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Austin gives its support to black-owned restaurants following protests—a lot of support. And it's sticking.
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When Burgerlicious, a food truck stationed at Skull Mechanix Brewery in the St. Elmo district, reopened in late May, post-pandemic sales were not good.
"I think one day we sold two burgers," owner Vernetta Weston said. "The next day, we might have sold like four or five burgers, and this was a Friday and Saturday."
But then, almost as quickly as the coronavirus forced the local business to close for two-and-a-half months, the tables turned again.
"The next week, everything happened. Everybody started rallying behind the Black Lives Matter movement, and the lists started going up," Weston said. "My phone was ringing off the hook."
In response to the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos in Austin, thousands of residents joined protests—and they sought out black-owned businesses to support.
Jane Ko, a local influencer who runs the blog A Taste of Koko, published a widely shared list of black-owned restaurants on June 1. Similar round-ups appeared in Austin Monthly, Eater and other outlets.
Austin residents turned up in droves.
"I haven't been this busy since EVER!" Sassy's Vegetarian Soul Food owner Andrea Dawson posted on the food truck's Facebook page last week. "Had to turn away customers … first time that ever happened."
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Last Sunday, Taste of Ethiopia closed its South Congress location after selling out.
That same day, Bird Bird Biscuit closed so its staff could rest.
"Thank you so, so, so, so much for all the support that you've shown us over this past week," Bird Bird Biscuit chef and co-founder Brian Batch said in a video update posted to Instagram. "It's been so much support that we actually are going to have to take a little break and regroup."
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Burgerlicious saw a similar influx. "We had orders pouring in, and we were able to get enough product," Weston said. "We filled the truck up to the rafters."
Nearly all of the orders—86%—were from new customers. "It was faces that we hadn't seen," she said.
In response, Burgerlicious expanded its opening hours to include Wednesday and introduced a vegan menu. Sales held steady, even as the new customer rate dropped to 43%, suggesting that many had returned from the week prior.
"We really feel like it's building a base, and then the customers will continue to come back because the food is good," Weston said.
For Burgerlicious, this support comes at exactly the right time. The pandemic delayed plans to open a second food truck and a brick-and-mortar location. But the outpouring of support related to the Black Lives Matter movement is helping the local business recoup its losses and expand its customer base. "There's a silver lining in everything," she said.
Moving forward, Weston hopes to see more investment in minority-owned businesses in Austin. "I think the biggest barrier is capital," she said, adding that she'd like for the city to offer more grants, banks to extend loans "not wrapped up in red tape" and landlords to welcome black owners in upscale spaces. "We're trying to get our foot in the door, and then the door's closed," she said.
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Matthew McConaughey is reportedly weighing a run for Texas governor in 2022.
The Austin resident and Oscar winner has been "quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles, including a deep-pocketed moderate Republican and energy CEO" as he decides whether to run, according to Politico.
McConaughey said a gubernatorial run is "a true consideration" while on a March episode of Houston's "The Balanced Voice" podcast.
Although most political strategists doubt McConaughey's commitment and viability as a candidate, some are still intrigued by the possibility.
"I find it improbable, but it's not out of the question," Karl Rove, a top Republican strategist with a long history in Austin, told the political news site. He added that the big question is whether McConaughey would run as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.
Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist, told Politico he's surprised McConaughey isn't being taken more seriously. "Celebrity in this country counts for a lot," he said. "It's not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to run for a third term and remains popular among Republican voters, 77% of whom approve of his performance as of April, according to the Texas Politics Project.
Some strategists believe an independent McConaughey run would benefit Abbott. But a recent poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that McConaughey would beat Abbott, 45% to 33%, with 22% opting for someone else.
Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly, mulled a McConaughey run in a recent opinion essay from the New York Times. "Texas may not be ready for a philosopher king as a candidate, much less governor," she wrote. "May the best man win, man."
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Some JuiceLand production facility workers and storefront employees are organizing to demand wage increases, better working conditions (including air conditioning in the warehouse) and pay transparency, among other asks. They are also calling on staff to strike and customers to boycott the Austin-based company until their demands are met.
JuiceLand responded on Saturday. "We are listening," the company wrote on their Instagram story. "JuiceLand crew now makes guaranteed $15 an hour or more companywide."
JuiceLand, which was founded in 2001 by Matt Shook and now has 35 locations in Austin, Houston and Dallas, acknowledged the rising cost of living across Texas and the added stress of the pandemic in an email to employees on Saturday, part of which @juicelandworkersrights shared on social media. "There's no denying that times are tough and financial security means more now than ever," the company wrote.
Organized JuiceLand workers rejected this proposal, according to a recent post on the @juicelandworkersrights Instagram account, and reiterated their demands.
"Cost of living in Austin is rising exponentially and will only continue to get worse with the tech boom," the post read. "$15 is barely a sustainable living."