By Avery Tanner
College Station is home to Texas A&M University — and that’s about it. But just 5 miles down the road is Bryan, a locale made for a culture-filled weekend getaway. Commonly referred to as Aggieland, the Bryan-College Station area houses students and lifelong residents, as well as transplants from Louisiana who moved to town after Hurricane Katrina.
FINDING COMMUNITY IN BRYAN
Approximately 85,000 people live in Bryan, but the town feels even smaller thanks to its tight-knit community. The town is full of restaurants and shops representing many different cultures, including Korey Thomas’s The Remnant from Nawlins.
The Remnant is a product of community. The restaurant is a taste of New Orleans on the outskirts of Bryan, but it offers more than just food. The Remnant also functions as a church on Sundays.
Both the church and the restaurant are owned and operated by Thomas and his family. Thomas moved to Bryan after Hurricane Katrina wrecked his hometown of New Orleans in 2005, but the move was essentially an accident.
“We were headed towards Houston but there were no more spaces in Houston for us to stay and we ran out of gas here and Motel 6 on Texas Avenue was the only place that had a room,” Thomas says.
Thomas and his nearly 20 family members were suddenly residents of Bryan-College Station, a place he had never heard of before.
“I thought to myself, ‘We gonna try it here or we gonna move around?” Thomas says.
The warm people and community of the towns kept him and his family there. The Thomas’s were not the only family to land in the Brazos Valley region after the hurricane. Thomas has connected with several other people from New Orleans who have settled in Bryan. Some came directly after the hurricane and some did not, but Thomas says he appreciates bringing them together over their culture in his restaurant.
Texas was the fastest growing state from 2000 to 2006, according to the Real Estate Center of Texas A&M,. The victims of Hurricane Katrina are believed to be a large part of the 12.7% increase in population in Texas.
“The number of domestic migrants (people coming to Texas from other states) grew from roughly 60,000 from 2004 to 2005 to nearly 218,000 from 2005 to 2006,” Dr. Steve Murdock writes in the A&M report.
The restaurant was born after Thomas and his family began to feed the homeless community of Bryan-College Station.
“A lot of the homeless people were coming to our church so we wanted to help get them back on track with food and jobs,” he says.
The Remnant’s no-frills fare is savory and spicy. Highlights include the house gumbo, fried catfish served with a secret dipping sauce, and the daily special — authentic Cajun crawfish. One of the restaurant’s fans is Billy Kennedy, head coach of the Texas A&M Men’s Basketball team. Kennedy is also from New Orleans, and Thomas says he visits regularly, as do many A&M athletes.
Thomas leads the Remnant’s church every Sunday. The church service and the restaurant are both built around community, a value held highly in the Bryan-College Station area.
“I wanted my kids to not grow up in the environment that I grew up in so I left that and stayed here,” says Thomas, a father of three.
His two sons work in the restaurant, and Thomas hopes to pass ownership to his kids one day.
The sense of community felt in the Remnant seeps through the town of Bryan. Wander through downtown Bryan to meet locals and enjoy the culture of small-town Texas.
Several A&M students recommended the Grand Stafford Theater, a spot that plays a large part in a popular Downtown Bryan tradition. On the first Friday of every month, the city of Bryan gathers for First Friday, when musicians play along the streets and shops stay open late. The Grand Stafford Theater hosts a free concert every first Friday.
Bryan is full of thrift shops and antique stores. Old Bryan Marketplace seems to go on forever with shelves of clothing, home goods, gifts, and Madden’s, an in-store restaurant serving lunch and dinner.
Another hometown favorite is The Farm Patch, a family-owned market committed to bringing the freshest produce to the Bryan community.
THE BUSH EFFECT IN COLLEGE STATION
As a first timer to the Bryan-College Station area, walking the A&M campus is an important stop. It takes less than 10 minutes to drive from Bryan to College Station.
The university was inaugurated before College Station even became a city and the Aggie connection is strong, with businesses flying A&M flags and many locals sporting Aggie gear.
The prime spot on campus is Kyle Field, where the Aggies play their home football games. The stadium is pretty majestic in person, so big you can barely fit the whole thing in a picture.
The legacy of President George H. W. Bush looms over the town. It seems like everything in College Station is named after Bush. There’s the Bush School of Government and Public Service, The George Hotel, and of course, the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Since the death of President George H. W. Bush in November, visitation numbers have increased to the second highest per-month rate since the library’s grand opening, says David Anaya, the library’s Director of Marketing and Communications.
“People are really coming from all over to give their condolences and well wishes to the family and to celebrate this man, not just because he was president but because he did so many other good things as well,” Anaya says.
Bush chose College Station as the location of his presidential library because of the culture of Bryan-College Station. The spirit of the town and the mood on campus contributed to his decision, as well as his respect for the corps cadets at A&M. The community embraced the library from the beginning, supporting it and the Bush family.
When the library first opened, visitors would often spot President Bush and his wife, First Lady Barbara Bush, on the grounds of the center.
“We had sightings of them by the pond fishing, as well as out in the local community at their favorite places,” says Anaya.
One of the Bush’s regular spots was Christopher’s World Grille, a restaurant that holds the distinction of having once served all living presidents. Chef Christopher Lampo serves upscale but approachable European-inspired fare that President Bush often had catered to special events at the presidential center.
The George Hotel is a recently opened boutique hotel in Century Square, a mixed-use development across the street from A&M’s campus. Century Square feels like a mini-Domain straight from Austin, featuring Tiff’s Treats, Hopdoddy, and more Austin favorites. The George pays homage to President Bush with its name, but is actually quite modern, with hip décor and comfortable rooms.
Not far from campus is Sweet Eugene’s House of Java, a charming coffee shop serving a decent cup of coffee and better than your average study snacks, including crepes and kolaches. A classic homework spot for A&M students, the building is full of kitschy decorations and walls covered by bookshelves.
Bryan and College Station share a location, as well as a tradition of family and community. College Station is, of course, home to the Aggies, but also to a piece of the country’s history in the Bush Presidential Library. With homegrown restaurants, inviting shops, and a Main Street full of friendly locals ready to share their expertise, Bryan offers more adventure and activity.
As one student says, “We go to class in College Station, but Bryan’s where the culture is.”