Heading forward by looking back: conversations with Austin’s most intriguing people in food, fashion, innovation & more.
Heading forward by looking back: conversations with Austin’s most intriguing people in food, fashion, innovation & more.
Over the past few years, our sleepy city turned bustling metropolis has created a home for top chefs, award-winning restaurants, urban farms, craft brewers and a robust collection of creatives that drives it all. But that growth has placed Austin at a culinary crossroads as it learns to adapt to a growing city while still cultivating a place for creativity and innovation.
As 2014 draws to a close, we asked four industry leaders to join us in a conversation. Owner Jessica Maher of Lenoir and the newly-opened Métier Cook’s Supply; Chef/Owner Jesse Griffiths of farmer’s market favorite turned brick-and-mortar Dai Due; Mickie Spencer, the sought after designer and owner of restaurants like Sawyer & Co., Hillside Farmacy, and East Side Showroom; and General Manager Roberto Ainslie of the highly anticipated Gardner all sat down with TRIBEZA to discuss the past, present and future of Austin’s restaurant scene.
TRIBEZA: You all have had really impressive years, so congratulations. Can you give us a glimpse of what your lives are like as 2014 comes to an end?
Jesse Griffiths: We’re trying to stabilize the restaurant right now. We’ve been in business for eight years, but being in a building, it’s all still new and everything that comes with it.
Jessica Maher: We’re kind of in the eye of the storm right now. It’s really hard. I think it’s a combination of adding to our family and adding [Méti- er]. I feel like if we hadn’t opened the shop we would be smooth sailing right now because the restaurant is doing well.
Mickie Spencer: I think we’re getting into our groove and figuring things out. Sawyer & Co. of course is just starting so it’s in its infancy, but hopefully we can continue to grow.
Roberto Ainslie: Gardner is just getting started, so I think it feels like a lot of anticipation, and we’re obviously really excited about what we’re doing. But I think we’re also waiting to see how we’re going to fit and how people respond. That’s where we are.
Jesse Griffiths: It’s really cool to see the vibe in a place like [Gardner]. Because when I moved here in 1998...there wasn’t anything that pushed the bar like that. It’s a very composed restaurant. There’s nothing like it in town. It’s really cool.
TRIBEZA: So with these new envelope pushing restaurants, what are the challenges you’re dealing with when it comes to growth?
Jesse Griffiths: We had another no-show today.
Jessica Maher: Oh, that happens all the time. Or, they’ll actually come, and you’re like, “Okay, great we’ll see you on Tuesday.” And then they never show up again. [Shakes her head] “Is it something I did?”
Jesse Griffiths: I think that the high-end talent is moving here, like chefs and stuff. Coming here and opening restaurants. But the cooks aren’t here yet.
Jessica Maher: Everybody wants to be a chef.
Roberto Ainslie: I think everyone is extremely excited to see what people who really care about food and dining are coming up with in Austin. [But] because there are so many new things, and they all are interesting and compelling... [It’s tough] to keep a really amazing staff at your spot.
Jesse Griffiths: Younger people have shorter attention spans now, so they are distracted by the opening of some other place. Cooks coming up in the industry 20 years ago, you went in and you worked really hard for somebody for a long time, and you just went there hat in hand and worked to get that job. Now the attitude is “I’ll just pick out what’s best for me.”
Jessica Maher: I don’t want to say I disagree—I think there are probably more people who are bouncing out—but even when I lived in New York people bounced out all the time no matter where I worked.
TRIBEZA: A common theme for all of your restaurants is this idea of collaboration. You have chefs, artisans, makers and designers all working together on a single project. What are your thoughts on maintaining that creative, collaborative spirit as we head into 2015 and beyond?
Roberto Ainslie: One of the beautiful things about Austin... is that chefs talk to each other about what they are doing. [In other cities], restaurants always feel like they are in tense competition with each other. So, the idea of collaborating feels natural in Austin where it doesn’t always in other cities.
Jesse Griffiths: I would hate to see the restaurant scene here spiral into the negativity and kind of the competition that has happened with [other] cities. It was about six months ago and I was talking to [co-owner] Tamara [Mayfield] and I was like, “There are just so many people moving here.” And she said, “Well, these are the people who are going to be walking in the door.” And I said, “Well, that’s fine, I just hope that they hold the door open for the person behind them.” Because that’s the way it’s always been here. I think it’s very important we maintain that attitude, not only restaurants, but in general.
Jessica Maher: It’s growing so fast. But we’re part of it. So I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, I want to maintain the sense of cool here.
Mickie Spencer: We’re all a part of the same community and working together to keep Austin very creative and interesting. But like Jesse said, it’s all about the personalities and attitudes keeping it friendly and supportive of each other. It’s good to grow and create new, beautiful things, but at the same time to stay true to Austin and what we’re about here.
In a city where jeans are the uniform of choice and flip flops are considered a wardrobe staple, working in fashion comes with its challenges. Instead of fighting the casual-cool look that has become Austin’s uniform, these five fashionistas are embracing it. For this conversation, we gathered together the ultimate Austin glam squad. SXSW Interactive Publicist and curator of SXStyle Kelly Krause; Filmmaker, jewelry designer and owner of Crystal Bullets, Elise Avellan; Outdoor Voices CEO Tyler Haney; Hoiden Supply Co. co-owner Madison Enloe; and artist, illustrator and designer Alyson Fox all joined together to discuss what defines Austin style.
TRIBEZA: What defines Austin style to you?
Elise Avellan: It’s a cliché; people say “Keep Austin Weird,” but it is weird because most people here are so eclectic and strange. Austin has this like, “we-don’t-care” attitude, and that attitude is not an indifference, but more an allowance. It’s very [accepting] of people to be whatever it is they are, even if it’s not considered stylish. We made the list in GQ as the worst dressed cities in America. And I believe it... [Austin] allows you to be whatever it is that you want to be. If it’s fancy or not, it doesn’t matter, but it doesn’t judge you.
Kelly Krause: I don’t think Austinites care about those lists, to be honest. I think everyone’s so busy working on their own ventures and ideas, if anything it gives us ammo to be like, “Okay, great. Don’t move here. I-35 is already a mess.”
Madison Enloe: I think the people here have awesome style. I mean, no it doesn’t look like anywhere else, but that is what makes it genuine and unique.
Elise Avellan: We’re also so hot most of the year. We don’t think about having all these stylish pieces hanging out just ready for us to wear them. We’re already half-naked all of the time.
Madison Enloe: Also, whenever you look at who makes the worst-dressed lists, those are the people that take chances. If we get on the worst-dressed list, it’s like, “Whatever. We’re just being us.”
TRIBEZA: What drew you all to Austin as opposed to New York, Los Ange- les, Paris—or even Dallas?
Kelly Krause: I lived in LA for almost 6 years, and I was drawn to Austin. It was such a switch from LA, which was very much a what-can-you-do-for- me type of city, and Austin was, “How can we work together? What can I do for you? Let’s just meet. And then maybe we can collaborate on something.”
Alyson Fox: There is such an ease to Austin. There’s room to breathe, and with that you’re able to grow as a creative individual. I’ve spent time in New York, I’ve spent time in LA, and I feel so trapped and forced to make things better than other people. It becomes this really competitive environment.
Kelly Krause: Austin is such a super proud city, proud of new businesses and talent that we have. I go into Garment and Alyson’s prints are on the wall. I go into Patika Coffee and the trays are from Nannie Inez. [We] are so proud of local talent.
Tyler Haney: I grew up in Boulder, Colorado and... both Austin and Boulder have this neat hippie vibe to them. It’s that casualness that I get so inspired by. I think that comes to fruition through community. People are lively—they’re happy. I’ve never seen such a happy community as Austin.
Madison Enole: Austin is such an “I can” city. There are so many artists and creatives, it’s so inspiring and everyone is just like, “Yup, I can do this. I’m going to make this happen.”
Elise Avellan: There is this tendency to be supportive of even the smallest things that people are doing. Even if somebody has just come out of school and talking about what they want to create, somebody that is already creating it is probably going to say, “Hey, come on over for a day and I’ll talk to you about how I started.”
TRIBEZA: Collaboration seems to be a common theme throughout all of these conversations. Can you talk about how other people have influenced past projects and what you’re most excited to work on in the future?
Alyson Fox: Austin is this great melting pot of filmmakers, wonderful restaurants, people starting their own clothing lines, activewear lines, architects, and everyone sort of supports each other and feeds off of each other. Each collaboration has been different for me specifically, but each one has totally opened doors to the way in which I think.
Tyler Haney: 2015—for us—it’s all about community. We just opened a shop on Blanco and West Sixth [streets], intentionally not in a primetime retail spot. We’ve been bringing in instructors from different exercise studios—Wanderlust, CorePower and Castle Hill—and having drop-in sessions almost every day of the week where everybody can come in.
Elise Avellan: I’m in the middle of making a couple of documentaries. And I’m figuring out how to turn [my] entire Crystal Bullets company into a social good company. Crystal Bullets started with me wanting to bring light into what is specifically made to end life and repurpose something that is so negative into something beautiful and wear it with pride.
Madison Enloe: We’re excited about collaborating with different people on different events like SXSW. Right now, we’re so new, as far as Hoiden goes, every day every week is totally new. It’s been really exciting.
Kelly Krause: I’m just super excited that [SXStyle] has created this platform for such a diverse group of designers and innovators and start-ups and coders, sort of anyone and everyone in the fashion, style and tech scenes to come together and and have these creative conversations in a cool city surrounded by a lot of talent. I’m excited to see what unfolds.
In order to get a true sense of where our fair city has been, and where it is going, we gathered five trailblazers from five very different industries: hospitality, technology, lifestyle, marketing and fine arts for a candid conversation about Austin’s culture and sustainability.
Though he’s only lived in Austin full-time for three years, restaurateur Jesse Herman has already built an empire which includes La Condesa, Sway, Fair Market and the upcoming South Congress Hotel, all of which he operates under his Violet Crown Management group.
Tech entrepreneur Shawn Bose first burst onto the tech scene as executive vice president of uShip. He is the co-founder of the Startup Games and the newly-launched, Deily. Bose is also involved with ATX Seed Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund.
Local blogger turned lifestyle guru Camille Styles has made a name showcasing a new way of entertaining that includes a new book, Camille Styles Entertaining. Along the way, Styles has made a point to highlight the artisans, purveyors and creatives that make Austin so special as she partners with global brands along the way.
Julie Warenoff is an account director for the east side creative agency, Guerilla Suit. Together with her colleagues, Warenoff is responsible for the branding and marketing of dozens of local businesses and giving internationally renowned events like Formula 1 and Fun Fun Fun Fest a decidedly Austin spirit.
Rachel Haggerty Stephens is an art curator and current partner at the Wally Workman Gallery which represents 55 artists from across the globe. She is also the co-editor of an online art magazine called Aether Magazine
TRIBEZA: What is it about Austin that makes it such fertile ground for all these different industries?
Rachel Haggerty Stephens (fine arts): I think Austin is so good at supporting emerging artists, entrepreneurs. It has that energy of, “Go and do it. Do what you want.” And it was very successful in doing that with the music scene a couple of decades ago, and that’s why we are known as a music city.
Shawn Bose (technology): Over the last few years, there is a coming together of some of these disparate worlds which before was like, “Oh, what’s that group? They’re doing visual arts and design and you don’t really know them. Or they’re doing tech, or they’re doing hospitality.” And I feel as Austin grows up you see all of those circles mixing more, which I think is exciting because it fosters more innovation.
Jesse Herman (hospitality): Austin [allows you] to connect with so many people doing so many interesting things in such a short period of time. And that allows you to get involved in a lot of different things as well.
Camille Styles (lifestyle): I think the warmth and the accessibility and the authenticity that we still have comes across every different industry... Austin is so different from the stuffy formality of southern entertaining or southern culture, and I think that’s really appealing to a younger audience and something that makes Austin really different from every other city.
Julie Warenoff (marketing): Austin has become a known and desirable brand, not just in Texas and not just in the U.S., but everywhere.
TRIBEZA: How do we keep the “Austin brand” that has attracted so many different industries, events and people? What are some issues that have arisen?
Shawn Bose: Right now, you’re seeing what I would like to call “the second act” for Austin technology, which I think is important. You’re seeing the second acts in a lot of the [industries] we’re in... We’ve established a baseline that you can be successful doing art, or hospitality, or technology here in Austin—and now we’re building on that. What I’d like to see now is more of a confluence of all these things coming together.
Rachel Haggerty Stephens: People come and hear about the gallery scene, all of the galleries are friends with each other, we support each other because we can grow better together than separate, and other places are shocked because it’s not the way it is. It’s not one pitted against another.
Camille Styles: One of my favorite parts of my job is having the opportunity to discover and collaborate and share on an international stage. We probably feature 50 percent people from Austin purely because I’m constantly meeting someone new and falling in love with what they’re doing and I want to shout it from the rooftops and share it with the world.
Rachel Haggerty Stephens: Over the past five to ten years, we are seeing our artists that we represent actually getting a paycheck from us instead of having to see that paycheck come from other cities. So it’s really wonderful to see these emerging artists being supported by the local community. But in terms of everyone moving here, it’s great for our business on one hand, but on the other hand, artists aren’t capable to afford to live here as much, so you’re seeing artists having to move farther away, kind of that whole Soho thing in New York. Everyone wants to live where the artists live until the artists can’t afford to live there any more.
Shawn Bose: I think there’s always the question you know as more and more people rush to Austin, what’s sustainable as far as talent? There’s a big issue in the technology community of attracting quality talent, so there’s a lot of ideas about investing in companies.
[RACHEL HAGGERTY STEPHENS]
TRIBEZA: What will make this growth sustainable?
Julie Warenoff: I tend to take a really overprotective stance when it comes to Austin because I’m a native and I think that makes me special. Well, it doesn’t, I mean we’re all here doing great things together, and the city is growing and we’re all prospering from it. I think we should all look forward with that in mind and make room for each other.
Jesse Herman: I’m really excited because I love the Austin that exists now, and I love the Austin that existed when I moved here. I think that it will innately preserve, you know, it’s authenticity as a place because it’s so unique and because of all the interesting things people do here.
Camille Styles: I get really excited thinking about the Austin of today and the Austin of the future, because rather than our town becoming more like other big cities, I see it continuing to grow uniquely into its own. From the food to the design to the arts scene, Austin has managed to hold onto an identity that’s not like anywhere else, which I think is ultimately responsible for our rapid growth since people naturally gravitate towards that authenticity and want to be part of it. I envision the city continuing to evolve as more and more people put their own creative stamp on what it means to be an Austinite.
Rachel Haggerty Stephens: We definitely have been doing [well] the past couple of years, lots of growth, because everyone’s moving here and also moving from cities that have the real culture of collecting art. And so they’re coming from cities with that already instilled in them. I’m hoping that means maybe more galleries will open and it will create more of a community.
Jesse Herman: I’m “pro” the growth and the evolution of Austin because I’m fortunate to have a perspective having lived abroad and in New York and Miami and a number of different places. I spent 12 years in New York City. Living in a city like that, you’re just part of the evolution of society at large. It’s always growing and evolving in one way. I always like to think of it as more of an evolution because it’s not only happening here, it’s happening everywhere.
by Joanna Steblay
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