News Column

Art Blondin, longtime Central Texas restaurateur, dies

August 31, 2014

By Matthew Odam, Austin American-Statesman



Aug. 31--Art Blondin, longtime Central Texas restaurateur and champion of live music, has died. He was 60.

An employee at Blondin's Art's Ribs & BBQ in Florence discovered Blondin's body Saturday morning at the restaurant. It wasn't known Saturday how Blondin died. Police said they don't suspect foul play.

Blondin opened Artz Caboose Restaurant and Barbecue at 1120 W. Fifth St. with his wife, Zenobia Sutton, in 1986. But he made his name in the restaurant business when he opened Artz Rib House at 2330 S. Lamar Blvd. in 1992.

The restaurant at the corner of Lamar Boulevard and Bluebonnet Lane was known for its sweet, St. Louis-style baby back ribs, chargrilled burgers and convivial atmosphere overseen by the affable Blondin.

"Art was very gracious and way too humble for his talent," East Austin barbecue pit master John Mueller said. "He was probably the most underrated barbecue person Austin ever had."

Artz Rib House was a classic South Austin haunt and was a home for many singer-songwriters and bluegrass musicians, including Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, who held her "Bummer Night" on Monday nights at Artz for years. Blondin was a bass player who performed in Jon Emery's band.

Artz Rib House hosted regular Sunday bluegrass jams, in addition to its regular schedule of live music on weekends.

Fiddle player and violinist Thomas McGregor began regularly attending the bluegrass jams in 2008, and he said Artz became a second home for him.

"Art was always extremely friendly and accommodating to the musicians that played during the jam and/or who performed in the evenings on the weekends," McGregor said. "The interaction between Mr. Blondin and the musicians was one of mutual respect. Art loved the music as much as the musicians loved being there. ... The passing of Art has hit everyone in the music community extremely hard."

In 2009, a group of musicians gathered to perform a benefit for the restaurant owner, who was burdened with tax problems and dealing with the illness of his wife.

The benefit raised $10,000 to help keep the restaurant running, but Blondin filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010. He closed the restaurant permanently in March 2012 and cooked at Hill's Cafe and Jax Neighborhood Cafe before opening Art's Ribs & BBQ on Florence'sMain Street in January.

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Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)


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