By Myra Lee Adams Goff
The Startz Café has the distinction of being one of the only small businesses in Comal County still in operation by the same family for over 50 years. They just received the Texas Treasure Business Award in 2014. They were nominated by Representative Doug Miller. This story is about how the Startz Café in Startzville came to be.
Looking at family trees can be both enlightening and mind-boggling, especially if it traces the Startz family. Their family tree reveals to me that if they had a family reunion of all the descendants, there wouldn’t be a hall big enough to hold them. The Texas story of the Startzs’ began with the arrival of Johann Startz and wife Margarethe Loeffler Startz on the first ship sent by the Adelsverein to Texas, the Johann Dethardt in 1844. Traveling with them were her three children, Katherine Loeffler, Christian Loeffler, and Louise Loeffler and the couple’s children together, Heinrich Startz, Friedricke Startz and Caroline Startz.
Johann Startz received a town lot in New Braunfels on Seguin St. but soon after arriving in New Braunfels settled in the area of Mission Hill and then moved to Smithson Valley. After Margarethe died, Johann married the widow Catherine Wenzel and they had one son together, Ludewig. It is thought that the family then moved to Buffalo Springs Settlement on the upper Guadalupe near the third river crossing.
Johann’s oldest son, Heinrich, moved to an area known as Hillview, near where our story of the Startz Café takes place. Heinrich married Louise Artzt and where they lived would later be known as Startzville. It was 17 miles northwest of New Braunfels near Tom Creek. Startz Hill, originally called Hillview, was changed to Startz Hill to honor Heinrich Startz. With its height of 1,400 feet, it is the highest point in Comal County. Later land owner, Carl D. Allen, donated the hill to Comal County and it is now named Allen Park. It was considered the first county park in Texas. From its summit, one gets a view of Smithsons Valley and a stunning view of Twin Sisters Mountains 32 miles away. Author Laurie Jasinski in “Hill Country Backroads” reveals details of an ancient sea bed which can be viewed at the park providing travelers with interesting fossils and water-formed rocks. The Sanders family found many geodes, some round and some split open revealing their crystalline centers.
This land in the hill country (Bergland in German) is what my grandmother called “the mountains”. Her description of the mountains was any place above the Balcones Escarpment. She had lots of friends in the mountains and it was a long time before I associated this area with mountains. It wasn’t what I learned in school as mountains.
Now let’s get to the Startz Café. Just down the road from Allen Park (Startz Hill) at the intersection of Cranes Mill and Sattler Road, Bruno and Viola Elbel had a cedar yard and a store in 1939. The Elbels built a house with a small grocery store inside where they sold mostly to the cedar choppers in the area. Cedar chopping was a big business. This home burned down in 1942 and so they built a rock home in its place. This was the building that Curt and Alice Schlameus Startz leased from the Elbels in 1944 and bought in 1946. Curt Startz was the son of Heinrich and Louise Startz.
In addition to the home there was an ice house which still stands, and two gasoline pumps later removed. Ice was in demand even before tourists arrived. Because Startzville was not on the Guadalupe River like other settlements, they had to rely on well water with a windmill. Also standing is a hand pump for kerosene.
Curt and Alice Startz were the sole owners of the store. Alice ran the store after Curt’s death in 1959. The Startz’s son, James Sr. and his wife Lorine, were the next generation to run the store. It was James Startz, Sr. who added the café next to the house.
The area was first called Startzville by Dr. E.J. Duffin who did a painting in 1950 of the front of the store calling it Startzville after the original members of the Startz family. By that time they had lived in the area more than 100 years. His humorous comments painted on the side of the building were: Startzville – Paradise Valley of Comal County; Population, same; Elevation, unchanged; Temperature, delightful; ice, groceries, beer. According to local author and historian, Alton Rahe, Dr. Duffin was possibly a good friend of the Startzs and owned 310 acres of land adjoining the Startz property.
With the building of Canyon Lake and Dam, nearby Cranes Mill and Handcock were submerged. Possibly the only advantage of not being on the Guadalupe River, Startzville remained and the area’s population increased as it became a tourist spot.
After the death of James Sr. and Lorine Startz, their two children assumed ownership of the business. They are James Startz Jr. and Sandra Startz Duncan. A fourth generation member of the Startz family is presently running the thriving café. She is Monica Startz Wetz, daughter of James Startz Jr.
Sandra Startz Duncan has some interesting memories of her grandmother, Alice Startz. Sandra and her brother James spent lots of time with her at the café. Like a few other early business women that I have heard of in Comal County, Alice had her opinions and didn’t mind sharing them. She was strict about a “no shoes, no shirt, no service” policy. Once she went out with a shotgun during the night when some teenage males were confiscating beer and soda and were putting them in the bed of their truck. She held them at gunpoint and used the pay-phone to call the law.
Sandra remembers activities like domino games and cards with lots of beer. She said her grandmother, although she had a “raw” sense of humor, was well liked.
Café hours are: 6am-2pm Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday; 10am-2pm Tuesday; 6am-8pm Thursday and 6am-9pm on Friday. Some of the old time family favorites include such items as Oma Startz’s (Alice) original chili and enchilada recipes, and Mamo’s (Lorine) pies like she made them.
It’s still a family operation with family members helping out. They “stayed put” and “bloomed where they were planted” in Startzville, Comal County, Texas.