When Stephanie and Steve Williams opened their first Bennu Coffee location on Martin Luther King Boulevard in 2009, it was in the wake of the last big economic recession.
"That one was really just my husband and I doing it all ourselves, getting money from our parents' credit cards to buy the flooring," Stephanie told Austonia.
The couple later opened a second Bennu location on South Congress.
Then, last Saturday, they opened a third at the Highland development—right in the middle of the pandemic.
"This is our dream coffee shop," Stephanie said. "Even though it is scary and it is uncertain right now, seeing this dream come to life was really a motivating factor for us."
Since the start of the pandemic, many small businesses have been forced to close their doors—either temporarily or forever—including Austin favorites like Threadgill's, Dart Bowl and the Lake Austin Boulevard Magnolia Cafe.
But a few intrepid owners are opening, expanding and investing despite the uncertain economic future.
Though Sammy Lam only officially began working toward the opening of Wanderlust Wine Co. last summer, the downtown tap winery is the result of years of planning and study.
Lam helped finance the business with a small insurance payout he received after his mother died. She loved wine and would have one glass of Franzia each week, often while chatting with her son—who at the time was too young to join her.
"I'm like, 'What am I going to do if I spend this money?'" Lam told Austonia.
Initially, Lam planned to soft-open Wanderlust during SXSW in the hopes that he could raise the additional money. But when SXSW was canceled, he had to rethink his entire business plan.
"So then we went to being essentially an online retail establishment," Lam said.
Wanderlust started selling bottles, branded face masks and tickets for virtual tastings on its website until it opened—on what Lam called its fifth attempt—in early June.
"We finally were able to open our doors a little bit," he said. "Going from zero to some people, it felt like a lot."
Other Austin business owners have found opportunities for growth in spite of the pandemic.
Try Hard Coffee, a new walk-up shop that also serves tacos and pastries, which opened in mid-June in the space previously occupied by Blue Dahlia Bistro. Two of its three owners—John French and Gabrielle Rose—also own Clever Baking Co., which serves coffee shops in the Austin area.
"We birthed Try Hard out of the wholesale bakery business struggling," co-owner Raechel Hurd told Austonia.
Clever Baking Co. now operates out of Try Hard's space and supplies the shop's pastry menu.
"It was kind of a major sidestep for us that allowed us to continue and pretty much ensure jobs for ourselves and our staff," Rose said.
Similarly, Bird Bird Biscuit recently announced plans to open a second location in Brentwood.
Co-owner Ryan McElroy said the pandemic forced the fast-casual shop to transition to an online-only ordering model. But customers preferred the new pick-up window to waiting in line to order in person, which during the business' peak times used to take up to an hour.
"We would never in a million years have risked shutting down our whole dining room and getting rid of our line," McElroy said. "Being forced to do it, it reveals an insight that we would have never found otherwise."
While McElroy and his business partner, Brian Batch, had thought about opening a second location, there were no plans to do so until the pandemic revealed this new business model—and provided an ideal location.
McElroy also owns Thunderbird Coffee. While Bird Bird Biscuit was thriving—a recent push to support Black-owned businesses even led it to close for a day so staff could recuperate—Thunderbird's West Koenig Lane location was struggling. The new Bird Bird will replace this shop, with a large patio and a coffee trailer on site.
"We're doing it to try to build something beautiful for the future but also works for the present," McElroy said.
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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."
Austin rapper Jordi Esparza may not have won the 2021 Red Bull Batalla, the world's largest Spanish freestyle rap competition, but for a spirited two rounds, the 22-year old Mexican native looked like he had every right to.
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, the event itself looked like Cobra Kai meets Star Search with graphics adding a very Batman Beyond aesthetic. Over a dozen rappers hoping to represent the U.S. in the international round of the competition took to the stage with in-your-face jabs at accents, sexual orientation and odors, among other things.
This was Esparza's second rodeo; he had placed third at the 2020 National Finals, automatically securing him a spot this year.
However, things were different this year. He was not nervous about the contest. Unlike in 2020, when he made his Red Bull Batalla debut, the anxiety of the event led him to "feeling so bad."
Affecting a casual calm, the locally-based landscaper said he just felt "so relaxed, so happy" and primarily wanted to "enjoy everything."
Choosing his first-round opponent, Esparza, whose stage name is Jordi, elected to go against LA-based Boss.
Esparza freestyled an attack on his opponent's weight and cholo style of dress.
Boss—bracketing his Latin freestyle with English appeals to the crowd—mocked Jordi's lack of education, made fun of how clean Jordi's shoes looked and suggested that Jordi just came back from a Footlocker.
That first round went to Jordi.
But his next opponent Eckonn would prove to be his undoing.
Eckonn compared Jordi to Hannah Montana, while Jordi soulfully explained that he had learned from the best.
Esparza's verbal dexterity is matched by a rattling rhythm and a game face that is as mawkish as it is mockish. The overall effect is that of an underdog with bite.
Eckonn beat Esparza in that round with the overall championship going to Palm Beach-based rapper Reverse.
However, Esparza was just happy to be there. He recently told Austonia going to the finals again was a dream come true—a pinnacle that he said he won't know how to top.
With his nimble jabs and sneaky prowess, honed from pop culture and the swagger of a young working man hungry to be more, Jordi Esparza is just getting started.