Photography by Kathy Tran.

ED LOWE DIDN’T ALWAYS want to be in the restaurant industry. When he was a student at The University of Texas in Austin, he kept his hair long and his jeans patriotic, with the American flag sewn on the back. Lowe, who at the time owned a motorcycle, wanted to open a leather shop.

But he had a friend who claimed he knew how to run a restaurant. So the two decided to go into business together, Lowe with his leather shop, and his friend with the restaurant.

What resulted was Celebration, which started in an old stone house on West Lovers Lane. In the 50 years since the restaurant opened, its goal has remained the same: make customers feel at home.

This mission has permeated nearly every aspect of the place. It was designed by John Mullen, an architect whose bond with the Lowe family began long before Ed and his friend came up with their business idea. Mullen befriended Ed’s older brother Jack while they were students at Rice University, and he later designed a house for Jack and Harriet Lowe, Ed and Jack’s parents.

But Mullen’s connection to Celebration extends beyond friendships. He was already familiar with the neighborhood because Celebration was opened near a home Mullen’s parents bought right after World War II, when he was a 4-year-old boy.

“The whole idea from the outset was that it was going to be a neighborhood, family kind of restaurant, and that it would be very good food,” Mullen says. The chosen property itself became an inspiration for his designs.

“It was a little stone house, and so we thought, ‘that fits with our home-cooked meals and good, salt-of-the- earth stuff.’ And so we wanted to feel like home,” Mullen says.

Even though the restaurant has been expanded several times over the years to include a market, catering and accounting offices, additional parking and restaurant space, Mullen and other architects have stayed true to the original concept. When more room was needed, rather than building structures from scratch, they attached other similar old houses to what was already there.

Ed died on a trip to Big Bend National Park in 2018, but elements he cherished remain.

“Ed, the owner, was kind of a laid- back guy, and the restaurant reflected his style and the way he wanted his customers to feel,” says Janet Stone, a regular customer who has been eating at Celebration for 40 years.

Roomy booth seats, which Stone says provide plenty of privacy, are upholstered in leather from Ed’s shop. Though the shop no longer stands, visitors can see other examples of his handiwork in the original, brown leather menus on display.

Dotting the restaurant’s walls are black-and-white images of places, people and animals unique to Texas, photographed by Ed’s friend Shel Hershorn, a longtime photojournalist known for his coverage of the civil rights movement. These are hung alongside Aztec rugs, which business manager Shannon Galvan says Ed liked.

“Not sure where that came from, but they go with the aesthetic of the place,” Galvan says.

Galvan, who started working at the restaurant 15 years ago as a hostess, says the features that stand out to her are the tables, which have solid-wood bases and copper tops and are surrounded by solid-wood chairs.

It’s elements like those — along with staff members including bartender Jon Radke, who has been at the restaurant 35 years — that make the restaurant feel like home.

“A lot of customers have been coming here since the ‘70s, and so I think it’s a place for them to celebrate, you know, small things in their life and big things in their life,” Galvan says.

Celebration is not only what Galvan calls a “generational” place, where couples come by themselves and later as parents, but also a place customers love and frequent.

Stone, for example, dines at the restaurant two or three times each week. She sits on the patio with her dog, Ajax, and usually orders the vegetable plate. If she goes at night, she orders salmon.

“I think a lot of us that go there all the time kind of feel like, ‘oh yeah, well this is kind of like being at home, except someone cooks for you,’” Stone says.

Background music at Celebration is streamed on Pandora. The restaurant plays a variety of genres, but tracks by Bob Dylan are usually incorporated, to the pleasure of Radke, a fan of the folk singer-songwriter.

The mood is further set by ambient lighting, such as lantern-style wall lights by booths, dimmed in the evenings.

Whether it’s copper-topped tables, leather menus or the fireplace decorated seasonally with locally sourced produce, the design elements of Celebration all reflect the restaurant’s founder.

“The truth of the matter is, Celebration Restaurant is all about Ed Lowe. I mean, Ed was really the guy,” Mullen says.

And no one, even after 50 years, can imagine Celebration looking any other way.


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