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People to watch in 2015


From books and movies to recipe apps, new bars and new music, folks in Austin have a lot planned for 2015. The Austin360 staff rounded up a selection of people to watch, people we expect to do fun, inspiring and creative things well into the year and beyond. Cheers!

— Sharon Chapman, features editor

Lauren Foster

Growing up, Lauren Foster ate more fast food than many people might in a lifetime. Her grandmother was doing the best she could as she dealt with her own health problems, but it made Foster passionate about finding budget-conscious ways to eat better.

The first member of her family to graduate from college, Foster, 28, completed her MBA in 2012 with the vision for Stretch Recipes (stretchrecipes.com), a cooking app and website that allows you to start with how much you can spend on groceries and then build a meal plan from there. After teaming up with a chef to develop recipes, Foster will launch her app — with veterans as her first target demographic — this year, and she’s already gaining attention in startup competitions across the country.

She already has implemented some creative ways to build momentum for the launch, including cooking classes and a whole chicken cookbook that will be available for download later this month.

— Addie Broyles

Andrew Bujalski and Karen Olsson

Filmmaker Andrew Bujalski and author Karen Olsson, who happen to be married to each other, both have big projects coming in 2015. Bujalski, whose last movie was the under-seen, under-appreciated “Computer Chess,” has “Results” appearing in the first quarter of 2015. Starring Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan and Giovanni Ribisi, “Results” is the story of two personal trainers who have to deal with a new, wealthy client.

Olsson’s new novel, “All the Houses,” is slated to be published in the fall by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It is the former Texas Observer editor and freelance writer’s follow-up to “Waterloo,” her Austin-centric 2006 novel, and concerns a family that was destabilized by a minor political scandal in the 1980s and the aftermath 20 years later. “It’s a very personal book, but not autobiographical,” Olsson said in an interview.

— Joe Gross

Erik Stanley

After five years of coaching at Rogue Running, Erik Stanley, 29, branched out on his own this year to launch his Trail Roots running group.

The roots are spreading fast. The group’s focus is off-road, something Stanley grew to love while running mountains in Colorado. Now he’s passing that get-lost-in-the-woods passion on to other runners, who gather each week for track and hill workouts, plus long weekend scampers on the greenbelt.

“Getting out in woods is a way to detach from your phone and traffic,” he says. “There’s also the community aspect of it. People are always watching out for each other on the trail.”

But he’s not just coaching. The former University of Texas All-American scored wins both on- and off-road in 2014, including the 3M Half Marathon, the Distance Challenge, the Angelfire Endurance Half Marathon, the Bandera 25K and the Turkey Trot.

In 2015, he’s planning Trail Roots expeditions to races including the Big Bend Ultra, Pike’s Peak Ascent and the Leadville Trail Marathon. He’s also plotting to create a new trail race right here in Central Texas.

— Pam LeBlanc

Sharon Choksi

Eighteen months ago, Austinite Sharon Choksi; her sister Laura Burns, who lives in St. Louis; and her brother David Burns, who lives in Chicago, launched a line of girls’ clothing that was designed for girls who are not “girly” and who didn’t fit in today’s girls’ clothing lines. (Translation: normal-sized girls, anyone who is athletic or skinny or curvy.)

The story we wrote on the Girls Will Be line in August 2013 got shared on Facebook 42,000 times in its first week. Last year the line added shorts by launching a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $30,000, above its initial goal of $24,500. It also added size 14 last year as well as some hoodies. CNN’s family writer included Girls Will Be in its holiday gift guide.

“I feel like we’re on the precipice of an explosive year for us,” Choksi said about 2015. By the second week of December, holiday sales had already doubled from the year before.

This year, Girls Will Be is launching five new shirts for spring including soccer, dinosaurs and camping themes, as well as tweaking the shorts design. They also hope to add pants for next fall.

— Nicole Villalpando

Four from the social scene

Virginia Cumberbatch: Quiet, dignified and classy, Cumberbatch continues to impress with her leadership in groups such as the Austin Area Urban League, University of Texas and Global Shapers Community. Her Twitter bio says it all: “We have not started living until we rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to broader concerns of humanity.”

Mark Madrid: Few people injected more energy into the Austin social, business and nonprofit scenes in 2014 than Madrid, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He graduated from UT, spent time in New York, Mexico City and Houston, then hit the ground running last year here, uniting disparate forces around the chamber as never before. (Look for a larger profile on Madrid on Monday in print and online.)

Jason White: A gay former Marine from East Texas — who caused a stir during the final days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — White opened a jazz club in Austin. Then he expanded Brass House into a restaurant and events venue that attracts charities and social clubs. White breaks barriers and brings together cultural constituencies.

Erica Saenz: She could run anything. Now with the UT Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Saenz possesses rare social graces that combine intelligence, humor and instant empathy. First noticed as part of the Latino Comedy Project, the actress and playwright holds her own with the city’s power players like consummate pro.

— Michael Barnes

Tish Hinojosa

Singer/songwriter Tish Hinojosa, who was local music royalty in the 1990s, moved to Germany in 2005. After spending nearly a decade mostly out of the spotlight overseas, Hinojosa recently returned to Austin and talked to us about her transformative journey.

Now that she’s back, she’s working on a musical treat. Hinojosa has teamed with master accordionist Flaco Jiménez for an upcoming album that’ll feature their favorite classic songs ranging from beloved Mexican tunes to Tejano music.

Keep up with Hinojosa’s latest work and tours online at mundotish.com.

— Nancy Flores

Mike ‘Truth’ Johnston

If you haven’t seen his artwork on Austin walls throughout the city yet, then you likely will soon. As a rising star in the local street art scene, Mike “Truth” Johnston has already captured the attention of some major clients including South by Southwest and the Alamo Drafthouse.

Now that the former schoolteacher has dedicated himself to his artwork full time, expect to see more of his paintings, murals and street art around the city.

Johnston says he’s looking forward to painting a large mural for Freescale Semiconductors and a trip to Los Angeles for mural painting in January as well as an art show at Austin Art Garage with artist Jason Eatherly in the spring.

Check out Johnston’s work on mikejohnstonartist.com.

— Nancy Flores

Jeff Young

When Blue Owl Brewing opens early next year on East Cesar Chavez Street, one very big distinction will set it apart from other breweries in the country. All its beers, like the sour session wheat Little Boss, will be sour mashed, a technique for brewers to make any style of beer tart without the long amount of time that usually goes into the brewing process for sour beers.

For founders Jeff Young and Suzy Shaffer, launching such a distinctive project isn’t new. Both were part of Black Star Co-Op, the first cooperatively-owned brewpub in the world. Young, head brewer there, left to pursue this new passion.

“Blue Owl Brewing is a chance for me to delve into a largely ignored and underappreciated area in brewing,” Young said. “With the sour-mashing process being able to be applied to any and all beer styles, we will provide a unique and quirky twist to known styles, as well as create new styles, in an industry where you thought everything has been done.”

— Arianna Auber

Josh Loving

After several years bringing quality cocktails to Austinites at venerated spots such as Fino, Midnight Cowboy and Jeffrey’s, Josh Loving’s founding a bar of his own in the former Mike’s Pub on East Seventh Street. Like Half Step last year, it’s becoming one of the most anticipated bar openings in 2015.

Loving doesn’t have a lot to work with — the space is only 800 square feet — but along with business partner Brian Stubbs, he plans to make the most of what will become Small Victory, with “all the stuff that I like,” including classic cocktails, a small but meaningful wine list, ice from a Clinebell machine and light bites such as cheese and charcuterie.

He’s hoping to open it in February, but renovations have been “sort of like peeling a rotten onion.”

“I think the name came about when (Brian) said something like, ‘If we get it done in this place, it would be a small victory for us,’ ” Loving said.

— Arianna Auber

East Cameron Folkcore

The expansive collective East Cameron Folkcore chose a good name: It reflects both their neighborhood origin and their musical juxtaposition of largely traditional song forms with a performance style that’s more akin to hardcore punk abandon.

That balance has served them well as their star has gradually risen on the local scene, particularly with the attention-grabbing 2013 record “For Sale.” A new single issued last fall served as a precursor to what’s clearly their most ambitious release yet, an hourlong concept album called “Kingdom of Fear.”

Horns, cello and multiple vocalists bolster the guitar-bass-drums foundation of a lineup that sometimes features more than 10 musicians at East Cameron Folkcore’s live shows (though the band’s Facebook page lists nine official members).

Plans for the new record include a four-night run of release shows at the east side performance space Salvage Vanguard Theater in early April, followed by festival dates overseas in May and June. They’re kicking off 2015 with a couple of high-profile Free Week appearances: They’ll be on the indoor stage at Stubb’s on Jan. 8, followed by a show on Red 7’s outdoor stage Jan. 9.

— Peter Blackstock

ATX hip-hop’s first breakout

Underground talent on Austin’s hip-hop scene is thriving, setting 2015 up for a breakout star, but who will it be?

Kydd Jones, one of the city’s sharpest rhyme-slingers, charismatic on tape and a powerful live performer, is an obvious top choice as are Riders Against the Storm, the husband-and-wife duo whose ridiculously funky live shows feel like a post-millennial resurrection of George Clinton’s mothership. Zeale’s 2014 rap/rock EP “Frnz and Fngz” has obvious radio appeal, and he’s incredible live. He’s also been touring nonstop, steadily building a national fanbase.

As far as crews go, League of Extraordinary Gz and SubKulture Patriots have both been grinding hard, but I’m going to put my money on an underdog. The first time I saw Mindz of a Different Kind they stopped me cold. They are young and hungry and they have the same kind of anarchic, earth-shattering energy that Odd Future had right before they broke out. But unlike L.A.’s shock rap collective, the five-member crew — four men and a lady — drop electrifying, socially conscious rhyme science. If MDK becomes the national face of ATX hip-hop, I’m behind that 300 percent.

— Deborah Sengupta Stith

Two funny femmes

Whether the tiny, subversively dark comic Ashley Barnhill is tweeting as a pumpkin spice latte (“I don’t deserve all of this”) or herself (“So you kill them with kindness but then what do you do with the bodies WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE BODIES SO MANY BODIES OH GOD”), her writing packs a big wallop. Her Vines are always hilarious, and her short film “Where Do You Want to Eat?” recently went viral. Not enough? She’s also a top-10 finalist in the 2015 edition of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Project Greenlight.

This could be the year that Maggie Maye breaks big. Tweets such as “White people: Just because a minority wants to talk about race doesn’t mean you’re in trouble” and “Not all black people voted for Obama, but we all voted for Ruben Studdard at least once” are clever takes on race, but the comic’s clever material goes way beyond being African-American and female. If she keeps coming up with lines such as “I eat like a 5-year-old whose dad has her for the weekend,” we won’t have her to ourselves that much longer.

— Dale Roe

Peter Li

If he can deliver on expectations, CEO Peter Li might make a lot of fitness enthusiasts very happy this year. Li’s Austin-based company Atlas Wearables has been working on a fitness tracker called “Atlas” that was crowdfunded to the tune of more than $629,019 last March.

His company raised another $1.1 million later in 2014 to continue developing the tracker, which, unlike devices such as FitBit or the Jawbone Up, can tell what exercises wearers are performing as they’re performing them. It’s built to help create custom workouts and improve performance based on data collected by the Atlas. When paired with a smartphone app, the Atlas could be a boon to personal trainers and those who want to supercharge their workouts and improve their form.

The Atlas is going through its manufacturing overseas in hopes it will arrive for crowdfunding backers in April and be available to everyone else by summer.

If you see Li, who has a degree in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University, at the gym, he’s likely doing research to make the Atlas a standout in an increasingly crowded fitness tech market.

— Omar L. Gallaga


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