In 2013, two young butchers opened Salt & Time on Austin's East Side. Ben Runkle had a background in cured meats and had been running pop-up stores and a farmers market stand. Bryan Butler had been in charge of the meat department at Wheatsville Co-op. Together, they created an upscale shop and restaurant that buys whole carcasses directly from sustainable Texas ranchers.
Earlier this year, when Runkle saw that restaurants were closing in other cities because of the coronavirus, he began to have discussions with his managers. It was clear he would have to adjust his business to keep it alive and support his employees. Already having a retail component meant he had the licenses and know-how to make rapid changes.
When Salt & Time had to close its dine-in business, Runkle converted the restaurant's bar to a retail sales space. To help customers keep a safe distance from each other, he marked off six-foot increments along the bar. He had already been selling some food staples, and he increased the assortment, also adding vegetables in bulk. The shop also began selling a variety of prepared foods, alongside its take-out service.
The restaurant had been baking its own bread for years. It quadrupled its baking program, to make use of the extra capacity among its chefs and sous-chefs.
Vincent Tomasino, Salt & Time's retail manager, says regulars are coming into the shop, as well as people who do not usually frequent Salt & Time. He says customers are expressing gratitude that they can come to the shop instead of visiting large grocery stores.
While many are doubling down on staples, some still go for the luxury offerings.
"There are people eating well, living large, into the apocalypse," says Tomasino. "We sold a couple of wagyu rib eye yesterday to a guy who was celebrating his 30th birthday alone. He was going to cook himself a steak and practice the guitar."
The reorientation has been successful. Runkle says he has not had to lay off any employees and has been able to give his staff full hours. Sales are strong.
"From a financial perspective, we haven't had time to slow down and crunch the numbers," he says, "but compared to 99.9%, or even all of the other restaurants in town, we are in a healthy situation."
He is trying to help some other local restaurants by selling their products. Salt & Time carries pizza dough and sauce from Bufalina, pasta from L'Oca d'Oro and hot sauce and seasoning salt from Lenoir. Runkle also bought an unneeded supply of milk from a nearby coffee shop.
Salt & Time has been committed to sourcing from local farms. At the moment, the store is buying everything locally when it is available and occasionally bringing in other products from further away.
Runkle expects some supply-chain complications to arise as the coronavirus pandemic continues, and he thinks that local sourcing will allow Salt & Time to weather the crisis. Close contact with customers should also help guide the business.
"The fact that we have a clear and more direct relationship with our customers and suppliers will allow us to continue to serve through this craziness," he says. "We are ordering daily from farms, calling them up and finding out what they have available."
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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.
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.
Years before the city of Austin went Verde, thousands of the city's soccer fans formed a supporters' group—MLS in Austin—for a team that didn't even exist yet.
Now, as the team's catchphrase suggests, those same fans are #LISTOS as they prepare to see their team on national television at Austin FC's debut on Saturday.
What to expect
The team will face a significant opponent in LAFC, who is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Head Coach Josh Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Austin FC starting lineup vs. LAFC
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who wears the captain's armband for his new team. We still don't have any updates for starting forward Rodney Redes, who may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee.
If Redes is fine, we think he'll stay at forward, where he's been excelling throughout preseason. If not, a more experienced Kekuta Manneh might take to the pitch in his stead. Midfielder Jared Stroud is also in the running after he went in for an injured Redes against San Antonio FC on April 10.
While Captain Alex Ring and DPs Tomas Pochettino and Dominguez are shoe-ins for the starting lineup, some other positions are up in the air.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Pereira, Austin FC's No. 1 SuperDraft pick, has done even better than expected in preliminary scrimmages. He's still young, however, and Austin FC recruited him more for his depth than immediate starting appeal. If Pereira doesn't start, it's likely to be Diego Fagundez who takes the starting spot.
Another young potential starter comes in 22-year-old Jhohan Romana, a sturdy defender who has shown inconsistency in preseason. The backline is a clear weak spot for the team so far, and while Romana shows promise, Wolff may look for experience in Julio Cascante for their first starting lineup.
Finally, goalies Brad Stuver and Andrew Tarbell are neck-and-neck in the race for a starting spot. We put Stuver on here for his preseason performance, but neither would be a surprise as starting goalkeepers.
How we got here
It's hard to put into words how monumental it is for these supporters to see their own team one day away from its historic opening match, but the excitement can be felt across the city.
To put things in perspective, here's a timeline of events that brought us here, from "MLS in Austin" all the way up to Saturday's opener.
Where to watch
While Austin FC's first season will officially be underway, their inaugural match will be nearly 1,500 miles away from their home city.
That's no problem for some fans, including those in Austin FC fan group Los Verdes. A group of dedicated supporters are going to the West Coast to welcome their team into the stadium. While LAFC isn't officially allowing Austin fans in due to COVID protocol, some are still searching for a way to watch their beloved team take the pitch for the first time.
Meanwhile, thousands of dedicated fans are also staying home to support their club. Austin FC's first official watch party is sold out with over 1,000 RSVPs, and Austin Anthem is holding a 1000 plus-person watch party as well. For a full list of Austin FC watch parties and participating pubs, click here.
For those staying home, the match will be broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Don't miss out on the game!
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