Austin gets two new eateries and a possible fosterer for many more, in this week's "Food-o-File."
New Pies, New 'Cue
March seems as good a time as any for new restaurant ventures in Austin. The city is abuzz with such activities as SXSW, the state high school basketball tourneys, and the legislative session, all of which keep cash registers ringing. So, Adam Garber has taken the plunge and opened Rounders (1203 W. Sixth, 477-0404), a New York-style pizza joint serving hand-tossed, thin-crust pies. The friendly new establishment is still in the BYOB stage while they await a beer-and-wine license, and they hope to do plenty of takeout business during the daytime, due to limited parking. Garber swears that homesick New Yorkers have given his pies the big thumbs up, so go by and check him out... Longtime Siena General Manager Jay Knepp has left the Tuscan castle and is helping old friend Scott Roberts and family open a new Salt Lick Barbecue in the former Barons/Vincent's location in Davenport Ranch. Though the new spot will not be called a "Bistro" or have a Hawaiian bar as has been reported elsewhere, the new accommodations will be somewhat swankier than the picnic tables at the open-air pavilion at the original Salt Lick in Driftwood, and there will be a few tropical drinks on the bar menu. They're shooting for a late-March opening.
Food Entrepreneurship Center
Now here comes a subject that's dear to my heart -- a potential business incubator that would support small, local, independent food producers. From time to time, Austin has been known as a food production center. We were famous for growing spinach in the Roaring Twenties, Texas housewives bought plenty of frozen NightHawk Top Chop steak dinners produced here from the Fifties through the Eighties, and these days, we're justifiably famous as a hotbed of hot sauce. Now there's a group of folks who envision food production as a whole new industry for the Austin area. Margo Weitz, executive director of Austin's Community Development Corporation (472-8087, www.austinscdc.org), sent me some information recently on the newest project from the local nonprofit that provides financing and technical assistance to businesses in financially distressed areas of Austin. The CDC is in the midst of a feasibility study to investigate the development of a Food Entrepreneurship Center in East Austin. According to Weitz, the center would include a shared-use commercial kitchen, training rooms and facilities, and storage space that would be made available to Austin-area food manufacturing entrepreneurs. The kitchen would be a fully equipped, inspected, and insured facility where caterers, bakers, chefs, specialty-food manufacturers, growers, and producers could rent kitchen production space at an affordable rate. The center would also offer an array of value-added services including training, technical assistance, financial advice, and the potential of access to capital. The CDC has evaluated such facilities in other cities around the country and found that they do stimulate job growth. They've enlisted the input and support of successful local food entrepreneurs such as Foo Swasdee of Satay and Marta Guzman of Marta's Desserts and are busy circulating Facility Needs Surveys to any and all potential clients of the proposed center. The idea of a food-entrepreneurship center is worth considering for a variety of reasons. First, the most insurmountable hurdle for any small food business is the cost of commercial space and the installation of an inspection-worthy commercial kitchen. Available, affordable space in which to grow a fledgling business and ready access to good financial-planning advice and investment capital might just encourage the development of an entirely new "culinary creative class" in Austin. It's certainly worth looking into. If you are interested in filling out a Facility Needs Survey, contact Margo Weitz or Frank Fernandez at the CDC or access a copy of the form on their Web site.