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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Republic Square Park has turned into a Ford-themed fiesta for its Built to Connect pop-up experience, complete with test drives, off-roading and an inside look at the Tesla-rivaling electric vehicles that the motor vehicle company is planning to integrate over the next decade.
The outdoor driving event is free, open to the public and will stay in the park from now until Oct. 24, offering rides on Bronco Mountain, a 0-40 mph zip in the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and a chance to win an original Ford Bronco.
The event kicked off with a panel of speakers, including Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar, Ford General Manager Darren Palmer and engineering specialists discussing Ford's goals to make it so that 50% of the vehicles on the road are electric by 2030.
As an eco-conscious city, Spillar said that around 4,000 vehicles, or 22% of the Texas electric vehicle market, as well as over 15,000 plugins lie in Austin, meaning driving electric just got accessible.
"Austin, as you know, is a fast-growing modern city that is committed to protecting the long term health and viability of our communities and strategies that reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the drone quality of life here in Central Texas for all of our residents," Spillar said.
And Ford's electric vehicles are putting up some steep competition for newly-Austin-based company Tesla. The new electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting offer amenities that used to be exclusive to Musk's brand, such as the BlueCruise self-driving network. The cars also boast a 300-mile range on a single charge, assisted reverse technology and access to the biggest charging network outside of the home.
Plus, Ford's got affordability on its side. The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 and the Mustang Mach-E starts at $42,895, while the cheapest Tesla model, the Model 3, starts at $41,990 and averages 262 miles on a single charge.
Speaking of price, the numbers on the electric vehicles may look like a little more than you'd like to pay for your transport, but Palmer promises it will pay off. In addition to a $7,500 tax credit you can earn for your sustainability, you'll never have to buy a pricey tank of gas again.
"Personally, I have not found one customer ever, who would go back to gas so that says something," Palmer said. "I realized, at $51,000, that car outruns every childhood hero car I ever had."
Texas buyers: take note. The Ford Lightning can power your house for three to 10 days, just in case the statewide power grid fails. You can take it glamping with you, so you don't have to leave the comfort of modern life behind, and in a pinch, Palmer said he's even seen a wedding party powered by the truck.
Ford is investing $30 billion into the U.S. market to meet demand by 2025 and the new electric truck already has over 150,000 reservations.
"I think they're going to take off much faster than you expect—they're going to be extremely, extremely popular next year," Palmer said. "With the incentives that are available today, this is starting to become more mainstream and viable for more and more families. We couldn't have done that before, we didn't have the technology, or the technology at that price."
The event is ongoing through next weekend from 12-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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The Austin Police Department is searching for a man who is believed to be behind a series of robberies that is "sexual in nature and is escalating."
Three robbery cases that took place in North Austin within a 30-day period are being investigated by police, who report the victims all had similar descriptions for suspects in the case. The suspect is described as a 20-25-year-old Spanish-speaking Hispanic man, approximately 5'3, thin build, recently shaved with black hair. Police say he is known to typically wear athletic clothing and used a knife on each of the victims.
Here's a breakdown of the cases:
1. At 7:56 a.m. on Sept. 22 at the 1600 block of Rutland Drive, a woman was walking alone and returning from her child's school when a suspect walking by inappropriately touched her. The suspect then grabbed her by the arm, threatened her with a knife and demanded "her property."
2. At 8:10 a.m. on Oct. 11 at 1700 block of Colony Creek Drive, a woman was walking to her child's school when a man approached her with a knife and then demanded her personal items. The suspect then said he would return the items in return for sex.
3. At 11:03 a.m. on Oct. 13 at the 9300 block of Northgate Boulevard, a woman was with her child in the laundry room of an apartment complex when a man walked in performing a sexual act. The suspect demanded personal items from the victim, threatening to hurt the victim and take her child.
Police cautioned the public to walk without earbuds, stay alert and report suspicious activity to the police.
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