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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