The Austin Chronicle

Help upEats ATX Help Austin’s Small Restaurants

By Jessi Cape, April 21, 2020, 3:30pm, On the Range

A new community-built list – upEats ATX or Under Promoted Eats ATX – is giving some love and support to Austin’s small local restaurants that don’t have publicist help or a large social media presence.

Stef Shapira, a local publicist, started this project specifically geared toward helping restaurants that don’t have PR representation. She said, “So many restaurants are struggling right now and I started to worry about those really small, mom-and-pop places that don't have a digital presence to let people know they're still open and how to order from them. Many don't have the knowledge or means to have a social media account or online ordering, and without the ability to leave our homes and see what's open, we're all really reliant on digital info right now during COVID-19 social distancing.”

“We called every restaurant on our current list to find out if they were still open and how to order, and it was both devastating and rewarding to hear their voices excited to answer the phone and take an order, and to thank us for letting people know they're still open and serving food,” added Shapira.

For upEats ATX, Shapira partnered with Menuette, a local tech startup dedicated to helping Austinites find delicious food and promote local businesses. And now their app features the upEats ATX collection, searchable by location, and allows users to upload their own photos.

The action on your part, dear reader, is simple: Check out upEats ATX and order from the restaurants; add your favorite local, under-the-radar spot using the "Share Restaurant Info" form; share!

We asked Shapira for a bit more info on herself and the upEats ATX project.

Austin Chronicle: What's your background – let folks know how tuned in to the local scene you are.

Stef Shapira: I've been a publicist specializing in food & beverage PR in Austin for over six years now and am also the chef coordinator for Hot Luck Fest. I've seen firsthand how crucial it's been for restaurants to be active on social media during COVID-19, as well as updating their websites, and being covered in media. Since people are rarely leaving their homes now, it's essential to have that digital presence so people know restaurants are open, and how they can order, since even one order can make a difference between staying open and closing for good in this landscape. I wanted to use my PR experience to help these businesses and give them a voice digitally that they aren't able to create on their own.

AC: Why are these tiny restaurants, in your words, so critical to the Austin food scene?

SS: If we lose these small, mom-and-pop restaurants we will lose a big part of the city's culture. It breaks my heart to think that a business would close just because they don't have the money to hire PR or the knowledge to post on social media, or update their website with online ordering. The types of places on upEats ATX not only symbolize the local spirit of Austin, but a diversity that is essential to the city. On a personal level, many of these restaurants are immigrant-owned and as someone who is the child of a Vietnamese mother, these places are near and dear to my heart. Imagine Austin without its taco trucks or its pho shops – we have to support these hyper-small businesses so we can maintain diversity and a local identity that makes Austin Austin.


AC: Are there any qualifying things (besides lack of PR) that help you choose what restaurants to include in this list?

SS: I knew from the beginning that I wanted this list to be different from all the others and represent the mom-and-pops, which means that we looked through every restaurant's digital presence before adding them to the list. It's important that no restaurant on the list has PR or a super active social media presence explaining details on what they're doing during COVID-19. If anyone does submit one of these places to our list, they won't be added and we suggest they add to one of the other more extensive lists that exist. This is in no way to say that PR work isn't important – it's even more important now than ever – but it is not the purpose of upEats ATX.

AC: Any favorites to recommend from the list and can people contact you for additions?

SS: I don't have any favorites because I think each place on the list needs equal support – if we can just spread the love (and the money) we can make an impact!

This was always meant to be a community-built list – our initial list is just a start – and we need people to be submitting via the "Share Restaurant Info" form on our website to make sure we're including as many places as we can so we can spread the support. We called every place on the list to confirm they are open, find out hours and how to order. As a group of explorative eaters, most of the places on the list are ones we've been to before, but we do want the list to contain new-to-us places as well as diverse types of cuisine and to cover a widespread map of the Austin area. People can also post on social media and tag @upeatsatx on Instagram or #upeatsatx to put them on our radar.

AC: Anything else you'd like our readers to know?

SS: This was my idea, but I could not have made it a reality without the help of two other amazing local folks. I was fortunate to connect with Rebecca Le (chief marketing officer) and Sav Shresthsa (founder) of the Menuette app, which lets you search for dishes by name or browse photos of dishes near your location. The Menuette team built the website for us and have also created an upEats ATX collection on Menuette, which allows you to view photos of dishes from some of the places on upEats ATX by location and even add photos of your own. Rebecca is also the food blogger behind TheHonestFoodist – I'd followed her for awhile on Instagram and love that that speaks for the underexposed eateries and promotes food history and culture. She was instrumental in helping create our list and support the small businesses that we love so much.

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