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(Bouldin Creek Cafe/Instagram)

For longtime residents, Austin's massive population boom is not new. Seeing small businesses close and big corporations move to Austin in droves was frightening for Leslie Martin, even 20 years ago.

Using a small amount of money she earned by selling antiques, Martin opened a café in the Summer of 2000, feeling that someone had to keep Austin local.


Her idea was to create a "third place," or somewhere that isn't your home and isn't your work "but it feels like home." Not many cafés in the area served food at the time, so to differentiate her business and because she was vegetarian, Martin added a small vegetarian menu.

"I (wanted) to create a space that has a certain feeling and is a networking space for people and has a creative vibe going on," Martin said. "I was like, 'it just seems weird that I would open a restaurant and make money off of serving meat when I've been vegetarian for so long.'"

She called it Bouldin Creek Café and it operates on a few core values: paying employees a living wage, supporting the community by fundraising and sourcing local, helping those in need and creating a safe space.

Even though it isn't in the same spot as when she opened it and the menu has expanded, Bouldin Creek Café is an Austin staple to this day. Not a soul has dined inside the restaurant since March 2020 but Martin has had good luck with curbside.

"I hear all these horror stories of what people were having to deal with, with the masks and people putting tables together when you're not supposed to have large groups and I just kind of don't want to put my staff through that," Martin said. "I want them when we reopen and we're trying to use this to work on some things we want to do to improve our internal culture for the better and then work on some financial stuff that we've got on the backburner."

Martin said watching other businesses close during COVID has taken a toll on her—it's hard to hear about small businesses that have already closed even though some funding, like the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, is available now.

COVID-19 has left a dent on local businesses in the city, which Martin thinks will have a permanent impact due to rising costs of living, real estate and a lack of tax breaks and protection for long-standing local establishments.

"I feel frustrated with the city for not doing more for small businesses because what do we have here if we don't have our eclectic businesses? I just feel like so many of the things that we claim Austin to be are just vanishing," Martin said. "I think we're gonna see less and less people that aren't corporate aren't like hospitality groups opening restaurants because it's just too much. I've heard people say, 'I'm not in the coffee shop business, I'm in a real estate business.'"

However, Martin sees a light at the end of the tunnel and said they are close to having all the staff vaccinated. The restaurant will reopen when she feels it is safer to open at 100% capacity. In the meantime, she is very thankful for her curbside customers.

"I do really feel lucky and I see people eat in their car, I see people come in every week, every day and I just think this is amazing," Martin said. "I can't believe how many people continue to come just for curbside takeout food, I just can't believe it. I feel pretty lucky."

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