Patios may be ‘the only game in town this summer’ for Austin eateries as customers flock to outdoor spaces
Stuffed with cheese, pineapple and pork, the nationally renown gringa taco at Simon Madera's Taco Flats restaurant is a popular item for the Mexico City-inspired eatery—but these days, that really depends on where it's being served.
At Madera's newer location in Clarksville, business from customers is "on fire," he said. At the original Burnet eatery, not so much.
The difference? The Clarksville spot has a patio.
"I'm talking to the landlord [on Burnet] now about adding a patio to the front," Madera said. "I think it's going to be the only game in town this summer."
Under the ever-changing patchwork of pandemic-era state rules governing eateries in Texas, restaurants that sell more food than alcohol may open their inside dining rooms for table service at just 25% capacity.
But for the patios and outdoor seating? The sky's the limit, as long as social distancing norms are enforced.
Al fresco dining is not exactly a tough sell in Austin, which gets three more weeks of sunny days than the national average and has a city ordinance protecting Austinites' right to bring dogs onto patios.
And now, it offers what may be the quickest path to recovery for Austin's struggling restaurants as state leaders grapple with containing the spread of coronavirus and keeping the economy healthy.
There's no table service yet at Taco Flats, but customers at the Clarksville restaurant and at Madera's food truck, La Holly, on the East Side buy food to go and then eat it on the patio rather than make the drive, tacos cooling in their bags, to the same home table they've been confined to for nearly two months.
The Burnet location, opened in 2014, was busier earlier in the season; now it's lagging 30% behind Clarksville, which has only been open since October.
"Because we don't have the patio there, it's declining," Madera said.
Austin mom Leslie Leal-Gauna and her family anxiously ventured out on Mother's Day for the first time since March to have lunch on the patio at Matt's El Rancho, their family's favorite "special occasion restaurant."
They felt safer sitting outside than indoors. They appreciated the single-use menus on placemats, sealed silverware and secluded seating.
"We sat there and said, 'This is one of the most normal days we've had in months,'" she said.
Patios are busy all over town. At the Hula Hut on Lake Austin, customers on a sunny Mother's Day endured wait times up to an hour. Next door at Mozart's, tables were full and spaced more than six feet apart.
Left out of this trend are the restaurants, like Nightcap near downtown, which make more on booze than on food—which means they are still not allowed to open for table service.
"We have a huge 900-square-foot patio, but we cannot use it," frustrated Nightcap owner Christin Rowan said. "People could legit walk in the front door, place their order at the bar, grab their drink and then sit outside and get texted when the food is ready. Super contactless."
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Lately, the crypto market is looking shaky.
The price of bitcoin fell by more than half from its high, the digital currency luna crashed to $0 and a type of so-called stablecoin TerraUSD has been described as dead.
Reporting from the LA Times notes that experts seeing a correlation between traditional markets and the cryptocurrency market is high right now, with plunges in one being followed by a plunge in the other. On Wednesday, stocks had their worst day in more than two years with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 1,164 points.
Crypto’s volatility has long been questioned, especially after SXSW this year was filled with Web3 enthusiasts and displays.
With 8% of Texans owning Bitcoin and many others involved in the local crypto and Web3 scene, what are they feeling amid the crash?
In a written comment to Austonia, ATX DAO said a positive with the downturn is that “most of the speculative moneygrab type projects get washed out of the market, and the quality projects that deliver real value remain and gather more attention.”
The group went on to say it could work to their advantage as they carry out their latest project: a mural at Native Hostel that will have an NFT version. They’ll use sales toward donations to HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a local nonprofit that supports artists and creatives.
Meanwhile, Yagub Rahimov, a founder of an Austin-based Web3 company explains that they aren’t really impacted by the crash.
Since the company known as Tested Web functions as a Web3 online reputation marketplace, it is utilizing blockchain technology without tokenizing.
“We are a share to earn marketplace. That means that any activity that users have on tested web.com, we will be rewarding,” Rahimov said. “Those rewards are coming in the form of rewards points. And every quarter they can opt in to receive either a gift card or a check. We are not issuing any cryptocurrency. That's one of the important elements that I believe we got it right that way.”
With recent developments at Tested Web, Rahimov says he “couldn’t be happier.” After struggling to find tech talent in early spring, he’s had a hiring spree in the last 10 days and received a $1 million grant and partnership with Silent Notary, a blockchain-powered validation provider.
But his recent business success aside, Rahimov is noticing what’s happening in the markets and predicts that the correlation between the crypto market and traditional one will be broken.
“The way Bitcoin was introduced back in 2009, it was as a reply or response to the 2008 market crash,” Rahimov said. “And it really feels like we are in 2007, 2008, actually, early, early days of the market crash. And if it becomes that way, very likely that the winner is going to be those of decentralized parties.”
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Barton Springs Pool is on a condensed schedule while the city tries to fill out its lifeguard roster.
The popular pool is currently closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays while it navigates a lifeguard shortage. The city is offering bonuses to new applicants who can start by early June.
Austin Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Jodi Jay said there are 207 lifeguards ready to work and 100 incoming but the department needs 750 to be fully staffed.
Zoom out: The pandemic has had a lasting impact on hiring—in 2019, the city was able to hire 850 lifeguards. The Aquatic Department has been unable to match those numbers since it reopened training classes in spring of 2021.
Why it matters: The city needs at least 400 lifeguards, plus 30 with open water certification, to open pools on a modified schedule by June 4. Without hitting that mark, some facilities could limit hours or close.
The job pays between $16-19 an hour, anyone over 15 can get certified and there are bonuses on the table:
- $500 bonus if you get certified and start working by June 6.
- $500 bonus if you work through August 14.
- $250 bonus if you get advanced certification.