- Matthew Odam American-Statesman Staff
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Maybe someone should put a sign on top of the Lamar Union warning future tenants. Or, at least, “Temper expectations.”
The newish development at 1100 S. Lamar Blvd. has had a tough run. First Cantine closed after about a two-year stint. El Burro from the Vox Table team closed, lasting only six months. And, now, the market, beer-and-wine bar and deli Delicious has closed. At least temporarily, according to the Facebook page of the business owned by Live Oak Market operator Raj Singh.
The Lamar Union complex has become emblematic of the difficulty many mixed-use developments have in fostering successful ground-floor restaurants and retail. If you want a striking example, just look at Shake Shack. The historically popular burger chain does much less business than I’d expect (and local drive-thru P.Terry’s has to be at least one reason why). But, Shake Shack, unlike some of the small businesses that have opened at the Lamar Union, has enough money to throw at what have to be steep rents.
With Lamar, like many of Austin’s major thoroughfares, not being a huge foot-traffic zone, due in part to a deeply ingrained car culture; high rents; some misreading of the market by operators; crowds flowing into the Alamo Drafthouse to eat while they watch a movie; and Austinites unaccustomed to (or not interested in) slowing down on a fast street to find parking in a tucked-away and treacherous garage and then making the walk back to a restaurant, the math seems stacked against Lamar Union thus far, though Caffe Medici and the Drafthouse probably aren’t complaining.
Of course, Lamar Union is not unique in its struggle to adapt to changing Austin. The growing pains are evident everywhere as our town attempts to become a city.
Amid all the closures at Lamar Union, the Austin Business Journal recently reported that TA Realty purchased the entire complex from Greystar Real Estate Partners. As the ABJ noted, the Travis Central Appraisal District most recently valued the development at almost $150 million.
A sushi restaurant from the family who owns Northwest Austin restaurant Soto plans to open in the former Cantine space later this year, and seafood-centric TLC from the owners of J. Black’s will go in at the end of the driveway across from the Drafthouse (which may prove to be a slightly more advantageous spot despite the lack of curb appeal from Lamar). We will see if they can stem the tide and what comes of the temporarily closed Delicious.
Whip In — a beloved South Austin food-and-beverage institution, as well as live music venue and generally sweet hang — has new owners.
Amrit and Chandan Topiwala, who founded the Whip In in 1986, sold the business to Zahir Prasla of Austin’s Quickie Pickie Group. Prasla intends to serve a similar wine and beer selection to that of the original Whip In, while introducing a new food menu with a London-style curry house/pub theme that will deviate from some of the Indian-Texas fusion dishes of Whip In’s past, according to a news release. The restaurant will also return its Sunday brunch. Live music will continue, and the new owners plan to expand the grocery selection.
Renovations are slated for the dining room in an effort to ease flow, and there will be multiple bathrooms available, but the new owners say they hope to keep the “same relaxed, funky atmosphere and vibe that has made it an Austin institution.” Extended hours and weekday breakfast are also in the plans, but no details have been released as yet.
Dipak Topiwala, who for 11 years helped steward the business his parents opened in 1986, slowly transforming it from an ordinary gas station into a multicultural convenience store, beer bar, wine garden, restaurant and music venue, will open his Lotus Joint food trailer (with the slogan “tacos con chutney”) at the Cosmic Coffee and Beer Garden at 121 Pickle Road in South Austin in the coming weeks. The locally-sourced food trailer will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dipak Topiwala originally operated Lotus Joint from a food truck at Independence Brewing. He had been looking for a new location for his beer operation, Kamala Brewing, but has put those plans on the back burner in order to focus on Lotus Joint for now.
The one nit we can all agree to pick about the glory of the Austin barbecue explosion is that so many of the great operators are an al fresco dining proposition. Yes, real Texans don’t mind a little sweat in their eyes when plowing through some brisket, but air conditioning never killed anyone. So it should come as happy news that La Barbecue moved into the Quickie Pickie building at 2027 E. Cesar Chavez St. La Barbecue is initially keeping the same hours as its trailer, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, with plans to eventually add Tuesday hours. For those who love to sweat, don’t worry — there will also be outdoor seating, and I am sure part of the line for ordering will extend outdoors.
Closed and looking ahead
The Filipino-inspired food truck Be More Pacific is getting a more permanent home. The business, which opened as a food truck six years ago, is moving into the space previously occupied by the recently closed Rebel Pizza Bar at 7858 Shoal Creek Blvd. The restaurant from owner-operators Mark Pascual and Giovan Cuchapin is expected to open in October, and the truck will remain in service. Rebel Pizza Bar opened in the summer of 2015 as an offshoot of the neighboring Suzi’s China Grill.
The hits just keep on coming for the East Austin mash-up of izakaya and smokehouse and the all-day, wine-centric cafe on South Congress Avenue.
Kemuri Tatsu-Ya and June’s All Day earned spots on Bon Appetit’s list of the 50 Best New Restaurants in America. They were the only two Texas restaurants to make the annual list. This after June’s landed a spot on a similar lists by Food & Wine earlier this year, as well as nabbing very positive reviews from the Statesman, and Kemuri took a spot on the Best New Restaurants list from GQ.
Salt Lick BBQ is ready for some football. The Driftwood-based barbecue giant will have a concession stand at the University of Texas’ Royal-Memorial Stadium this season.
The Salt Lick will have stands at Section 30 in Level 1 and Section 6 on Level 3. The menu will feature a pulled pork sandwich, chopped and sliced brisket sandwiches, sloppy nachos and smoked sausage dog.
Longhorn football kicks off Sept. 2 against the Maryland Terrapins.