Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, is about star-crossed lovers and ends in tragedy. The tale of Austin's own Romeo's and Juliet is a happier one about ships in the night.
In fair Zilker, where we lay our scene, Italian restaurant Romeo's closed abruptly in 2012, leaving a vacant storefront—and large patio—on Barton Springs Road.
Three years later, it reopened as a fine dining restaurant called Juliet. Owner Daniel Wilkins and his wife, Donna, had traveled extensively around Italy and found the former Romeo's location to be the right place for their new venture.
"It's really special to this day," said Emily O'Connor, chief management officer of Veneto Hospitality, which owns Juliet. "We still have people come in and say, 'We met at Romeo's,' or 'We had our first date at Romeo's.'"
Maintaining relationships with long-term customers has been a long-term focus at Juliet.
When the restaurant first opened, it was a fine dining establishment known as Juliet Ristorante. But in 2017 it underwent a transformation to Juliet Italian Kitchen, an upscale casual spot. "Our food was so complex and our Ristorante name was a mismatch for this street," Wilkins told the Austin American-Statesman at the time.
The new Juliet was designed to be a regular destination for Austinites, rather than a special occasion spot. "It's geared more toward providing this place that people want to come back to over and over again," O'Connor said, citing local institutions such as Matt's El Rancho as inspiration.
Repeat diners have helped keep Juliet afloat during the initial pandemic shutdown and subsequent regulatory changes, ordering takeout and returning to celebrate birthdays and other special events on Juliet's large patio. "It's really heartwarming to see that the success that Romeo's had, that Juliet has that same place in people's hearts, too," O'Connor said.
It hasn't been easy, however.
Prior to the pandemic, Juliet did the bulk of its business in person. When the pandemic began, the restaurant only offered take-out for more than two months. "Every day was a learning experience for quite awhile," O'Connor said.
When Juliet reopened in late May, it had to find ways to make customers feel safe returning in-person—and adapt to constantly changing capacity limits as the severity of the pandemic fluctuated. "We've changed (capacity limits) four or five times," O'Connor said.
Despite the challenges, Juliet was in some ways better positioned than other restaurants to survive the pandemic. In addition to its regular clientele, the restaurant has a lush patio that could seat 135 people pre-COVID. Because it was already focused on casual dining, it didn't have to make the switch, as many fine dining restaurants did, when the pandemic began.
The dining room at the fine-dining Southern restaurant Olamaie, in West Campus, remains closed, but owner Michael Fojtasek has transitioned to special occasion party packs, such as for the Super Bowl, and the successful offshoot venture Little Ola's Biscuits. Other businesses have been less successful, such as high-end spots Second Bar + Kitchen and The Brewer's Table, both of which closed due to the pandemic.
"We're very lucky," O'Connor said.
After a tumultuous year, Juliet will welcome guests—both in-person and for take-out meals—this Valentine's Day weekend, with a special menu and on-theme pink drinks. And the restaurant's prospects are looking up, in a sharp departure from its namesake.
In March, Juliet will open a second location at the Arboretum in North Austin, where it hopes to become a regular haunt for a new crowd. "We want to be part of the neighborhood," O'Connor said. "That's really important for us."
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As Texas gets ready to lift the mandatory mask mandate on March 10, food and bar workers gathered at the Texas Capitol to express their frustration with the lack of COVID-19 precautions without adequate access to the COVID-19 vaccine.The event, which began at 1 p.m. on Monday, was hosted by the Austin chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, Restaurant Organizing Project and The Amplified Sound Coalition.
Christa McWhirter<p>Crystal Maher, a member of the Restaurant Organizing Project, stands in front of the Texas Capitol to express to other protesters in attendance how not being eligible for a vaccine has impacted her ability to safely keep her job. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Kiara Collins, Eric Santos and Taylor Escamilla are all essential workers who have been questioning their safety in their workplace. As many of the other protesters, the three wore masks with the word "Expendable" on it. According to Collins, they were only given to essential workers in attendance to represent how they have been treated since the onset of COVID-19.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>As Maher continues to introduce speakers, two essential workers who came out to support the protest, record as counter-protesters heckled the event's speakers.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Some of the counter-protesters in attendance were live streamers from InfoWars, an extremist organization, who heckled speakers until the rally dispersed. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>A representative of the Del Valle Community Coalition spoke about the impact the lack of vaccine access has had on the Del Valle area. As she attempted to give her speech, anti-masking protesters yelled at her causing many people to attempt to block them out.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Protesters blocked the way of anti-mask counter protesters as they heckled the event's speakers and held "My Body My Choice" signs. "It's kind of insane how they're using 'my body, my choice.' It doesn't only affect you. So it's not just your body," Taylor Escamilla said.</p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Jeanette Gregor, cofounder of Amplified Sound Coalition, also had to fend off counter-protesters as she gave an impassioned speech about the danger essential workers place themselves in by going to work and have yet to qualify for COVID-19 vaccine. </p>
Christa McWhirter<p>Around 2 p.m., State Troopers began to arrive at the Capitol amid heightening tensions from protesters and counter-protesters. As police presence began to increase, the event came to end about 15 minutes later. Despite the constant back and forth between sides and the arrival of law enforcement, the protest came to end peacefully.</p>
The world has changed drastically over the past year, and South by Southwest, one of Austin's most beloved institutions, has, too.
After being abruptly canceled by the city last year, one week before it was set to kick-off due to the increasing understanding of the potential impact of COVID-19, it returns this year in a virtual format March 16-20.
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Austin Public Health will release first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments on a weekly basis starting Monday evening. The specific days and number of appointments made available will depend on the weekly allocation from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Previously, APH released first dose appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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