Alamo Springs Cafe:
Come for the bats; stay for the food
by Phil Houseal
Feb 22, 2006
Thousands of visitors come to the old train tunnel to see the bats.
Mike Tangman came, and saw opportunity.
That’s how Cordon Bleu quality food and hill country music helped establish the Alamo Springs Cafe, located out Old San Antonio Highway next to the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area, near Fredericksburg, Texas.
(Flash forward four years to read article on how Texas Monthly named them "Best Burger in Texas")
Tangman had 18 years experience in upper management at Radio Shack when he began contemplating a business move to the hill country.
He began visiting the bat tunnel, more interested in the flow of traffic and visitor behavior than the streaming bats.
“I saw that families were coming out two hours early to watch the bats emerge,” Tangman said. “The kids would be hungry, and everyone was wanting something to help pass the time.”
Tangman decided a restaurant would do well in this unlikely location. He built the Alamo Springs Cafe just a few hundred yards from the observation platform.
The restaurant opened Memorial Day, 2004, and it’s been a hit ever since. Thousands still come for the bats. But every week more people are there for the burgers.
“Food quality is our main concern,” Tangman told me during a recent visit. “We do everything from scratch - there is no prepared food. We even make our own jalapeno poppers. We have a can opener for emergency purposes only.”
You wouldn’t expect a place with “cafe” in the name to have a chef. But George Fuentes holds a culinary degree with a Cordon Bleu endorsement. Fuentes creates his culinary art in the same room as the diners enjoy it. “I get a lot of immediate feedback,” he reports.
The café offers nightly specials, from blackened chicken breast stuffed with mushroom stuffing and chipotle ranch dressing to beef pot roast with carrots peas and gravy, all under ten bucks. Pies are homemade from scratch. Breakfast is available any time. Plans are in the works for their own line of “secret sauces.”
Tangman is so confident of the food quality, he printed bumper stickers that proclaim they make the “Best Burgers in Texas.”
“Quality is one thing we won’t skimp on,” he said. “We just try to make sure everybody gets good service and good food.”
(During my interview, one devoted and territorial customer leaned over and whispered, “You need to write that the food is bad, so no more people come out.” Sorry - too late.)
Live music is an important part of the Alamo Springs Cafe ambience. Currently the Alamo Springs Cafe features live music every Saturday night. But Tangman has bigger plans.
“We want to increase the musical experience,” Tangman offered. “Right now Saturday is enough. We get a lot of music artists who come alone... they don’t bring their whole band. So it is an opportunity to hear your favorite musician unplugged, up close.”
Tangman plans to complete the wrap-around porch, add an outdoor stage and dance floor, and install a waterfall. Upstairs will be a bed & breakfast.
“We want to be a venue for hill country music,” he said simply.
So this spring, take a drive out the Old San Antonio Highway. You can come for the bats. But be sure to stay for the burgers and the blues.