Cuisines editor Virginia B. Wood explains why the loss of Waterloo Brewing Company has hit her hard -- and she's not even a beer drinker.
The untimely demise of the Waterloo Brewing Company was all over the news Labor Day weekend with most local media outlets joining in the funeral dirge. The loss of Waterloo hit me hard, and I'm not even a beer drinker and was never a customer there. I took it hard because of what it could mean for the future of independent businesses downtown. I'd be willing to bet the news that Waterloo founder Billy Forrester's $8,500 rent was about to quadruple sent a cold chill down the spine of every independent restaurant and bar owner who leases space downtown. Forrester is a pioneer, a man of vision who actually changed the downtown landscape for the better. He lobbied the state Legislature to allow brewpubs and opened the first one in Austin in 1993. He took an empty corner paint store and made great use of the space, creating a brewpub with outdoor seating and an inviting rooftop deck that quickly became an anchor for the revitalization of what we now call the Warehouse District. Waterloo was a business that was all about the community, sponsoring events, providing a live-music venue during SXSW, giving back, and being a good neighbor. The unfortunate reward for all that innovation and goodwill was two years of financial beatings from the city in street closings, construction delays, and parking problems followed by what amounted to constructive eviction because the property Waterloo revitalized would now be worth more as lofts.
This leaves me wondering just how much collateral damage we have to suffer in the name of almighty Smart Growth before we reach a level of loss that is unacceptable. The vision of blocks full of loft buildings with nothing but Starbucks and generic chain restaurants occupying the street-level spaces may be the perfect dream for downtown landlords and developers, but it's my nightmare. If this keeps up, it won't be too many years until the only way to distinguish downtown Austin from any other boring big-city downtown will be the Capitol building and the bats under the Congress Avenue bridge. In public appearances, Smart Growth cheerleader Mayor Kirk Watson loves to reminisce about the first time he and his wife enjoyed particular spots around Austin. Won't it be ironic if the legacy of his stewardship over the city is that all we can do about the unique, definitive eateries, clubs, and watering holes that made Austin special is reminisce about them?
African-American students pursuing a college degree in the culinary arts or a related field are invited to apply for three scholarships to the fourth annual Southern Foodways Symposium to be held Oct. 25-28 on the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Glory Foods of Columbus, Ohio, will award scholarships to the three students who submit the best answers to a series of questions. To view the full conference schedule and apply for the Glory Foods scholarships, go to www.southernfoodways.com ... The Lambert siblings of the Hotel San José (1316 S. Congress, 444-7322) and Liberty Catering (383-8880) are teaming up for a fundraiser to benefit Project Transitions (454-8646) on Tuesday, Sept. 18. That night the regular Tuesday Steak Nite catered by Liberty in the pleasant San José patio becomes a fundraiser to "Raise the Roof" at Doug's House, a hospice facility operated by Project Transitions. There will be three dinner seatings, and reservations are a must, so call the Project Transitions office immediately.