Sixty cattle amble through Bill Bryson’s 150-acre Waldo farm, tucked away in the country and situated near a pond. But Bryson is far from settling down. He wants to add more animals, more produce. He wants to turn the area into an artists’ retreat.
These are just a few of the latest endeavors on Bryson’s long list of entrepreneurial ventures in the community. His most recent project is Crane Ramen, a craft noodle shop in downtown Gainesville. It officially opened in December. The restaurant’s atmosphere mimics that of Bryson: simple and with a story.
The 48-year-old’s outfit is unassuming: worn-in maroon loafers, light-wash denim and a faded graphic T-shirt. He is easygoing, with each story he recounts flowing easily into the next. He laughs when he details particularly funny memories—when he jammed out with a musically gifted schizophrenic or antagonized audiences while on tour with his old band.
Bryson lives on the farm with his two cats, Zina and Eenie Jordan. From Indianapolis to London, Bryson has moved more than 10 times. He received undergraduate degrees in psychology and communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, later dropping out of medical school at Indiana University. He briefly returned to UNC after to study graphic design and desktop publishing.
Gainesville, however, is home.
“My life has been spread all over the place,” he said. “I’ve never had a sense of community like I have here anywhere else. It takes time to build those kind of roots.”
Bryson has been a fixture in Gainesville culture since he moved here in 1992. From Grow Radio, a local music station; to the Covered Dish, a local music club; to Sweetwater Organic Coffee Co., Bryson’s eclectic range of enterprising businesses has been a mainstay in the community.
Bryson credits his assorted resume to his weakness for the word “no.” He attributes his successes to those around him.
“My secret is finding a good team,” he said.
A part of that team is Crane Ramen co-owner, Fred Brown. Brown and Bryson met nearly 20 years ago in Gainesville, when Bryson ran the Covered Dish and Brown performed at the venue. Brown later moved to New York City to work in the culinary business. He returned five years ago, and the old friends reconnected. A little more than two years ago, they started talking restaurants.
“The ramen phenomenon had been going on in larger cities for about 10 years,” Brown said. “We saw a market for it here.”
They chose the Sandhill crane as the symbol for the shop because of its spirit. Universally, it is a symbol for peace. Locally, the crane migrates to Gainesville.
Crane Ramen is built on an appreciation for the local culture. The shop gets its chicken, pork and eggs from Ocala, and 80 percent of the vegetables are locally sourced.
“We’re trying to be as sustainable as we can be,” Brown said. “For Bill, it’s all about the community.”
Although Crane receives most of its food from local vendors, Bryson wants to expand his farm to help supply the store.
“In terms of commitment to making a healthier community, I think Bill is committed to that in many ways,” Brown said, “whether it be through culture or through food or through music.”
Bryson’s love for music has driven much of his community involvement. His locally operated music station, Grow Radio, went through platform changes earlier this month. The once live-streaming online station, founded in 2009, is now only offered on a podcast platform. Bryson thought moving it to podcast would be a more sustainable model—if the community responds.
“That’s the big ‘if,’” Bryson said. “The community is going to be the provider of the content. If the community wants it, the community’s got to step up and make it happen.”
Joe Wolf, a volunteer disc jockey at Grow Radio, values the mix of music and local principles Bryson founded the station on.
“It encapsulates Gainesville by being free-form and by having DJs represent every facet of the Gainesville community,” Wolf said. “Bill supports the community. He certainly enriched the community and enriched my life through Grow Radio.”
But Bryson still isn’t satisfied. Next up is a photo book he hopes to publish this fall. It will feature pictures taken at the Covered Dish, known today as High Dive. Old concert stubs and essay-style writing will complement the images.
As Bryson continues to expand old ventures and seek out new ones, one thing is certain: It always comes back to Gainesville.
“I’ve traveled a lot of places—I’ve seen a lot of places,” Bryson said. “There’s no perfect place, but for me, Gainesville is pretty close.”