Amy first met Phil Clay in 1985 when he was working for the drive through beer store across from the original Amy’s Ice Creams on Guadalupe. We were always looking for hard working service oriented folks so we recruited him to be our first ‘non-founder’ ice cream maker. 17 years later Phil was my partner in Amy’s. Operating Amy’s in the manner we chose to operate it was a lot like parenting our flock. Phil was Papa Amy’s, plentiful solid advice and encouragement.
February 22, 2003, a Saturday, was the first beautiful warm sunny day of the year. Phil went with a group of friends on a motorcycle day trip to Marble Falls. They stopped at The Bluebonnet Café to have lunch where Phil insisted they top their meal off with a slice of famous pie. On the return trip, Phil struggled on a curve and lost his life.
As tragic as this loss was four years later we chose to look at the positive. Phil is the best. His memorial service was the dream service the rest of us could only hope to have. It was five hours filled with testimonials on the impact Phil had on people’s lives. Not just direct Amy’s folks, people who had met him once, all of his suppliers, plumbers, and electricians. His three fabulous sisters had been worried that Phil was lonely here in Austin without his tight family (Sealy Texas). They were astounded by all of the love and friendship, but not surprised, Phil is special.
Phil’s Ice House is named in tribute to this man who touched so many lives. Our hope would be that it is a place where many happy memories are made and Phil can continue to be a part of our lives.
“The road goes on forever. The party never ends.” Robert Earl Keen
You might think the first work to be done would be to come up with the menu and recipes, but Amy and Steve took a long drive to Houston as an opportunity to brainstorm their favorite images for the sign. Old Motel signs, The Nutty Brown Café’s giant cowboy oh….Amy’s favorite sign ever was a sign that used to be inside of a clothing business in Houston called The Cotton Club. Amy had bought retro neon clocks for her first two Amy’s locations from an artist/inventor named Neil Chavigny. He had also designed this sign..It was a porcelain enamel cowboy with a neon yellow lasso that stretched across the shop to capture a neon clock that was set in a star (or a moon). Amy realized she hadn’t spoken with Neil in several years. The Cotton Club had closed years ago…where was that sign? Amy called Neal. The first synchronicity was that Neal lived two blocks behind the new property. When Amy asked about the sign Neal said…”weird..I just got that sign back..you know they never paid me for it.. it’s in my shop.” Amy described their project and asked if Neal would be willing to sell the sign. Neal said “not to anybody but to you” and the logo was born. Evan Boyles created the Phil’s Ice House to complete the sign and look like an old Motel.
Amy and Steve hired Edd Patton (who designed the Amy’s logo 22 years ago) to translate the enamel horse into a logo and to design the letter style for the Phil’s Ice House. Edd grew up in Allendale and had fond memories of being in the family car while they at Otis Hills station.
Amy’s Ice Creams started with the slogan “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first” which represented a strategic approach to the enjoyment of life. Amy and Steve asked the Amy’s crew to come up with possibilities for Phil’s. “The road goes on forever …the party never ends” , a song written by Robert Earl Keen was suggested because it provided hope and fit Phil’s last ride on a beautiful Texas day. Amy and Steve kept trying to come up with something similar that had the same beauty and meaning (but didn’t steal Robert Earl’s words) but nothing could quite match. Finally, they contacted Robert Earl’s manager and asked for permission to use the line….suspense…they ever so graciously agreed.
Amy and Steve spent the next eight to ten months tasting every burger in town (not to mention Don & Bobs in Rochester New York). After putting on a good 10 pounds a piece ( they could eat an ice cream a day and stay away the pounds with a healthy dose of exercise but add a burger a day Woooo challenging) they decided there was no perfect burger. A juicy burger to some was a soggy bun to another. Bun to meat ratio was a topic discussed at great length. Flat top or flame kissed? The decisions were daunting. Finally they gathered a core group of ‘burger tasters’ and began the burger parties. The mini-burgers were an easy way to taste a variety of burger toppings without having to throw in the towel for the day (not to mention a tribute to White Castle) Very Popular. The buns…ahhh those sweet buns. Bob Conover was their meat wizard (he managed Austin’s original Texas Meat Purveyors for 40 years) additional consulting and tasting by Tom Alvarado “the fastest knife in the industry”(29 years) These men have a passion for quality meat. The most popular combinations were chosen by burger taster consensus.
The names were chosen to honor the lovely neighborhoods which surrounded them. The South of Border burger (78704 duh). The Jardin Burger is a burger Amy and Steve enjoy in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from a street vendor who rolls his cart to the “Jardin” (the square) at about 10:00 pm. Amy and Steve had to visit the cart muchas veces to get the recipe just right. The Jardin burger is the only burger at Phil’s cooked on the flat top.
Just like they assembled burger tasters there were a gang of ‘fry tasters’. Skinny fries, steak fries, skin on, skin off, seasonings… Amy and Steve knew what they wanted for onion rings. CHARLES MAYS (founder of Mothers Café, and Chef/proprietor of Café Josie) made the best, thin sliced and spicy. Charles consulted with us on veggie burgers, aioli, onion rings, fry seasoning as well as kitchen design. The final addition was the sweet potato fries! Amy and Steve are big fans of the sweet potato vs. the potato potato. Sweet potatoes are a good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin B6 and Potassium, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Manganese not to mention TASTY.
A (very) small space and a desire for simplicity ruled out salads and fancy appetizers. Sometimes you just have to blow it out.