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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Expect some whiplash this week, Austinites: with an expected high of 103 degrees, Monday is predicted to be the hottest day of the year, but a midweek cold front is on the way to bring that first glimpse of fall.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport could see its first 100-degree temperature this year on Monday as temperatures citywide are expected to exceed this year's record of 102 degrees.
The cold front arrives Tuesday afternoon to evening.#atx #atxwx #cbsaustinwx https://t.co/rQni6ug3y4 pic.twitter.com/PoFeHPYtnM
— Chikage Windler WX (@ChikageWeather) September 20, 2021
After a typical summery Tuesday with highs in the mid-90s, Wednesday will welcome the first signs of fall as a cold front drops lows into the 50s.
Expect more wind and a chance of rain come Tuesday with a 40% chance of scattered storms. The cold front, which should last through Friday, will bring drier, crisper air that could cause fire hazards on Wednesday.
Highs will be in the upper 80s and lows in the 50s and lower 60s for the front's final two mornings.
After near record heat today, a cold front arrives tomorrow! Hang in there South-Central Texas, we have almost made it. pic.twitter.com/yd9UbNo7hY
— NWS Austin/San Antonio (@NWSSanAntonio) September 20, 2021
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Around 75 dogs died in a fire Saturday night at Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown, according to the Georgetown Fire Department, leaving dozens of owners to mourn the losses of their furry companions.
The fire department arrived on the scene less than five minutes after 911 calls started flooding in at 10:56 p.m. At their arrival, they found flames and clouds of smoke, according to GFD Chief John Sullivan.
Twenty-five firefighters were on the scene, hoping to save as many lives as possible, initially trying to open some ventilation and control the smoke, though they were unable to save any dogs. Sullivan said his heart goes out to the families of the victims of the fire.
"I've been doing this for 29 years and this is the first incident that I've had where we've lost so many pets," Sullivan said. "I hate to use that term because, to me, a pet is a lot more than a pet—it is the closest friend. I wish I could convey my internal emotions adequately. I just wish I could go back in time to make it better."
Families of the fallen pets, who are believed to have died from smoke inhalation, have created a memorial outside the pet resort's fence complete with flowers, photos, notes and beloved toys of their friends.
No people were discovered at the scene—Ponderosa's boarding policies state that the staff feels that pets sleep better at night when no employees are there, so the pets are left unattended at night.
The fire department is still working to discover what caused the fire. Despite fire and smoke damage to the inside, the outer metal exterior survived the blaze. Based on the type of construction and occupancy type, the building was not required to have a sprinkler system.
"Quite frankly, I view my personal pet as probably my closest confidant, friend and the one that doesn't judge, so my heart just breaks," Sullivan said.
The fire claimed the lives of dog duo Bunny and Clyde, leaving owners and newlywed couple Don and Pam Richard devastated and angry KXAN reports, saying they wouldn't have left the dogs had they known they would be left unattended at night.
The Richard family is planning to petition the city of Georgetown, making it so that animals in professional care are never left unattended again.
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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."