Explore Texas’s Czech Heritage in McLennan, Burleson Counties

Story by Sarah Naron

Although the annual Westfest which typically takes place each Labor Day has been canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the small city – located approximately 25 miles from Waco and just over an hour from Dallas – still has plenty to offer visitors looking to enjoy a weekend getaway to Central Texas.

“We have the two mainstays that are on the highway that most people are familiar with,” said Mayor Tommy Muska. “That would be Slovacek’s on the west side of I-35 at the 353 exit and Czech Stop on the east side of I-35 at the 353 exit. Both of those are unique.”

Slovackek’s prides itself on being “so much more than a rest stop,” boasting that it provides travelers from near and far with “a unique place to shop and a taste of real Texas Czech flavor.” The establishment features a gift shop, a deli, a meat market, and a bakery offering a selection of 37 different types of kolaches. An additional point of interest is a beer cave in which the temperature is always kept at 32 degrees. Passersby can also grab a bite to eat at the Kissing Pig Cafe, which offers delicacies such as barbecue sandwiches and sausage wraps. Those traveling with four-legged friends will surely enjoy making use of the Slovacek dog park, where pooches big and small can blow off some steam among tunnels, ramps, and jumps.

Slovacek’s is located at 214 Melodie Dr. in West. Hours of operation are Sunday-Thursday from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. For more information, call 254-826-4525.

For visitors who have worked up an appetite while traveling, the Czech Stop promises “Delicious is our Business” and offers a variety of sandwiches and kolaches. Those looking to satisfy a sweet tooth will have a smorgasbord of treats such as brownies, cookies, and pies to choose from at the Little Czech Bakery. During the cooler months when the temperature is typically below 50 degrees, bakery products may be ordered for shipping from Monday-Wednesday.

The Czech Stop is located at 104 S. George Kacir Dr. in West and is open 24 hours per day, including all major holidays. For more information, call 254-826-4161.

Mayor Muska also encouraged visitors to West to visit downtown.

“You take that Oak St. exit for about four blocks, and you’ll see the downtown area,” he said. “You’ll find restaurants, antique shops, some women’s boutique shops, and an assortment of other miscellaneous restaurants and shops.”

Among the newest points of interest in West, Mayor Muska said, is the Fallen Heroes Memorial.

“It was completed last year at the city park,” Muska explained. “That’s where you can pay your respects and read a little bit more about the fertilizer plant explosion that happened in 2013. That’s off of Reagan St. on Stillmeadow Dr.”

The memorial is one Muska said is “very close to my heart.

“Anybody can come there and look it over, and I think they’ll come out with a knowledge that they may not have had before on what happened and the people that were involved; that gave their lives that day,” he said.

When asked to identify his favorite thing about the city, Mayor Muska described his fellow West residents.

“We are a friendly bunch; we’re very accepting and inviting,” he said. “We want people to enjoy our town, and I think you’ll see that in the customer service that all of our businesses offer. I think you’ll leave here with a smile on your face and satisfied that you were treated very well. That’s just a part of our community. We’re a friendly bunch of people that really enjoy having people come and visit us.”

Jeanette Holecek, who serves as a member of Westfest, Inc., was born in the city in 1946 and has remained a lifelong resident.

“I love West,” she said. “I have never left West. Thank God I married someone who lived here also.”

Holecek described the town as “just a nice, good community.

“We have a lot of interesting shops downtown,” she said. “We have four or five bakeries; we’re known for our kolaches. It’s a good town. You just pull off I-35, park your car, and just walk from shop to shop. There’s some beautiful antique stores.”

Holecek added that during the 43 years of its existence, Westfest has raised more than $1 million to benefit the community.

“Last year was our Million Dollar Polka; that put us over the $1 million mark,” she said. “We’re just a really close-knit community.”

Located just under 100 miles south of West is the city of Caldwell – population 4,397 – whose roots run deep with a Czech heritage all its own. Boasting the title of “Kolache Capital of Texas,” the town has hosted the Kolache Festival for more than three decades each September. While COVID-19 has made that an impossibility in 2020, Susan B. Mott, Burleson County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, assured potential visitors that there is still plenty to experience on a trip to Caldwell.

“We have a clinic here that is actually the former home of Dr. Joe Smith; his son and his wife now live there,” Mott said. “Dr. Smith had some great sculptures that he was famous for and has been in several magazines. They have a lot of those statues on display there at the clinic, both inside and outside. So, that is definitely a spot here in Caldwell that people love to visit and just kind of spend the afternoon.”

For those looking to enjoy an outdoor adventure, Mott recommended visiting Nails Creek at Lake Somerville State Park in nearby Ledbetter. The area provides prime opportunities for boating, fishing, hiking, and swimming; overnight camping is also permitted. Those who prefer to get around on horseback rather than on foot are invited to bring their equestrian pals along; horse stalls are available both for day use and overnight use.

Lake Somerville State Park is located at 6280 FM 180 in Ledbetter. For more information, call 979-289-2392.

The city of Caldwell is also home to three museums, including the Caldwell Historical Museum – located at 103 TX-21 and open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday from 1-6 p.m. – the Czech Heritage Museum – located at 200 E. Fawn St. and open Saturdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. – and the Kraitchar House, located at 203 E. Buck St.

“Also, we have a great music venue downtown on the square called The Old Post Office,” Mott said. “They have live music every week, along with great food. We have other great shops and restaurants as well.”

For more information, visit www.burlesoncountytx.com.

For those still hoping to get their festival fix, hope still remains! As of this writing in mid-July, the following festivals were scheduled as planned. Please note that this information is subject to change as the pandemic continues.

  • The 30th Annual Sassafras Festival is slated for Saturday, Oct. 24 in San Augustine. For more information, contact the San Augustine Chamber of Commerce at 936-275-3610.
  • The Buffalo Stampede Festival is scheduled for Labor Day weekend in Buffalo. For more information, contact the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce at 903-322-5810.

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