Last April during the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, I happened to overhear Coyote Cafe founder Mark Miller whining to successful New York restaurateur Drew Nieporent about how horrible it was to do business in Austin. Considering Austin's lukewarm response to Miller's particular blend of spices and condescension, it's not too surprising that the restaurant's poor performance was a blow to both his bankroll and his ego. Miller's operation blew into town in the spring of 1995 and for weeks, Coyote Cafe was the subject of stories on local TV and the front page of every section of the daily except sports. The restaurant got better service from the Statesman than Hugh Grant got from Divine Brown but still wasn't able to capitalize on it. Chef Miller himself was featured in a large interview in this paper, announcing that the award-winning design of the restaurant he'd purchased here was the "ugliest he'd ever seen" and that his only real competition would be in Dallas or Houston. Unfortunately, the overkill of the early press coverage and the pretentious tone of Miller's interview created a public relations chasm that the hardworking, talented local Coyote staff was never able to overcome. How could any food ever live up to all that hype? Chef Rocky Packard and pastry chef Lisa Fox put their best efforts on the table and into the community for two years but to no avail. There was never a recognizable presence in the front of the house to make customers feel welcome and encouraged to return, no identifiable front man (or woman) with the personality to help generate a positive image. Austin's Coyote outlet always generated more gossip than business and finally closed on Saturday, September 6. While Lisa Fox considers her career options locally, Rocky Packard has departed Austin with his young family, bound for a great new job in Northern California. Though many restaurateurs from Austin and around the state have looked at the Coyote property, there's no word yet on a definite sale.

Mark your calendars now for two interesting local events scheduled for the first weekend in October. Whole Foods Market sponsors the return of the Whole Life Expo to Palmer Auditorium October 3-5. This is the nation's premier event promoting natural health, personal growth, and spirituality. It features information booths, discussions, expert speakers, and more than 200 exhibitors. Tickets for the Expo are on sale at BookPeople, Sixth and Lamar. Manuel's (310 Congress, 472-7555) celebrates a Women's Festival benefiting the Center for Battered Women from October 2-5. Visual artists have made their works available for sale at a silent auction and 19 female recording artists have contributed to a compilation CD which will debut that weekend. Many of the artists on the CD are scheduled to perform live at the restaurant. The Sunday Jazz Brunch from noon-5:30pm should be a special treat. For more festival info, contact Lane Orsak at 472-4422.

Wine tastings are a festive way to educate the public about wine and increase future sales. With that in mind, Doug Driskell at Speakeasy (412-D Congress, 476-8017) has enlisted the expertise of Neil Turner of Wiggy's Liquors for a series of regular wine tastings at the downtown watering hole. Check out the festivities on alternate Wednesdays from 6-10pm where they showcase wines and offer a small food buffet for $15 per person.

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