(Josh Frank)

When Josh Frank built a rudimentary outdoor theater 10 years ago to screen a movie for his then-girlfriend, he didn't realize he was actually building what would become a local institution.


Frank's self-proclaimed "crazy idea" of a mini outdoor theater came to light as he and the woman, now his wife, watched the show. He started to think about how Austin needed a place for drive-in movies that was small and funky, just like the town. That was the beginning of the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In Theatre.

The theater and its offshoots are now thriving. The coronavirus pandemic has only fueled interest— many movie theaters remain closed, and it's much easier to social distance at a drive-in.

"I like to think that we're not just the hottest ticket in town because we're the only ticket in town, but because for 10 years we've been perfecting the very best drive-in experience," Frank said.


Frank never envisioned his Mueller outdoor theater as more than a one-person operated labor of love. But as the drive-in expanded to locations in Round Rock and the High Rockies, it became a six-employee operation. Now, with the extra work involved in making sure COVID-19 precautions are followed, Frank's payroll has grown to 16.

With the uptick in business, expanding capacity beyond the 20-40 cars each location hosts might seem natural, but Frank is satisfied with his current arrangement.

"What does the modern version of a drive-in need to be?" he said, citing coronavirus concerns. "If you have 200, 300 cars like drive-ins did 40 or 50 years ago, that doesn't help the current problem ... My idea of a modern drive-in was different. It was small. It was cheeky. It was a very intimate and private experience."

Frank and his employees have taken many steps to ensure guests' safety. Those include mandating that guests park their cars in staggered lines, stay in their vehicles, and only lower windows 25% if the occupants do not wear masks. Concessions and restroom facilities vary among locations.

"In this day, especially with the tragedy of the virus, I think this is a hopeful story," said Frank, who owns the drive-in with his wife Jessie and their young son Austin. "We are one of those pre-modern Austin small businesses that opened when there was only one tall building in Austin. And we're still here."

(Aaron Rogosin/SXSW)

While this years SXSW festival was canceled, it will return next year.

South by Southwest announced Tuesday it will include online programming as part of its 2021 festival, but has not eliminated the possibility of an in-person portion of the event.

Keep Reading Show less
(Buffalo Billiards/Facebook)

After 21 years in downtown, Buffalo Billiards will join the growing list of memorable Austin businesses to close due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less

After a recent uptick in new confirmed COVID-19 cases, it appears the trend line is plateauing again and the local positivity rate is holding steady, at around 6%, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told county commissioners on Tuesday.

"We've had this increase since the beginning of September that's leveling off a bit," he said.

Keep Reading Show less
(Lindagauntco/Creative Commons)

Local entrepreneur Kendra Scott will now be a "Shark" on ABCs Shark Tank's next season.

Kendra Scott, the Austin entrepreneur who owns a billion-dollar jewelry empire, will be the next guest judge on ABC's "Shark Tank" in its newest Las Vegas season.

Keep Reading Show less
(The Weather Channel)

Weather as of 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Tropical Storm Beta is continuing to line the Texas coast after making landfall late Monday and will bring rain to Central Texas for the next two days.

Keep Reading Show less
(Contextual Content Group)

McCombs Professor Steve Limberg teaches in a studio while his hologram appears in a classroom, where masked students are sat socially distanced.

Like Tupac at Coachella, one professor at the McCombs School of Business is beamed as a hologram before his audience.

Keep Reading Show less
(Capital Metro)

This November, Austin voters will choose whether to raise their property tax rate to pay for a proposed $7.1 billion transit overhaul called Project Connect. It includes expanded bus service, including an Eastside transit center.

Austin voters will decide Nov. 3 whether to increase their tax rate to pay for a $7.1 billion, 15-year overhaul of the city's transit system.

Keep Reading Show less