Austin’s longstanding Mrs. Johnson’s Bakery has been making magic out of flour and sugar since first opening its doors in 1948.
Once known for it’s birthday cakes, it is now a place where members of every weird Austin tribe gather for desserts, be it morning, noon, or night. Their sugar-drizzled carb rings are an Austin staple simply because of how good they are, which is why Mrs. Johnson’s does not need to advertise. The added benefit of never advertising is that nobody ever bothers to inquire about Mrs. Johnson, which is good because not even the head baker at Mrs. Johnson’s knows who Mrs. Johnson was.
Despite a customer base that stretches back decades, the mystery has plagued the business for so long that they’ve issued a “donut bounty” for any verifiable information on the woman who started it all. A dozen free confections are on the table for any would-be sleuths who can crack the code. So far, no luck.
“[We’re supported by] word of mouth,” John Cassaro, Mrs. Johnson’s head baker, explained to Austin.com from his office, a chair behind their white, brick-mason building at 4909 Airport Blvd. The place seems frozen in time, and that’s not lost on the staff. “We get people who went to the University of Texas back in the ’70s that come in here with their kids and they live somewhere else now,” Cassaro added. “And through them, we get even more people coming in.”
Proof of this was in his dining room. I talked to a couple who stopped by Mrs. Johnson’s after driving to Austin from Michigan, and they were surprised a donut shop would be open so late. “We are here, visiting our daughter and her family, and read about [Mrs. Johnson’s],” they said. “It’s unheard of to get fresh donuts this late [in Michigan], so naturally we had to indulge.”
Machinery used to produce the donuts takes up the majority of their space, and huge windows up front give customers a full view of the production process. Rollers flatten and cut the dough into circles, then workers pick them up by hand and place each treat into a fryer. Watching the assembly line can be hypnotizing.
Of course, Mrs. Johnson’s doesn’t just make donuts. Cassaro’s newest menu item is a brisket kolache, served on the weekends, that’s filled with artisan-made brisket from Johnny T’s BBQ in Pflugerville, which tends to sell out quickly. Other seasonal items, like “Down the Hatch” (a kolache filled with hatch chili) and their pumpkin-inspired items, are soon to become regular fixtures.
Then there are the specialty creations. Cassaro treated me to one of these unique donuts, a creation he called “The King” (pictured), inspired by Elvis Presley. This peanut-buttered, banana-covered, chocolate-drizzled piece of heaven was a beautiful sight to behold, and one of the best things to ever happen inside my mouth.
Maybe if they get even more creative, the media attention that’s sure to follow will trigger someone out there to finally solve the mystery of Mrs. Johnson’s identity. Until then, the bounty stands — but you’ll definitely want to sit before consuming any of this kitchen’s creations.