Publisher's note: Austonia has donated $100 to Crema's community sack lunch program, via their @cremabakerycafe Venmo. Feel free to join us in support of this community service.
Colorful paper hearts adorn the walls and meticulously decorated cookies proclaim adorable phrases like "Love you a latte."
At Crema Bakery and Café on Brodie Lane in South Austin, Valentine's Day is more than just the sweet shop's biggest holiday of the year. It's also a tribute to the love that co-owners Jessica and Janessa Tomberlin share for each other.
"We're really blessed in a lot of ways, but none of it would be happening if we didn't have each other," said Jessica Tomberlin. "I feel like our feelings for each other are reflected in our business and our product and our relationships with other people, too. A lot of partners are good cop, bad cop. We're not like that. We're just two halves of a whole."
Valentine's-themed cookies are among the offerings at Crema Bakery in South Austin. (Kristin Finan)
The pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to local restaurants, and Crema is no exception; the Tomberlins credit loyal friends and customers with keeping the bakery's doors open. As a result, the Tomberlins have been able to support the local community through free sack lunches, which they make available to anyone who calls in to request one—no questions asked. Since March 2020, they've distributed more than 1,500 free lunches.
"We just saw a need," said Janessa Tomberlin. "It was just incredible the number of people that were like, 'I'm hungry.' Nobody should have to wonder where their next meal is coming from in this country of all places. We felt like it was the very least we could do to help our community and be a place for people to have a little bit of food security."
Jessica, 42, and Janessa, 37, met when Jessica opened Crema in 2013 and hired Janessa, who had a background in the corporate coffee world. The two quickly became friends and eventually began dating. In October 2017, they tied the knot at Tiny T Ranch in Garfield, on the outskirts of Austin. They didn't have a cake but instead opted for hand pies, which they made themselves. Jessica Tomberlin said the bakery relishes being part of all types of special occasions.
Janessa and Jessica Tomberlin and daughter, Molly. (Seduit Photography)
"We love that we can make somebody's engagement party cake and then do their wedding cake and then a baby shower and then a kid's first birthday," she said. "We love being part of people's lives and part of their families."
As business partners, Janessa runs the front of house, interacting with customers, while Jessica deals more with the product side, although, "being a small business, nothing is ever that simple," Jessica Tomberlin said.
"We teach our baristas how to decorate cupcakes because you never know who is going to need to do what," Jessica Tomberlin said. "That's the essence of a family-owned business–everybody does it for the good of the whole and doesn't really focus on themselves. That's the way Janessa and I have always been, too."
Jessica Tomberlin said 2020 brought challenges the small bakery, which is currently open for takeout and curbside, could never have ever anticipated.
"Any time you have a small business you're always on the edge of everything falling apart, so we've faced a lot of that, but in the last year it's just been a despair that I've never felt before in my life, just not knowing what's going to happen," Jessica Tomberlin said. "Every time I get down where I think I can't get any lower, Janessa picks me up. That's probably the thing I've come to appreciate the most is just that we complemented each other in that way. When one of us can't go on, the other one finds the strength to do it for both of us."
Janessa Tomberlin said Jessica "is like my backbone when I don't have one."
The two have also needed to stay strong for their daughter, Molly, 10, who they call the "littlest cremling" and who, despite not having any social media accounts, has a big following through Crema's social media.
"All these people recognize her, so every time she's up here people like, 'Hey, Molly!'" Jessica Tomberlin said. "She likes to run curbside because people always tip her."
Crema Bakery in South Austin offers a variety of baked goods for takeout and curbside service. (Kristin Finan)
In addition to the free lunch program, the Tomberlins have done fundraisers for causes they are passionate about, such as LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter.
"We love being the liberal, hippie, queer-owned bakery. We love being able to embrace those old Austin ideals and give people an outlet for being able to help wherever they can," Jessica Tomberlin said. "We put our politics and our positions out there, which a lot of businesses don't do to be safe, but we also feel like if you can be an advocate for the causes that matter, you should."
With its challenges, the past year has also brought some surprise hits, including a family meal program early in the pandemic and, currently, hot cocoa bombs, which frequently sell out. Once the world begins to open back up, Jessica Tomberlin said, she looks forward to eating out, having some date nights and hopefully resuming a new brunch restaurant project at South First and William Cannon that was in the works before the pandemic.
No matter what happens, though, Jessica Tomberlin said she knows she, Janessa and Molly will be able to weather it together.
"I feel hopeful right now in a way that I haven't in months and months," Jessica Tomberlin said. "There's been a lot of love this year. There's been a lot of sadness, but there's been a lot of love."
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more race in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? No, it has to be Austin.
We know Californians love Texas, but a recent string of posts on neighborhood platform Nextdoor in Santa Barbara, California, displays what the craze to move to Austin looks like.
When one user posted, "Hi neighbors, I want to buy a house in Houston, Texas any recommendations?" the responses flooded in displaying what the admiration for Austin looks like from the West Coast. Users mostly advised against a move to Houston; one person even wrote, "Austin is the ONLY place to consider!!"
While some defended H-town, saying, "Awesome place to live," one person wrote, "WORST PLACE TO LIVE." Reasons to not move to Houston from Californians' perspective included:
- "Foul air from refineries"
- "horrible flooding due to the flat Gulf coastal shelf"
- "crazy zoning"
- "racial prejudice"
- "super high humidity"
- "very conservative"
The comments were shifted to Austin's lush greenery, weather and acceptance of gay people.
Over the last five years, Austin has seen more migrants from California than any other state, according to an Austin Chamber of Commerce report. The Austin appeal from residents living in more congested places like California became more prevalent during the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were issued and people sought more space.
It wasn't just Austin though; lots of other Sunbelt cities saw an influx in their housing market as a result of people working from home and looking for a lower cost of living. And that included Texas in general, with people flooding to various Texas cities.
But it hasn't come with resistance. The "Don't California my Texas" pleas are still alive and well, as Californians are blamed for raising the cost of living by outpricing current residents. The housing market has reached record numbers in the median home price year-over-year since the beginning of the pandemic. Austin was even predicted to be the most expensive city outside of California by the end of the year.
Still, Californians and even New Yorkers can't stay away. Companies and celebrities have followed, leading Texas transplant Elon Musk to label Austin's future as "the biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."