Iconic Marble Falls restaurateur dies, leaves legacy



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John and Belinda Kemper (pictured here in 2019) hosted fish fry events over the years benefiting the Marble Falls Area EMS. Kemper, who was 67, died on May 14.




Special to The Highlander

An iconic entrepreneur – responsible for attracting visitors and providing a hometown venue for locals – has passed away at the age of 67.

Owner of the Blue Bonnet Cafe John Michi Kemper of Marble Falls died Thursday, May 14, due to complications associated with Parkinson’s disease.

“Our beloved owner and the patriarch of our family, John Kemper, died yesterday,” according to a statement from the Kempers. “We are heartbroken. … Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.”

Kemper and his wife of 47 years Belinda Kemper, were high school sweethearts.

The community leader's steady work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit as well as supportive family members and friends have been credited for the ascent of his endeavors throughout the Highland Lakes.

“John turned the Blue Bonnet Café into a world-famous restaurant and served his community well,” his obituary read.

Marble Falls native and Mayor John Packer articulated how Kemper was a pivotal steward for the Highland Lakes.

“It’s hard to find words to describe the impact that John and Belinda Kemper have had on Marble Falls. John has helped shape the Marble Falls community into what it is today,” Packer said. “The organizations and events that John selflessly donated his time and money to are too many to name. John is a true icon in the community who will be dearly missed.”

In 1981, Kemper purchased the Blue Bonnet Café from Don Bridges. The restaurant's home-style meals and signature pies with gravity-defying meringue kindled nationwide attention and attracted famous former governors and presidents as well as TV and movie stars to the eatery.

He was among leaders who forged a trail for development, turning what used to be a sleepy little town with one stop light into a thriving tourist attraction and growing community.

“John Kemper was an ambassador for our beautiful community and an admired business leader. He has always supported the chamber of commerce and our events, even if he wasn’t able to attend,” said Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jarrod Metzgar. “He was a great friend as well, making each of us feel special and important and would often ask how our families were doing.

“He took pride in everything he did and was always humble and kind,” he added. “This is a very sad loss for our community. He will be missed.”

Local residents who knew and served with him for decades expressed shock at Kemper's passing.

“The loss of the prescence of John Kemper will form an irreplaceable void in the Marble Falls community,” said Burnet County Judge James Oakley. “I'm still coming to grips with it all - that I won’t see him again working in Blue Bonnet Cafe kitchen for the Marble Falls Area EMS twice annual fish fry.”

Friends, colleagues and loved ones reiterated how support for first responders was one of the most cherished and consistent contributions to the community.

“John and Belinda Kemper have been shutting down their restaurant twice a year for over thirty years for the EMS Fish Fry. The financial impact to MFAEMS over that time period in the way of training and equipment is huge,” said EMS Director Johnny Campbell. “There has never been one single person that has or ever will have that sort of impact on our organization.

“In addition to the monetary support, these fish fry’s have always brought the community and its leaders together for a common cause,” Campbell added. “John was a friend to EMS and a friend to our community and will be truly missed.”

From the 1970s through today, Kemper was active and effective with not only his business acumen but his sense of civic service.

“He helped originate the Walkway of Lights and Lakefest,” his obituary read. “He actively organized and campaigned for a local hospital for more than 20 years.

"He also served on numerous civic boards including Marble Falls Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce where he acted as president, the Marble Falls Tri-Commission, the Baylor Scott & White Capital Campaign Steering Committee, the Baylor Scott & White Advisory Board of Directors Marble Falls Medical Center and many others.”

Reflective of his humble roots, the University of Texas graduate cultivated his knowledge of home-style cooking and business management by working at restaurants including the Observation Restaurant on Lake Buchanan and managing the Meadowlakes Country Club.

As word of his passing became known, a diverse group of residents offered personal accounts of pivotal and life-changing experiences with Kemper.

Former Blue Bonnet Cafe employee Kelli Lindsay Boone expressed her sorrow on social media after hearing of his passing.

“What a great man. What a great boss. He will be missed,” Boone wrote.

Veronica de la Hoya, who also worked with Kemper through the chamber, recalled his genuine nature, especially as he participated in fitness programs with Verus Strength & Fitness Transformation Lab in Marble Falls.

“Sad day for Marble Falls! We lost a great man and role model. Everyone knew John Kemper, the owner of the Blue Bonnet Café,” de la Hoya shared on social media. “I was blessed to have known him as John. I had the pleasure of being in the same 5 a.m. workout class with him.

“That’s where I met him on a more personal level about eight or so years ago. He was always so positive and was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” she added. “So humble and kind. Always said 'Hi.' Working for the city and the chamber I saw first hand how he was always there for our community no matter what and on so many levels.”

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