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Foodie innovators land grants and La Corsha rep replies to Wonderland backlash

By Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Dec. 20, 2013

Cheer Up Charlie's
Cheer Up Charlie's
Photo by John Anderson

The Austin Food & Wine Alliance awarded $25,000 in culinary innovation grants at a gala last week at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center. This year's four winners put forth a fascinating collection of proposals which should serve to enhance our local culinary scene. Stephanie McClenny of Confituras will invest a $10,000 grant in the Preserving Austin Project, an extension of her established canning business which will include gathering oral histories about canning and preserving, continuing community outreach through presenting classes, and creating a mobile kitchen and traveling canning museum. Ben Runkle and Bryan Butler of Salt & Time Butcher Shop & Salumeria will use their $5,000 grant to further the federal certification process in order to become Texas' first USDA-inspected salumi producer, at which point they can add a wholesale cured meat component to their business. Brandon Ade's Blacklands Malt LLC of Leander provides the first truly local malted grains for the craft brewing, distilling, and baking industries in post-prohibition Texas. The $5,000 grant will allow him to expand onsite storage capacity, source more Texas barley, and possibly bring another regional farmer into the fold as a producer. Skinny Lane Farm owners Bekki Callaway and Michael Moser will use their $5,000 to develop an "on the farm" cooking program to teach area residents healthy cooking methods with fresh produce at their small farm near Elgin. Proposals from Dewberry Hills Farm, Jester King Brewery, and the Fresh Chefs Society received honorable mention. Congratulations to them all.

Imagine Valerie Broussard's surprise when she gave her notice at the W Hotel last week only to find that the news was leaked to the media the same day, long before either she or the hotel were prepared to discuss her departure or her emerging business plan. Forager Broussard will indeed be leaving the W to create her own consulting firm that will offer local foraging services as well as information on organic sourcing and zero waste operation to the culinary trade in Austin. Broussard expects to have the new company up and running by February.

The gentrification timeline in central East Austin accelerated greatly last week with the announcement that La Corsha Hospitality Group had purchased properties in the 1100 block of East Sixth Street with the intent to create bars, restaurants, and a boutique hotel on the properties. This confirms rumors that have been on the street in that neighborhood for at least the past year. The first fatality is Cheer Up Charlie's, which received notice its lease is up Jan. 15, 2014 and will not be renewed. The owners are already on the hunt for a new space. In its place will be Wonderland – a "no frills, neighborhood bar with no food service," as La Corsha partner Scott Walker puts it – to be helmed by respected Bar Congress bar manager and Bad Dog Bar Craft co-owner Jason Stevens. They hope to have Wonderland open by March 1, 2014. Walker steered clear of the term "dive bar" when describing Wonderland, but said the term had been used in a Statesman interview because "we didn't want people to think we were coming to the Eastside to do another Bar Congress." (Somehow I can't help but think the owners of the old conjunto and beer bars displaced along East Sixth over the past 10 years are the ones who appreciate the irony here the most.) Walker also said that construction on the rest of the property would probably not begin for a year to 18 months, so the East Sixth Filling Station trailers are in no immediate danger.

The newest member of the fast-growing East Austin barbecue community is Miss Vivian Franklin, baby daughter of Stacy and Aaron Franklin, born Dec. 4 and weighing in at 7 pounds, 7 ounces, and 22 inches. "She's happy and healthy and we love her to pieces," reports Stacy Franklin.

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