature all the necessary appliances. While the only entrances are from the street and not the restaurant, Oglesby did caution that if tenants were worried about the potential noise from the College Corner Cafe below, the units might not be for them.

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