Two optimistic serial entrepreneurs are breathing new life into historic Coleman, Texas, with their modern and sophisticated establishments.
By Chantal Rice
Rolling into the small town of Coleman, Texas, population less than 5,000, is akin to jaunting into just about any other minimally inhabited Texas locale off the beaten path: Once-thriving businesses have departed, leaving behind empty lots and ramshackle structures haunted by the memories of generations past, though, of course, the courthouse remains a dominant fixture on the square; few locals wander the streets, presumably secreted away in their timeworn homes on the edges of town; and peeks of billowing green, combined with the unmistakable fragrance of livestock, hint at the acres upon acres of wide-open spaces, ranchland and prairie just beyond the hill.
Despite its many relics of a bygone era, there is a charm to this quaint burgh. A turn down Commercial Avenue, once lined with the many fundamental businesses of a small community,reveals strands of festive lights strung low above the street, as well as pleasant melodies pumped through a public sound system and an assortment of splendid wall-sized murals, many of them created by Texas artist Calina Johnson. The few locals sauntering into the Coleman Public Library or Owl Drug—Coleman County’s hometown pharmacy since 1923—are warm and easygoing.
But modernity is creeping—and sometimes clawing its slick way—into Coleman, with varied success. The latest merchants hawking progress are Laurie and Robert Williamson, who hail from West Texas but escaped to Coleman after careers in the film industry in Dallas, opening a slew of local businesses, including their glossy 410 Gallery, filled with gorgeous photographs of nature and the ranching lifestyle shot by Robert Williamson himself; the RLV vineyards and wine bar; their sleek yet approachable Rancho Pizzeria; and their key-stone business, Rancho Loma, a five-room boutique hotel nestled among hundreds of acres of idyllic countryside.
While the chic nature of these establishments may belie the weathered essence of this town, formed in 1876, the Williamsons’ enterprises do hold alluring appeal, for visitors to Coleman anyway.
“This is our home and we wanted to improve it,” Laurie Williamson says of why the couple desired to bring their businesses to town, beginning in 2006 with the opening of their Rancho Loma restaurant and continuing on to as recently as 2015 with the birth of their pizzeria.
“Our businesses are definitely a weekend thing with people from out of town. Locals either love us or not.”
And therein lies the paradox of small-town revitalization. For instance, though the RLV wine bar is a shiny and swanky example of what progress can look like (and is the kind of classy, modern tasting room that would be consistently packed were it located in Austin), locals rarely frequent the joint, perhaps considering it a bit too out of place for Coleman. Additionally, residents were not so keen to pay for high-priced coffees when Laurie Williamson opened a contemporary café across the street, forcing her to shutter the business before it really got off the ground. She hopes a soon-to-open steakhouse taking its place will be more readily embraced. However, locals are quick to extol the attributes of Rancho Pizzeria, even happily offering up opinions about their favorite pizza options, essentially proving that tiny Texas communities may only welcome so much—or particular varieties of—revitalization at a time.
The Williamsons’ tony and cozy Rancho Loma hotel and on-site restaurant, located a few miles away in Talpa, Texas, don’t have trouble attracting guests, as most patrons of the inn visit from larger Texas cities, and the restaurant’s fare—cooked up exquisitely by Laurie Williamson, with the menu revised weekly—is nearly reason enough to travel the three-plus hours from Austin to Coleman, but there are some seemingly discordant characteristics of the hotel property.
Located on a vast amount of land, the hotel begs for visitors to disconnect and refresh amid phenomenal big skies and unspoiled pastoral views, friendly chickens and the many farm animals that call the place home, and bask in the genuinely unequaled lush air and lack of cellphone service. But by virtue of the fact that the modestly scaled inn boasts only five rooms, albeit luxurious in their minimalistic style, it can feel a bit like close quarters, particularly for guests who may be in search of a solitary experience among nature. And the lack of bathroom doors in the guest rooms adds to the potential for discomfort or awkwardness, even among room cohabitants.
Likewise, the adjacent restaurant—which oddly does not carry RLV wines nor any alcohol, for that matter—is compact in nature and reminiscent of a classic stone cabin, with tight seating for only about a dozen guests. This inherent intimacy leads to somewhat of a forced communal ambience that may not be espoused by all.
Regardless of a few possibly vexing details, Rancho Loma is worth the visit, its off-the-grid qualities providing a welcome chance to luxuriate amid a ravishing natural landscape. And the folks who reside in Coleman, billed the friendliest town in Texas, are more than happy to tip their hats to visitors, along with a hardy “Howdy!”
Must-visit Coleman Spots:
Rancho Loma hotel, rancholoma.com
Rancho Pizzeria, ranchopizzeria.com
410 Gallery, 410.gallery
Rancho Loma Vineyards and wine bar, rlv.wine
Bonneville retro furnishings and accessories, m.facebook.com/bonnevillecoleman
Owl Drug, owldrugrx.com
J.L. Palmer Boot Co., facebook.com/groups/287946172053430
Coleman Public Library, cityofcolemantx.us/library