2007-03-07 Mother's Garden Burns

Ultimate irony: Meat fire brings down barbecued tofu joint Sunday, March 11, 2007

The ultimate irony struck before dawn Wednesday in Hyde Park when perhaps the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Austin was torched accidentally by a homeless guy cooking steaks.

When I heard that Mother's Cafe & Garden at 4215 Duval St. had burned, I wondered how that could happen. A fire at a veghead place? Have you ever tried to set fire to a zucchini? How's a fire break out at a place without a grease trap?

Besides, a vegetarian joint ought to get better fire protection than a meat place.

Bert's Bar-B-Q near the University of Texas was damaged in a fire after a 911 dispatcher didn't send firetrucks because he thought the place was cooking brisket. But if smoke pours out of a vegetarian restaurant, you don't figure somebody's grilling an eggplant.

So, when I heard that a street dude known as Roadie had accidentally burned down the outdoor garden at Mother's when he fell asleep after starting a "cook fire" to do some steaks, I thought that it was horrible but that a higher being has a twisted sense of humor.

So, what kind of steaks was the guy doing? "I have no idea," said Cameron Alexander, one of the owners of Mother's. "There was also a can of dog food back there that made me wonder because I'm not sure he had a dog."

Mother's will be 27 years old June 6. Alexander said one of the insurance people told him that it'll take five months to put the place back together entirely. The outdoor garden seating area was destroyed. The interior will have to be remodeled.

It may be the first time that steaks have ever been done at Mother's, and Alexander sees the irony. "That was Ed Clements' crack this morning on the radio," said Alexander, referring to the KLBJ commentator. He said the other irony is that the restaurant donated the prepared food that it couldn't serve to Caritas, a charity that will probably give the food to the homeless.

"They got a van here right away so homeless people would get a bunch of lasagna," Alexander said.

Alexander isn't feeling particularly charitable with John Evans, aka Roadie, who admitted that he accidentally torched Mother's after falling asleep while cooking in an alcove behind the restaurant. Evans was not charged.

"He's been a regular pain in the (caboose)," Alexander said. "We've had a trespassing warrant on the guy. We've shooed him away a number of times, made him take his grocery cart away. He berates the customers for unknown reasons, hits people up for change, and on top of that, he's kind of an ornery, mean guy. He's had this ongoing yelling thing with one of our managers."

Sadly, Alexander said, March is the busiest month for the restaurant. So, he's thinking about setting up some tents soon and serving to-go food to keep his employees in paychecks until Mother's can reopen. He's also considering coming up with a funny T-shirt to commemorate the tragedy.

My T-shirt suggestion was "Mother's: No shirt, no shoes, no hobos cookin' steaks." Alexander liked the sound of it. Heck, I'd buy two or three of 'em.

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