As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the United States, many esteemed local businesses have been forced to shut their doors permanently. Austin is no exception, and over the last six months, some of the city's most beloved local establishments have had to say goodbye. This non-comprehensive list includes some of Austin's most iconic businesses that have closed for good due to COVID-19. May they live in the hearts and minds of Austinites forever.
Iconic Austin businesses that have closed due to COVID-19:
Austin Java (three out of four locations)
Popular local coffee chain Austin Java announced in August that it was permanently closing three of its flour locations: in Austin City Hall, Dripping Springs and the Met Center. The cafe opened its inaugural location in 1995 on Parkway Street off North Lamar, which closed in 2017 to make way for the four new spots. Austin Java devotees can still get their caffeine fix at the chain's last remaining location on Menchaca Road in the Westgate neighborhood.
The Wild West-themed watering hole and pool hall announced last week that it was permanently closing its doors after 21 years on 6th Street. Long before it became Buffalo Billiards, the historic space was known as the Missouri House, built by the Ziller Family in 1861 and reputed to be Austin's first boarding house (and rumored brothel). Home to many a drunken cowboy brawl in its past life, Buffalo Billiards served as the perfect destination for a revelrous night on the town.
Capitol City Comedy Club
Austin's Cap City Comedy closes its doors for good in the wake of the pandemic earlier this month.
The longstanding laugh factory situated on Research Boulevard took its final bow earlier this month after nearly 35 years in business. Houstonians Howard and Sandy Marcus opened the venue, originally called the Laff Stop, in March of 1986; it was rebranded to Capitol City Comedy Club in 1996. "Laughing will always be the key to moving forward," co-owner Margie Coyle said in a statement to KXAN. "I love Cap City, but if you see the light, get off the stage!"
Dart BowlAustin's iconic Dart Bowl to close Friday after COVID slowdown hurts business
In July, Dart Bowl co-owner John Donovan announced that the adored bowling alley was permanently closing after 62 years of family-friendly fun. Donovan's grandfather, Harry Peterson, and local businessman Justin Dart co-opened the original Burnet Road location—then outside city limits—in 1958 and operated there for nearly four decades before relocating to Brentwood in 1997. Peterson also partnered with Jerry and Betty Ray to open Highland Lanes and Westgate Lanes, which thankfully remain open.
If you haven't washed Easy Tiger's fresh-baked bread or pastries down with a cappuccino or craft beer, you haven't really lived. Unfortunately, Austinites can no longer indulge in that pleasure at the bakery's downtown location, which boasted a gorgeous beer garden overlooking Waller Creek and offered a reprieve from heavy 6th Street foot traffic. The flagship Easy Tiger announced its permanent closure last week, ending an eight-year run downtown. Thankfully, its North Austin location at the Linc is still open for drive-thru, delivery, curbside and patio dining, and its pop-up truck could be bringing delectable fresh bread to your neighborhood soon.
The beloved West Campus deli closed its doors for good in April after serving mile-high sandwiches to hungry college students for 14 years. Fricano's first opened in 2006 on East 31st Street, later expanding to Nueces Street in 2011 and closing its original location a year later. Perhaps no testament to Fricano's quality speaks louder than its famous Ainsworth, a constantly-changing variety sandwich that employees assembled from the best ingredients of the day. No matter what each day's Ainsworth yielded, you'd be hard-pressed to find an unhappy customer.
I Luv Video
I Luv Video, located on Airport Boulevard, serviced film enthusiasts in Austin for 35 years before owner Conrad Bejarano announced that the self-proclaimed "oldest and largest video store in the world" was closing for good on Sept. 1. But rather than sell his inventory and cut his losses, Bejarano is looking for a potential new owner to faithfully steward his collection of roughly 120,000 films. "It would bring me the utmost joy to pass the torch to a group or individual that has the financial capacity to preserve our immense catalog of films," Bejarano wrote in his closure announcement. "My only stipulation is that whomever does so gives the community access to our vast film library."
Magnolia Cafe West (Lake Austin)
For more than 40 years, Magnolia Cafe welcomed weary students and wired festival-goers, serving up dinner plate-sized pancakes and bottomless coffee 24 hours a day. The omelettry owner Kenny Carpenter originally opened the Lake Austin space in 1979 as an auxiliary location called Omelettry West; he later sold it to partner Kent Cole, who rechristened it to Magnolia Cafe in 1986. The restaurant announced in April that it was closing for good, but mourners can still get their fix at the South Congress location, which opened in 1988.
MugshotsIconic MugShots Bar closes after 18 years
Since 2002, 7th Street dive bar Mugshots offered a respite from the Dirty Sixth mayhem while still giving patrons plenty of opportunities for debauchery. True to its name, the downtown haunt plastered its walls with photos of customers that were taken in the property's photo booth. In a Sept. 13 Facebook post, owners Marcos Canchola Brian Hyde announced that Mugshots permanently closed its doors on Aug. 31. The watering hole is survived by a handful of other Canchola-and Hyde-owned properties around Austin, including Barfly's, the Hideout Pub, Bender Bar & Grill, Violet Crown Social Club, the Pour House Pub, and Pourhouse Pints & Pies.
After fielding Zilker Park foot traffic for 28 years, Shady Grove slung its last green chili cheeseburger in May. Opened in 1992 by Chuy's co-owners Mike Young and John Zapp, the Barton Springs Road eatery became an Austin staple with its iconic lasso signage, Southwestern cuisine and live music Thursdays during the summer. The one-two punch of skyrocketing rent and COVID-19 closures likely forced Shady Grove to shutter, but patrons can still get their Tex-Mex fill at the walking-distance Barton Springs Chuy's.
Threadgill's owner Eddie Wilson announced in April that he was selling the restaurant, beer joint and music venue, closing the curtain on one of Austin's most iconic businesses. Bootlegger and country music enthusiast Kenneth Threadgill secured the first beer license in Travis County and opened the converted Gulf filling station on North Lamar—then outside Austin city limits—in 1933, as soon as Prohibition was repealed. Wednesday night singing sessions attracted droves of hippies, beatniks and folkies in the '60s, including burgeoning blues-rock howler and University of Texas undergrad Janis Joplin. Wilson—who also co-founded the hallowed Armadillo World Headquarters music venue in 1973—bought and renovated the property in 1981. For nearly four more decades, it drew locals and tourists alike with its electrifying performers and mouth-watering chicken-fried steak. (A second location, Threadgill's World Headquarters, operated on Riverside from 1996 to 2018.)
After servicing movie buffs for 35 years, Vulcan Video announced in April that it was cutting to black and permanently shutting its doors on Russell Drive. The beloved independent movie shop opened in 1985 amid the VHS rental boom and weathered several seismic industry shifts over the decades, including the rise (and fall) of mega-chains like Blockbuster and the dominance of streaming services. Vulcan Video's inventory comprised renowned classics, underground gems and rare imports, weaving a rich tapestry of movie history and giving fellow cinephiles a place to hang out and talk shop.
Iconic Austin businesses that are still open
Thankfully, some iconic Austin businesses have weathered the pandemic by experimenting with new business models, implementing new safety regulations or receiving much-needed relief funds. Here are a few of them:
Tex-Mex trailblazer Paul Joseph began working at the Schoonerville restaurant in the early 1950s, and in 1954, he bought the building and transformed it into El Patio. The Guadalupe Street mainstay was one of the first Tex-Mex restaurants to grace Austin, and customers can still enjoy savory enchiladas, crispy tortilla chips and frosty margaritas there today. The dining room is currently open for business, and patrons must wear a mask upon entering and being seated.
Fonda San Miguel
Modeled after a colonial-era hacienda, Fonda San Miguel has remained one of Austin's most venerated and visibly striking Mexican restaurants since opening in 1975. Customers can marvel at the exotic plants and breathtaking artwork as they enjoy interior Mexican cuisine from Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz and Yucatan. Fonda San Miguel reopened in June, encouraging reservations and requiring customers and servers to wear masks.
Sam's Bar-B-Que is one of Austin's most celebrated and resilient restaurants. Established in 1957 by Sam Campbell, the legendary BBQ joint has survived two devastating fires, a $5 million buyout offer and, now, a pandemic. Still, the East Austin institution remains open for business, serving up dangerously delicious brisket, ribs and sausage along with the promise, "Don't need no teeth to eat our beef."
Top Notch Hamburgers
This Burnet Road institution has been serving charcoal-grilled burgers and fried chicken via carhop since 1971, and it was immortalized in Richard Linklater's 1993 coming-of-age stoner comedy Dazed and Confused. Top Notch and Galaxy Cafe co-owner Kelly Chappell received a PPP loan in April, and Top Notch is currently open for pickup orders placed in-person, over the phone or online.
Quality Seafood Market
Quality Seafood Market opened in 1938 as a humble stall in Starr's Fruit and Vegetable Market on Congress Avenue and has since evolved into one of the city's best-known seafood markets and restaurants. Now situated on Airport Boulevard, the market and restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday. Curbside dinners for two are also available with a 24-hour notice.
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Tesla has officially moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to its under-construction Gigafactory in southeast Travis County.
In October, CEO Elon Musk had announced plans to uproot the HQ from California during a company shareholder meeting. The company’s filing with U.S. securities regulators on Wednesday locked down the move.
It’s unclear whether the 10,000 employees in Palo Alto will be required to move. An analyst told the Associated Press that while many may be given the option of staying, up to 50% could make the move with some motivated by a lower cost of living in Austin.
“It’s tough for people to afford houses, and people have to come in from far away… there’s a limit to how big you can scale in the Bay Area,” Musk had previously said. Regardless of the HQ move, the company plans to increase production at its California plant.
The HQ swap is the latest development on Giga Texas, the approximately 1,700-acre factory that Tesla received at least $14.7 million in tax breaks for. The factory is on track to start production of its Model Y vehicles by year’s end.
Musk has hinted at making the move for some time. Last year, while California health officials were concerned with the spread of COVID-19, Tesla’s push to reopen the factory in Fremont set off a spat. During an earnings call in April 2020, he’d described the state’s health orders as “fascist.” Recently, Musk relocated his own residence from Los Angeles to Texas, bringing almost each one of his companies along with him, including the Boring Company, Neuralink and his foundation.
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At the cutting edge of tech, music and business are many successful leaders who not too long ago weren't old enough to drive or vote.
These wunderkinds were honored in Forbes' prestigious "30 under 30" lists, which highlights hundreds of top young entrepreneurs in categories from social media to science, in the 2022 rendition of the list on Wednesday. Some of the Class of '22 were as young as 14, while the average honoree was around 28 years old. Ten of these burgeoning business moguls were from Austin, which has seen such distinguished 30 under 30 alumni as former UT basketball player Kevin Durant get top spots on the 10-year-old list.
Here's a look at the 10 Austinites who made the cut:
Science—Celine Halioua, Loyal founder, 27
Celine Halioua, founder of Loyal and #ForbesUnder30 honoree, discusses how she created a company which helps prevent undue aging and cancer in dogs, and whose research could also potentially help humans. https://t.co/rfbFS4dq72 pic.twitter.com/3MaBGnE4Eb— Forbes (@Forbes) December 1, 2021
Earning the top spot in the science category was Celine Halioua, a former University of Texas student and founder of biotech company Cellular Longevity. The company, normally called Loyal, was founded by Halioua in 2019 and aims at finding compounds that can prevent undue aging and cancer in dogs, something that Halioua hopes will one day translate into human benefits.
As the frontrunner for the Science category's Class of '22, Halioua earned a photoshoot and video interview. Like many others on the list, Halioua's youth may give her an edge up in creating new ideas and technologies.
"It's been very fun learning how to modernize an old industry," Halioua said in the interview.
Halioua, who grew up in Austin around 15 cats, rescue dogs and even pet squirrels, said her company looks to extend the lifespan of dogs, but more broadly she hopes to combat the issue of "not having free will," an opinion she formed when talking to brain cancer patients at a neuro-oncology clinic at 18.
She also said creating anti-aging medicines for dogs can be a "proving ground" for creating the first explicit anti-aging drug cleared for humans because veterinary medicines are much more likely to be approved.
There's never been a drug approved for aging for any species, dog or human," Halioua said. "My core goal in life is to get the first drug approved."
The Bay Area-based company is pre-revenue, but it's already generated over $38 million in venture capital and has its first anti-aging drug poised to reach clinical trials next year.
Science—William Gilpin, UT Austin professor, 29
Is chaos actually hard to predict? For NeurIPS this year I made a database of 131 known strange attractors, and trained state-of-the-art forecasting models on each one, to try to figure this out (1/N):— William Gilpin (@wgilpin0) October 12, 2021
Dataset + Code: https://t.co/EpK4ZfWTEF pic.twitter.com/ehvPCBhDm3
University of Texas' incoming physics professor William Gilpin knows how to find beauty—and practicality—in chaos.
Using "chaos theory to understand biological complexity," Gilpin, who was inspired by ocean waves and fluids, has revolutionized a machine learning technique for neuroscience recordings.
"Is chaos really hard to predict?" Gilpin asks in a recent viral Tweet, as he showcases his methods that have helped analyze fitness trackers and predict prices of stocks and ponds.
Sports—Megan Lindon, Austin FC marketer, 29
Ever seen Austin FC's signature Verde Van rolling around town? The mobile one-stop shop for Austin FC merchandise is the brainchild of Lindon, the senior manager of marketing who helped make the team the top-selling hub for merch across the MLS in its first year.
Lindon oversaw brand campaigns and retail partnerships, such as its jersey sponsor YETI, for the new team. Although she might not be responsible for all the hype, it's tough to tell whether Austin FC would be as recognizable nationwide without Lindon's efforts.
Really thrilled to be named a part of @Forbes 30 Under 30 Games Class of 2022, alongside some other very young talented esports folks — @scump, @onfireScarlett, and @TSMWalter, to name a few.https://t.co/3v2Wqq8hz1— Jacob Wolf (@JacobWolf) December 1, 2021
Move over, sports commentators—esports reporting is entering its golden era, and the self-proclaimed "world leader" in esports coverage is based in Austin with Jacob Wolf at the helm.
At 24, Wolf, the company's chief reporter, has already been compared to "ESPN's NBA news king Adrian Wojnarowski," according to the Forbes report. He's also won the Esports Awards Journalist of the Year title in 2018 and has been nominated five times, leads the company's news team with hard-hitting investigative pieces and has founded a production company that will co-produce a podcast set to release in 2022.
Wolf sits on the list now, but he was criticized by a Forbes reporter in the past for having "zero corner" in the esports market—a notion that was quickly shut down by Wolf and longtime esports fans alike.
Manufacturing & Industry—Topher Haddad and Winston Tri, Albedo co-founders
Good Morning Twitter! This year for Thanksgiving we've made some 10cm synthetic imagery. Let us know what you think. pic.twitter.com/MPmh93tctW— Albedo (@Albedo) November 24, 2021
"The next generation of Earth observation is coming soon," satellite imagery company Albedo's website boldly reads over a crystal-clear aerial view of an alpine forest.
Two under-30 entrepreneurs—Topher Haddad and Winston Tri—set out to create commercially-available satellite imagery that has nine times better resolution than what's out now. From that, Austin-based Albedo was born.
After raising $10 million in a seed round by Initialized Capital, the company is gearing up to launch its first satellites in 2023.
Venture Capital—Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud, TXV Partners co-founders
Austin can't have its startup-savvy culture without its venture capitalists, something Princeton graduates Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud know all too well.
Now 27 and 28, the former Princeton roommates formed TXV Partners in 2019 and haven't looked back since, investing over $20 million into businesses including fitness app Future Fit and the similarly-named fitness startup Future as well as Data.World, Oura, Kambr and Trax. The duo, which has since tacked on another partner, has been focused on local businesses for years and will continue to do so as they boost Texas' best exercise startups.
Retail and eCommerce—Benjamin Smith, Disco founder, 28
Everything is better in a set. 🎁 — Disco™ (@letsDiscoskin) November 27, 2021
If you're not shopping our biggest sale of the year, you're missing out. Get 30% off site-wide + free shipping on all orders. pic.twitter.com/kBmI56ZjMu
Men need skincare, too—even if they sometimes aren't comfortable enough to address it.
That's the issue that Austinite Benjamin Smith hopes to tackle with his skincare line Disco, which provides sets and products from anti-aging cream to cleansers to help men feel their most "dapper."
Smith, who struggled with acne throughout early adulthood, strayed from the overly-masculine packaging of many men's beauty products and instead opted for a sleek, simple look that can be seen online and at Nordstrom. The company has been featured in GQ and the Wall Street Journal and is expected to see $10 million in revenue at the end of 2021 after an original $5 million in funding.
Finance—Jeron Davis, RLJ Equity Partners, 28
Forbes 30 under 30 in Finance should be renamed Forbes 30 under 30 in Blockchain!— nicola 💾 (@iamnotnicola) December 1, 2021
Although he's based in Maryland, Jeron Davis has found success as a senior associate at RLJ Equity Partners, a firm founded by Austin billionaire Robert L. Johnson.
Davis is a former investment banker at Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., where he made a$4.6 billion leveraged buyout of Petco and a $2.2 billion sale with CenturyLink. With RLJ, Davis made a $60 million LBO of Pro-Vac and $31 million TechMedia buyout.
Education—Chandler Bolt, Self Publishing School founder, 28
Investor and Self Publishing School founder Chandler Bolt holds a five-year company and has helped 6,000+ writers publish their own books—and he's just 28.
His company, which helps writers work—from creating a writing timeline to arranging speaking engagements after publishing—charges $6,000 to bring writer's works into fruition.
The Austin-based Self Publishing School has been an INC 5000 company for three years in a row among the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. But Bolt's not stopping there, he's also published six books of his own, hosts two podcasts, and has a YouTube channel about the self-publishing process.
Energy—Thomas Sherman and Daniel Vassallo, CRCL Solutions co-founders
💡ATI Company Spotlight: CRCL Solutions💡— ATX Tech Incubator (@ATI_UT) September 9, 2021
Congrats to CRCL Solutions for winning a National Science Foundation SBIR award! CRCL will investigate how AI can be used to improve atmospheric modeling for the renewable energy industry.
For more, visit: https://t.co/SVKzscHxL4
Texas' renewable energies are growing fast—but when the wind turbines aren't turning, it can hard to predict how much the state will be able to use.
Using artificial intelligence, CRCL Solutions founders Thomas Sherman and Daniel Vassallo are helping power traders reduce risk and increase profitability by forecasting usage of ERCOT's solar and wind energies. Eventually, the duo hopes to help create carbon neutrality by erasing some risks from the fluctuating renewable energy market.
And their efforts are gaining national attention: so far, they've received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Austin Energy Incubator.
Downtown may be recovering from the pandemic but the priorities residents want in their city center are changing, according to the City Pulse Survey done by design firm Gensler.
After studying 7,500 people in 15 global markets, including Austin, Gensler found that life in COVID has pushed city-dwellers to want more outdoor activities, social spaces and entertainment venues in bustling business districts.
Post-pandemic, the highest-rated downtown activities were shopping, visiting parks and just “hanging out.” The need for more public spaces like parks jumped from sixth on the list to second this year.
Although globally people view downtown as a business district for task-based activities, across the U.S., downtown districts are viewed more as a vehicle for entertainment. This is especially true for Austinites, where people surveyed said they would rather see more entertainment and cultural venues than shopping or public transit downtown.
For Melanie Gartman, a manager at construction software company Levelset who has been living in Austin for most of her life, the needs and wants of the average resident closely align with her own.
Austin clocked in second-most desirable downtown, tied with Charlotte, North Carolina. Like the 78% of Austinites in the survey, Gartman said she thinks Downtown Austin is hanging on to its lovable charm.
“Even now with fewer people out and about it's still very vibrant and lively. I feel like I saw life come back to downtown a lot sooner than I expected it to,” Gartman said. “It's still holding on a bit that Austin vibe and with the high rises coming in, it's scary that we could lose that. I think it's holding on better than I would have expected, especially within the last two years of everything that happened.”
As Austinites eased back into downtown, the first stop Gartman made was to go see music again. Since venues opened back up, Gartman and her loved ones have seen live music at their favorite venues: Moody Amphitheatre, Mohawk, The Parish and Empire Control Room.
Blackillac opened for Gary Clark Jr. at the Moody Amphitheater's first show back in August. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Entertainment is most important for Gartman’s life in Austin—seeing Gary Clark Jr. in August brought normalcy back into her routine—and said our local downtown is the ideal out of other cities in Texas.
“I've always noticed that between Houston’s downtown and Austin’s, Houston's is so Monday to Friday, eight to five, maybe a post-work happy hour,” Gartman said. “Growing up, downtown (Austin) was always the place to go. It has always been the hub and I think Austin is unique in that way.”
Traffic in downtown areas is way down overall, even though concern over pandemic safety has taken a backseat. Shopping traffic has decreased by 28%, dining out and entertainment attendance dropped by 33% in the post-pandemic sphere.
Even though her office is located downtown, Gartman usually works from home. Her downtown visits tend to be for the purpose of entertainment and she said the lack of parking sometimes becomes problematic.
“I feel like all these high rises are taking over all the parking,” Gartman said. “It used to be for go-to parking, I would just park under I-35. No big deal. But now, that’s kind of scary, especially if you're by yourself. The party parking is a barrier to actually making it down there.”
But with the rise of the hybrid work model, it’s likely that the downtown sphere is going to change all across the U.S. For now, survey participants said they would like to see their downtown reduce traffic, add more green space, improve the cityscape and increase parking capacity as we shape the future of cities.