Roadtrip 2020 Day 1: Sad News From Marble Falls Blue Bonnet Cafe

The Texas Wine Country is beautiful and we always feel blessed to visit Fredericksburg. But this trip, we are just passing through. Later this year we plan to visit the vast National Museum of the Pacific War.

It’s been years since H-E-B donated an existing store behind the Admiral Chester Nimitz museum (in old family hotel) to house the President’s Plaza and add more war artifacts. It’s been a least a decade since I visited.

I understand the entire complex has expanded and is now Smithsonian-like featuring WWII exhibits, including a recreated combat zone.

We also made a pit stop to enjoy buffalo grazing under shade trees at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Park and childhood home in Stonewall.

Our first official stop was the classic Hill Country eatery in Marble Falls, the Blue Bonnet Cafe.

Dodie heard of its acclaimed status, but had never been. A must stop when traveling up HWY 281 North from San Antonio, the cafe has never let me down.

I told her about traveling from Memphis back through this way in 2001. It was getting late. We were hungry but thought it was worth passing up other dine in places, knowing the restaurant might be not be opened by the time we made it.

While others waited in the van, I went to check if they were closed. The door was locked. As I walked back, admittedly disenchanted, a voice called out of the darkness behind the building.

“You look hungry? You traveling?” a nice man with a touch of graying hair and glasses came out of the shadow.

“Yes Sir,” I was startled. “Coming in a little too late I guess. Almost made it.”

John Kemper

“Who’s with you?”

“My dad and son,” I replied, scratching my head. “We’ve been up in Mississippi and Tennessee, just trying to get them home to my house in Boerne.”

“Well, why don’t you just come on on,” the friendly man smiled and put out his hand. “I’m John Kemper.”

Dad, Mark and I had the best home cooked meal of the entire trip. But best of all, it made for an enduring memory.

A few months later, I was visiting Austin in business for H-E-B Food/Drugs based out of San Antonio. There to meet a vender and disposal waste manufacturer, they had set up a small mobile classroom type unit next to our store at William Cannon and IH-35 to show us new advances in waste recycling technology.

“I hope you don’t mind, Jack, but we invited another client to join us since we had this opportunity to bring this unit to the area,” the sales representative said. 

“Not a problem,” I replied about the time the other client walked up. I recognized him, and put out my hand. “I know you. Your name is John.”

“That’s right,” he smiled a bit puzzled. “John Kemper.”

“–and you’re from the great Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls.”

He laughed, remembering the event when he let three hungry souls in after hours earlier in the year.

Kemper was a first rate guy and it was easy to see why his cafe has earned a worldwide reputation for good food and friendly service.

I wanted to say hi to him and asked our waitress if he was around today. She quickly looked behind herself and turned her head back to me with a disturbed and emotional expression.

“I’m so sorry to tell you this but John died last month.”

A rush of sadness hit our table.

Later, I looked at his obituary. He passed away on May 14th and suffered complications from Parkinson’s Disease.

“John turned the Blue Bonnet Café into a world-famous restaurant and served his community well. He helped originate the Walkway of Lights and Lakefest. He actively organized and campaigned for a local hospital for more than 20 years. He also served on numerous civic boards, including the Marble Falls Lake/LBJ Chamber of Commerce, where he acted as president, the Marble Falls Tri-Commission, the Baylor Scott & White Capital Campaign Steering Committee, the Baylor Scott & White Advisory Board of Directors Marble Falls Medical Center, and many others.”

Rest in Peace, John


  1. My condolences on the passing of your friend. Your experience years ago proves he was a very kind and compassionate man.
    Joyce Morris


  2. One of my favorite stopping places to eat! Sorry to hear the owner passed , I hope they will continue to feed the thousands with the great food of the past. And those wonderful pies!


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