How Texan Katy Bader creates an unforgettable atmosphere and dining experience in an unassuming barn
Words by Nicole Letts
Texan Katy Bader is a renaissance woman. A mom of two, the San Antonio resident has a passion for good antiques, great food, and incredible people, and twice a year, Katy brings these things together in the tiny town of Round Top, Texas. Each spring and fall, antique dealers and lovers flock to the town—population 93—for a two-week antique show unlike any other. A few years ago, Katy realized that Round Top needed a few of life's little luxuries and fast. She opened The Frenchie, an Insta-worthy boutique hotel, and Bader Ranch, a barn turned antique store by day and upscale restaurant by night. Each night at Bader Ranch, there are two seatings for a five-course tasting menu. The food ranges from ceviche to duck confit tacos and, of course, Texas steak. The cocktails and wine list are superb and the setting is pastoral.
Break down for me your professional background and how marrying antiques and hospitality became your career?
I grew up in hospitality. My mom and dad owned a cabin business on the Frio River, which is the prettiest river in Texas. They had nightly rentals, almost like a little summer camp situation. I grew up helping with that. Now we have a commercial dove hunting ranch in Hondo, and I was building the lodge for that ranch. It's basically a European farmhouse, reminiscent of a French chateau. I wanted it to be authentic. That’s how I discovered Round Top. I was sourcing all of these architectural accents like windows, doors, old wood, and old furniture for this house. I kept going to Round Top for every show for three years in a row—six shows total just to source for this project. After every show I would go back home and think about how there was something happening there in Round Top. I could feel it. So, we bought the barn property, even though there wasn’t a barn on it yet.
So, how did a barn full of the most exquisite European antiques come to be?
When I was sourcing for the ranch, I got to know one of the Belgian dealers, Sabine Gildo, because I was one of her best clients. So, I approached her and asked her if there was room to build a space, would she source some beautiful European antiques to fill it with. And she was like, “Yeah! Let's do it!” So, that’s how the barn happened. When I'm shopping in Round Top, and I'm buying French doors, or I'm buying a Belgian antique clock, or I'm buying an Italian sofa, I love it when the person selling it to me is from that country. Sabine hasn’t been able to come back to the shows recently, so I connected with Patrice who is French, and he has been in the antique business his whole life. He brings all the beautiful French stuff over that you see in the barn. My other vendor does mid-century modern stuff, and he's also from France.
Do you feel like you are the person who brings people together?
I'm the coordinator. Someone once said to me that I’m a collector of good people, and I tend to agree with them. There's some shady things that go down in the antique business, believe it or not, but these people who work with me are very authentic, good people. Then you add Nick, who is a phenomenal chef. He does all the cooking himself. Of course, everything's from scratch. When he first started here, he'd never been to Round Top before, but he came one time and immediately caught the Round Top bug. He’s been killing it ever since. Now you can't get a reservation unless you book it way in advance. He's made a name for himself here.
I cannot tell you how much the dinner that I had at Bader Ranch has stuck with me. I still have distinct memories of the flavors. Plus, you've created this atmosphere where you pull up into a gravel parking lot and go inside of a barn for dinner, but it’s filled with amazing antiques. Everything is elevated. It’s homey and comforting but also elegant.
That makes me feel so good, and that's what we're going for. I'm always impressed by chef Nick because he makes that level of food happen in an open-air, super limited kitchen. Take the steaks we serve; they are cooked on a barbecue pit outside.
Tell me more about your kitchen equipment. What is chef Nick working with?
The only thing he really has is a big open range gas stove, a sink, and under-counter refrigeration. Nick goes around and scouts and buys as much as he can from the farmers that are in the area. Then Nick and his team prep for dinner right in front of all the people that are shopping.
How do you get yourself in a mindset as a business owner where you can completely trust the people you hire? That takes an entrepreneur stepping back.
You have to find people that really, really love what they do, and then just get out of the way and let them make it special. I own a lot of different businesses, and if I meet someone special, my mind immediately goes, “How can I put them somewhere in one of my businesses?”
How would you describe the overall Round Top experience, and how does Bader Ranch encapsulate it?
I think it's magical. You're in a beautiful countryside setting in an open-air barn, which creates a rustic atmosphere, but then you have this elegant culinary experience. It is really charming, especially with the sunset and a glass of champagne in your hand. Round Top brings together an eclectic mix of people from all walks of life. You'll get famous people such as designers like Kelly Wearstler or actors like Adrian Grenier, Matthew McConaughey, and Sandra Bullock. And then you get completely normal people like me and you, but everyone is dining here at Bader Ranch or wanting the same deal on an antique. An even playing field. You've all got your same boots on, tromping through the same fields, and drinking the same champagne at sunset.