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Last month, in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, Austin Mayor Steve Adler canceled South by Southwest and ordered the closure of all restaurants and bars in the city. While generally praised for his decision, Adler essentially shut down the city's hospitality industry at a time when it usually sees its highest sales.
Since then, many restaurants have pivoted to curbside delivery and selling bulk staples. But others have laid off staff or closed permanently. Cottage industries built around the city's dining scene have also been deeply impacted.
"I'm not making income," said Jane Ko, who runs the Austin food and travel blog A Taste of Koko. "I lost all of my projects, too."
Ko is an influencer—someone who generates interest in consumer products by posting about them on social media—who has more than 75,000 Instagram followers. Her blogging business and others, including local public relations firms, are experiencing a sharp loss in revenue as restaurants and bars slash budgets—or close their doors altogether.
"We've definitely had a reduction in our business because of COVID, and it's been really difficult," said Samantha Davidson, founder and president of Say My Name Public Relations, which represents local beer bar Craft Pride and restaurant group FBR Management, which includes Mean Eyed Cat and Lala's Little Nugget.
Davidson has applied for assistance from the Small Business Administration is waiting to hear back. In the meantime, she and her four employees are working to adapt their business model.
"With people sheltering at home and on their computers and on their phones—very engaged digitally—it's [a question of]: how do we get the information about what our clients are doing out to the people who are interested in to-go [meals]," Davidson said.
Say My Name's clients have worked with influencers such as Shelby Sorrel (43,900 Instagram followers) and sisters Lindsay and Morgan Vandygriff (97,700 Instagram followers). Since the pandemic arrived in Austin, some have also produced their own social media content in an effort to engage customers. Local chefs, including Loro Beverage Director Jason Kosmas and Uchi Sous Chef Blake Luecke, have been recording themselves cooking at home and sharing the videos on Instagram and TikTok.
View this post on InstagramJason Kosmas, our Beverage Director for @haihospitality, is here to show us how to make the best homemade margaritas, cause well, there's not much else to do on the weekend right now. Jason's mixing up a delicious marg using common ingredients you have stashed away in your kitchen like zest from an orange to a citrus jazz and cinnamon sticks to create depth and character to the cocktail. You can make this as a single-serve using a hand juicer or batch it up to last all quarantine. Single Serve •2 oz Blanco Tequila (really any kind, let's not be picky) •1 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime) •.75 oz orange-scented agave nectar (see below) •1 lime wheel, for garnish Directions: Place all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Pour into a rocks glass. Garnish with salt (optional) and lime wheel. Orange-Scented Agave Nectar (12 oz) •1 cup agave nectar •.5 cup boiling water zest (peel) of 1/2 an orange •1/2 cinnamon stick Directions: Stir all ingredients into a container. Allow to cool. Remove zest and cinnamon. Batched This recipe is good for storing in the fridge and pouring over ice (no shaking required). •1 (750ml) bottle of tequila •12 oz lime juice (1 dozen limes) •9 oz orange-scented agave nectar (see above) •12 oz cold water Directions: Combine all ingredients into a pitcher. Store in the fridge to keep cold. Pour over ice as needed. #loroaustin #haiathome
A post shared by Loro Austin (@loroaustin) on Apr 11, 2020 at 1:14pm PDT
Chelsea McCullough, owner of the PR firm Mylk Collective, which works with restaurants and beauty businesses, has also been "greatly affected" by this pandemic and is waiting to hear about the status of her SBA loan application.
In addition to helping her clients adapt to the current marketplace—such as by developing family-style take-out menus and offering meal kits—McCullough has teamed up with Ko on Hundred for Hospitality, a restaurant fund that serves 100 meals a day to laid-off service industry workers around Austin.
"I was really distraught the first week [restaurants were closed]," Ko said. "I had over 200 restaurants reach out to me for help."
On March 20, Ko started a GoFundMe, which has since raised over $14,000 to fund Hundred For Hospitality.
With these donations, Hundred For Hospitality has paid local restaurants such as The Peached Tortilla, Austin's Pizza and Easy Tiger to provide daily meals to service workers since March 30, with plans to continue through May 8.
McCullough said other local influencers have reached out to her to see how they can offer support, even as their own businesses are struggling.
"Let's be frank, influencers are used to getting a lot of complimentary dining experiences, but they really stepped up and said …. 'How can I support? Where can I eat out? Where can I purchase food?'" McCullough said.
Supporting these businesses now may mean protecting their own futures.
"It's not just about keeping the brand alive," Davidson said, "but keeping the industry alive."
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In what could be one of their least energetic showing to date, Austin FC was outperformed by home team San Jose in a 4-0 road loss late Wednesday night.
As the first team officially out of playoff contention in a loss on Saturday, the team seemed defeated from almost the moment they hit the pitch as Quakes standouts Chris Wondolowski and Javier "Chofis" Lopez scored on the team.
A tenth-place San Jose maintained a clean sheet in the match as they inch closer to a last-minute spot in playoffs.
Just as they did in their 1-0 loss Saturday, it was Austin FC who struck first in the match. Captain Alex Ring forced a save from Quakes keeper JT Marcinkowski in just the second minute of play, while star forward Sebastian Driussi followed soon after.
A little over 10 minutes later, San Jose responded with a shot of their own as Austin keeper Brad Stuver was forced into action with a diving save. But with a failing back line and a lack of energy throughout, a frustrated Stuver wouldn't be enough to stave off the home team Quakes in their four-goal triumph.
After a slow first half, San Jose star Chofis was the first to strike after sneaking past Stuver to make it 1-0 for the home team to kick off the second half.
Just five minutes later, Quakes midfielder Benjamin Kikanovic broke free with a fast-paced drive in a play that saw two Asutin FC players hit the ground to double the lead. Stuver and other players were immediately outraged in the controversial call after an apparent handball in the box.
MLS' top all-time scorer Chris Wondolowski capitalized on the slow Austin defense next, taking a pause in the box to score the third goal unmanned in the 59th minute.
Finally, Carlos Fierro clinched the win for the home team after placing a header from six yards out off of a cross and corner kick to end the match 4-0 for San Jose.
Austin head coach Josh Wolff attempted to staunch the wound with a series of subs starting at the beginning of the second half, subbing in native Austinite McKinze Gaines for Moussa Djitte and Rodney Redes for Cecilio Dominguez. But no subs were enough to push back against the 'Quakes as the team lost their second match in a row.
Austin FC has four final matches to end the season, including two remaining home matches against the Houston Dynamo at 4 p.m. on Sunday and a final match at Q2 Stadium against Sporting Kansas City at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, November 4.
85' San Jose makes it 4-0
Austin FC once again can't plug holes in the box as San Jose scores their fourth goal of the match off a set piece and header to make it 4-0 in the 85th minute. The Quakes' Carlos Fierro scores on a header from close up after a well-placed cross from Cristian Espinoza as a frustrated Stuver is unable to block the six-yard shot.
Frustrated and sluggish, Austin FC appears to have lost their chance at a win or draw in one of their worst losses by scoring margin this season.
59' Wondolowski scores for the "Quakes
Just a minute after he hits the pitch, MLS' all-time top scorer Chris Wondolowski tacks one more onto San Jose's lead as the home team leads 3-0 in the 59th minute. A beleaguered Austin leaves Wondolowski undefefended as he receives the ball in the box, pauses and scores in the bottom right corner of goal.
It's looking to be an especially bad match for Austin, who already sit at the bottom of the West. The Verde and Black continue to be outperformed in their late season road matches.
53' Austin doubles the lead
After a rough-and-tumble drive that saw two Austin FC players take a fall, San Jose's Benjamin Kikanovic shoots past Stuver to score the second goal of the match for the home team. The play drew ire from Austin FC players including Stuver, who said there was a handball in the box. Austin's defense continues to be outperformed in the match.
47' San Jose scores first
The Earthquakes finally capitalized on a sluggish Austin FC as San Jose's Javier "Chofis" Lopez snuck one past keeper Brad Stuver and a last-ditch dive from Austin's Jhohan Romana to net the first goal of the match. The goal is Lopez' 12th on the season.
40' Romana gets yellow carded
Romaña is trying to play flag football 😂 #AustinFC— Seth Davis (@sethdavis512) October 21, 2021
Austin FC's Jhohan Romana is the first to get yellow carded in the match after grabbing a jersey in the 40th minute of play. Seconds later, Austin nearly gets an opportunity as San Jose keeper JT Marcinkowski fumbles a blocked shot, but he passes the ball off before the Verde and Black can get one in off the rebound.
The Quakes repeat the move in the 41st minute as they nearly get one past Stuver, who is able to hold it down unguarded and grab a shot from Jeremy Ebobisse.
18' Stuver keeps it clean
Just like Saturday, it was Austin who struck first with a shot by Captain Alex Ring in just the second minute of play. Star newcomer Sebastian Driussi came soon after with a shot of his own, but the ball was once again kept out of goal.
Just over 10 minutes later, Austin keeper Brad Stuver got his first big test as the Quakes' Jeremy Ebobisse shot one towards the bottom left corner. In signature fashion, Stuver was able to keep a clean sheet.
Austin's "strongest lineup yet" may not have been able to finish in Saturday's loss, but they created plenty of chances. Wolff seems to have confidence in the starting XI and hasn't changed much for tonight.
Nick Lima is in for right back in Hector Jimenez's stead, while Cecilio Dominguez, Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi lead up front. Center back Matt Besler remains out on concussion protocol.