Taylor morns loss of barbecue legend

On Sunday, Nov. 24, the Taylor community was saddened by the loss of owner of Taylor Cafe and barbecue icon Vencil Mares. 

Two weeks ago, just days before his 96th birthday, Mares received a key to the city and a proclamation making Nov. 10, Vencil Mares Day. 

"We did have that opportunity to have that very public display of affection and respect that we have for him," Mayor Brandt Rydell said. "It was a great way to show him just how much he's meant to this community for all these years. I hope he was able to take that to heart and know just how special he is to this community."

During the ceremony, Rydell said, “There is no place more Taylor, and no person more Taylor. When you come here, you get the true feeling of Taylor.”

Mares had a strong work ethic, was welcoming and tough.

"You can't run a beer joint on a railroad track for 70 years not be tough," Rydell laughed. "Those characteristics and traits he had are what Taylor really identified with. You probably can't find anybody that is more of an embodiment of Taylor."

Rydell said Mares was a connection to a different time when life in Taylor had a slower pace.  

"It calms you. It settles you," Rydell said. "Vencil created that environment here of this is kind of the way things used to be."

Mares was born in the Cistern-Kovar area of Fayette County Nov. 10, 1923, to Stan and Lexie (Zimmerhanzel) Mares.

He served bravely as a medic in the 102nd EVAC unit that landed in Normandy in the Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe. He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious action and serving in five battles. 

After the war, Mares worked at Southside Market in Elgin before purchasing the building for the Taylor Café in 1948, and the restaurant has been open for more than 70 years. Mares said he paid $2,200 for the building.

According to Rydell, Taylor was founded in 1876 and Mares opened the Taylor Cafe in 1948. Taylor Cafe has operated under Vencil Mares half of the lifespan of the city of Taylor.

Jim Downs, who worked with Mares for about 40 years, said Mares was a joy to work with, but it was not always easy. 

"It was rough. He was a good teacher, but he was particular," Downs laughed. "His biggest deal was the food is going to be good. He was a good man and a great teacher."

Anyone who visited Taylor Cafe could find Mares in his chair at the end of the bar. 

"This was his home away from home, and he loved it," said Mares longtime companion Edith Remmel. "He loved the people and that's what kept him going."

Remmel said every night before he went to bed, Mares would say, "is the clock set for 5 [a.m.]?" She said he was up every morning at 5 a.m. no matter what.

She said he never complained. However, while in the hospital Mares was concerned about work operations.

"He was asking if we made the payroll," Remmel laughed. "Another night he asked, 'is the beer cold?'"

Remmel recalled times when people who got off the train would come into Taylor Cafe and ask for food, and Mares never turned them down, which he continued up until his death.

"He was a very caring person, and he never turned anybody down," Remmel said emotionally. "He was unique and one of a kind. He was tough."

Mares and the Taylor Cafe became so iconic, that it has been featured in several publications, including Texas Monthly and was also featured in a Super Bowl Chevrolet truck commercial.

"This place is what it is because of him," Downs said. 

A service to celebrate Vencil’s life will be held on Saturday, Nov. 30, at 10 a.m. at Providence Funeral Home. Burial will take place Monday, Dec. 2, at 11 a.m. on at St. Cyril and Methodius Cemetery in Cistern.

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