Bret Cali has the general store and café at Bend in San Saba County. He is one clever dude and just might be the new Hondo Crouch, the late self-proclaimed foreign minister of Luckenbach. Hondo became famous for his shenanigans at the little town he bought and put on the map. Major singers appeared at Luckenbach, even wrote and sang songs about the place.
Bret is putting Bend on the map and is having fun doing it. He has the perfect background for it. He’s a world traveler, marketing expert, entertainer and entrepreneur.
“People still love to go to those backwoods, out of the way places,” says Bret. “I bought the store here at Bend after the previous owner told me I was crazy for even wanting it. I had similar establishments in other small towns, but something clicked when I got to Bend. I bought an old building across the street, found an old board and painted Bend City Hall on it and we’ll have 200 people a day taking pictures of it.”
He has made Bend a destination for people looking for fun. Sometimes the line of cars around his place stretches for a mile or so. He is constantly busy finding musicians, preparing food, filling his store with merchandise and being a character.
“We have people from all walks of life that come here: rich folks, working folks, whatever. The vibe here is so good and everybody is so happy. You can relax here. I mean there are chickens jumping up on the stage while the band is playing. The drummer is right next to where the chickens roost so the drummer is having to shoo chickens off his snare drum and cymbals. I never tell the band that’s going to happen so it’s something new to them. Tourists get a kick out of it.”
You can spend the night at Bret’s place. He has cabins and an Airstream trailer he calls the Moon Pie Motel.
“Usually when you use somebody’s name you might get a notice to quit using it because of trademark infringement or what not. Sure enough I got a package from Moon Pie. They said they loved it, sent a banner and asked if I wanted anything else.”
He keeps a list of interesting interactions he has had with customers.
“I’ve had people walk into our little country store and order a caramel soy latte. A woman in a Keep Austin Weird t-shirt wanted to rent a skillet for the night. I told her she could rent it for $10 but she had to bring it back within 5 years. I had some kids ask if I had marshmallow sticks. I actually do. I have probably 50 bags of marshmallow sticks in 2 different lengths. I have a sign in the cabins that says please don’t bring your charcoal grill into the cabin. It has happened more than once. I sprint across the backyard and tell the guests they’ll suffocate and burn down the place. There’s not a lot of outdoor skills being taught in a lot of places.”
About 3 times a week someone tells him Bend is the new Luckenbach. They also tell him he makes the best hamburger they’ve ever had.