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."
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With a taste of MLS play under their belts, Austin FC is entering the second half of a scoreless inaugural match.
The club has been given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
The two breaks aside, Austin FC has been holding their own against the match favorites. In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team has been quick and intense, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. ATXFC has also kept about equal possession with LAFC, although their shot attempts haven't been quite as nervewracking as the home team.
LAFC has given goalkeeper Brad Stuver some scares with 11 shot attempts, four of them on goal. By contrast, Austin FC has had five shots on goal.
LA has pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense isn't as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and defensive midfielder Alex Ring has shown the qualities that make him captain as he leads his teammates through their first ever match.
Will Austin FC win against the odds? It's tough to tell, but Austonia will keep you updated!
It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.