Archive for: October 2014

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Austin’s Facial Hair Culture Grows Thick

 by Jane Claire Hervey, Olivia Starich, Alex Vickery & Elizabeth Williams

For many American men, the onset of “No Shave November” marks a time of facial hair freedom. The annual cultural trend, which began as a cancer awareness movement by the American Cancer Society, calls for a divorce from the razor in acknowledgement of one’s hairiest self. But for Austin’s habitually bearded citizenry, “No Shave November” is just another month. For these men, facial hair is perennial — and it means business.

In September of this year, a study conducted by men’s grooming company Wahl Home Products found that Austin is the seventh most facial hair-friendly city in America. Using online tools, the company’s market research determined that Austin generally has a positive sentiment toward and a general interest in facial hair. But this love for all things bearded and mustached extends far beyond Internet facial hair forums, to local beard-oriented businesses and organizations that have been active for over a decade.

 Dylan Powell of the Austin Facial Hair Club. Photo by Olivia Starich

Dylan Powell of the Austin Facial Hair Club has been growing a beard for a couple of years. He maintains his mane with beard oils and a customized comb. Photo by Olivia Starich

One such organization, the Austin Facial Hair Club, was founded in 2007 by bearded Austinite Bryan Nelson and three friends. The hairy organization first served as a means to gather a team for that year’s World Beard and Moustache Championships in Alaska. Later the club gained its own reality TV show, “Whisker Wars,” which ran for two seasons on one of AMC’s networks, IFC. Although the club’s stint on national television has since ended, Nelson still regularly hosts and participates in local and national beard and mustache competitions: in 2011, his full-bodied face-mane placed second at the U.S. Nationals for the “Full Beard Natural” category.

“I haven’t shaved in about nine years,” Nelson said.

And it’s obvious. Nelson’s beard extends down to his belt loops. Braided by his wife, the club leader’s facial hair is usually one of the longest at group gatherings. This past weekend at the Hi-Hat bar in East Austin, Nelson and other local beard enthusiasts met over smoked salmon bagels and beer for an Austin Facial Hair Club “Meat and Greet” over roasted salmon bagels and beer. Between bites, they brushed crumbs away from their whiskery mouths and exchanged stories and secrets of their trade — the conversation ranged from debating over the best mustache wax, their recent facial hair growth discoveries and their plans for the future.

“Austin’s going to host the World Beard and Mustache Championship in 2017 so, we’re getting geared up for that,” Nelson said. “Most of [the championships] have about 300 competitors and 1,000 spectators, and ours is going to be about 1,000 competitors and 3,000 spectators or more.”

Austin Facial Hair Club from Elizabeth Williams on Vimeo.

While this won’t be Austin’s first foray into facial hair competition, it will be the largest. The club has been hosting annual beard and mustache competitions for several years, and local businesses have started to take part in the fun. In August of this year, downtown bar Cheer Up Charlie’s hosted its first Wet Beard Contest, which offered a spotlight for Austin beardos to flaunt their damp whiskers. On Saturday, Oct. 22, mustache-themed establishment The Handlebar plans to host its 3rd Annual Mustache Competition. Despite the competitive element, Austin Facial Hair Club member Jeff Raye said that the community supports a friendly environment for its bearded and mustached members.

“When you walk down the street, and you see a guy with a bigger beard you just kind of give that nod and that wink to him,” Raye said. “The bigger beard gets the right of way.”

Austin’s thriving beard culture has also provided a way for beard-geared business. The Bearded Bastard, the grooming product brainchild of mustached Austinite Jeremiah Newton, began with homemade mustache waxes and beard oils in 2011. Brought on by demand from his bearded friends and local facial hair cultivators, Newton’s home project quickly grew into an online store, and he began marketing his products to a national audience. Now a facial hair authority for publications like The New York Times and Esquire, Newton travels the globe to spread his facial hair gospel.


The shelves at Shed Barber Shop feature a variety of grooming products. The “Woodsman” collection of mustache waxes and oils comes from the Austin company The Bearded Bastard. Photo by Jane Claire Hervey. Edited by Alex Vickery.

“I created my company because friends wanted to buy it, [and it] just kind of bloomed from there,” Newton said. “I am just a geeky kid who likes to make beautiful things.”

When it comes to Newton and members of the Austin Facial Hair Club, beards are more than just a facial feature — they’re a full-time hobby (or in Newton’s case, a profession). But for other local beardos, growing a beard is simply a part of everyday life. Matty Reininger, bartender at The Mohawk Austin, Crow Bar and previously at mustache-themed Handlebar, said he sports a beard because his job does not require him to shave and he likes the look.

“I think most guys, especially when it comes to the Austin Facial Hair Club guys, are just so dedicated. I don’t have that kind of dedication,” Reininger said.

Matty Reininger, cartoonist and bartender with a beard. Photo by Alex Vickery

Matty Reininger, cartoonist and bartender with a beard. Photo by Alex Vickery

And Reininger is right: Growing a competition-ready beard, or even a “nice beard” by beard experts’ standards, takes some effort. To prepare for his beard battles, Austin Facial Hair Club member Dylan Powell said he has purchased special oils and customized beard combs to maintain his beard hair. As a seasoned competition judge beard expert himself, Newton said that he judges others’ facial hair by its cleanliness and shape. Websites like, a forum for facial hair diehards, provide how-to guides for beard-growing best practices. In Austin, barber shops like Shed on South First Street offer trims and cuts specifically for bearded men. One of Shed’s managers, Joseph Bellows, said that many bearded and mustached men come into the shop regularly for trims.

“Sometimes, it’s a lot easier for them to come here than to trim it themselves at home,” Bellows said. “If you cut the beard the wrong way, you could ruin the entire style.”

Although Austin has developed a niche culture around facial hair over the last decade, Austin Facial Hair Club member and former East Coast native Jared Stotz said that the city is unique for other reasons. He has found that the non-bearded community’s acceptance of facial hair makes Austin’s culture all the more special.

“Whereas in some cities where someone might kind of look down their noses at a guy who is not clean-shaven, that’s far less considered here. I go back East, I look like a freak,” Stotz said. “Going to central Maryland, either they think you’re on ‘Duck Dynasty’ or they think you’re some kind of degenerate.”

With beard competitions, clubs and businesses, Austin’s facial hair community has surely carved out its own cultural space — but it is by no means restricted to those who take it seriously.

“I support all facial hair,” Nelson said. “All facial hair is valid.”

Son Armado Brings Culture and Community to Austin

By: Jamie Balli, Sara Cabral, Ellen Chen and Maria Roque

Members of the music group Son Armado perform at Mi Madre’s Restaurant in East Austin every Wednesday. The group performs a genre of music called “son jarocho,” which originates from Veracruz, Mexico. (Credit: Jamie Justine Balli)

Members of the music group Son Armado perform at Mi Madre’s Restaurant in East Austin every Wednesday. The group performs a genre of music called “son jarocho,” which originates from Veracruz, Mexico. (Credit: Jamie Justine Balli)

In a city renowned for its wealth of live music, Son Armado’s sound aims to support social justice movements through traditional music.


This local folk music group promotes the “son jarocho” music tradition. This tradition originates in Veracruz, Mexico and is rooted in various cultures including the Indigenous, the African, and the Spanish cultures that converged there. The confluence of these cultures, coupled with a history of political unrest, provided a foundation for the poetry, music, dance and community that shaped the son jarocho tradition.

“Historically speaking, son jarocho was something that was a celebration, a way for people to get together to share themselves and take a break from the day-to-day life, and to sing about it in these poetic ways; dance it out, share food, share drink, and experience through this art form,” co-founder of Son Armado, Alexis Herrera said.

Now Son Armado is taking part in the worldwide “jaranero” movement to revitalize and introduce this culture to Austin. The group is made up of co-founders Alexis Herrera and Peter Mendoza, along with Joanna Saucedo and Stephan Paetzoid.

“ … [S]on jarocho was something that was a celebration, a way for people to get together to share themselves and take a break from the day-to-day life …”


In 2007, inspired by jaranero music group Son Del Centro from Santa Ana, California, Herrera and Mendoza, two UT Austin alumni that participated in Student Farmworker Alliance, co-founded Son Armado.

“Son Armado began as a group of people who were really just enthusiastic about what we saw as this political, community-based approach to organizing,” Herrera said.

The musical group began meeting, organizing and hosting “fandangos,” or parties, in 2007. In 2008, the group began holding classes and community workshops to teach son jarocho music and dance to the Austin community.

Through monthly workshops at Treasure City Thrift, Son Armado encourages residents of all levels of music experience to participate, even those who, like Mendoza, come to the group without a musical background.

 “When we do teach and share what we know, it is always nice to see people get involved, especially those coming from a non-music background,” Mendoza said. “It is a great experience seeing people moved by your teaching and playing.”

On Sundays, Son Armado also hosts workshops at their community workspace in East Austin, a bright, graffitied rental home on Springdale Road.

“We, Son Armado, are interested in creating communal space,” Herrera said. “Everyone has their place, has a voice, has something to contribute in order to create this shared space.”

Son Armado: Austin’s Source for “Son Jarocho”  on Vimeo.

Son Armado also builds a sense of community with their performances by collaborating with non-profits, schools and numerous organizations serving Austin’s diverse population. Son Armado provides solidarity and draws attention to social justice issues such as immigrants rights, workers rights and reproductive rights.

“As a group in Austin, we are able to mobilize here, organize protests, perform at marches and support the community,” Mendoza said.

Last year, Son Armado was involved in the HB2 pro-choice protests and participated in nation-wide campaigns and programs for a number of organizations.

“We like to, whenever we can, go out to the protests and just add one more level to the action, to the spectacle to the music, to the sound,” Herrera said.

Their sound sets Son Armado apart from other groups. Son jarocho music is repetitive and rhythmic. The guitars, or “jaranas,” strum in unison, with some plucking a distinctive melody. The violinist adds a layer of depth with mellow and bright accent notes. The Spanish lyrics lend themselves to the emotive singing style: long, drawn-out notes. For the percussion, the “quijada,” an instrument made out of donkey or horse jaw, is played. The “marimbol,” a wooden box with metal keys, is plucked to provide the bassline. Once the group has been playing for a while, a member might step on to the “tarima,” a wooden platform worn down by the repeated stomping and sliding of feet. The dancer will move their shoulders with the music and start tapping their feet along in a syncopated rhythm that adds percussion to the song. The dancer’s arms lay still by their slides as their feet do all the work.

“When you’re dancing on the tarima, you’re also holding the temp of the fandango,” Herrera said. “A lot of people refer to it as the heartbeat.”

Like the tarima, the music emanating from Son Armado’s East Austin home, serves as the heartbeat of the local community.

Founder of Austin Friends of Traditional Music, a traditional music convention founded in 1974,  David Polacheck, suggests folk music and musicians, like Son Armado, have inherent qualities that help them build and maintain community networks and ties.

“Typically [folk music is] the type of music whose aesthetic does not require a person to be a professional musician to be excellent,” Polacheck said. “I guess you can say it is closer to the concept of DIY because nearly anyone who has any desire to play this kind of music can do it.”

This quality creates a space that makes folk music, it’s teaching, and its performance, accessible to both musicians and listeners, despite their experience and cultural background.

Mendoza agrees.

“Playing is a way to practice and put yourself out there. It helps you master other skills by building confidence,” Mendoza said. “It feeds your sense of being able to accomplish other things.”

“When we do teach and share what we know, it is always nice to see people get involved … It is a great experience seeing people moved by your teaching and playing.”


Those who are not quite ready to strap on a jarana at the community workshops can catch Son Armado at Mi Madre’s Restaurant in East Austin every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m.

Son Armado will also be one of the bands featured in the 2014 Austin String Band Festival hosted by Austin Friends of Traditional Music in Driftwood, Texas the weekend of October 17–19.

Edible Insect Movement Hops into Austin

By Anna Daugherty, Briana Franklin, Emma Ledford and Andrew Masi

If a bug has ever flown into your mouth, chances are it was an unpleasant experience… but there’s a movement in Austin that’s trying to turn that around.

Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects. Startup company Hopper Foods, restaurant La Condesa, educational nonprofit Little Herds and other groups are working to normalize entomophagy in Austin to promote sustainability and a healthy alternative protein.

La Condesa executive chef Rick Lopez orders his grasshoppers straight from Mexico. They arrive boiled and flavored with lime salt. Photo by Andrew Masi.

La Condesa executive chef Rick Lopez orders his grasshoppers straight from Mexico. They arrive boiled and flavored with lime salt. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Hopper Foods makes energy bars with ground crickets – exoskeleton and all – and other all-natural ingredients. The company currently only sells the bars online and at in.gredients on Manor Road, but they plan to roll out to more locations starting as early as next month, said Founder and CEO Jack Ceadel.

“We have been amazed by how receptive people are,” Ceadel said. “I’m assuming that’s, you know, partly an Austin thing. We’ll see how people in the Midwest deal with the idea.”

Ceadel estimated that 10 percent of people totally refuse to try the bars, but 40-50 percent give them a “straight yes.” It’s the ones in the middle, he said, that they’d like to target and persuade.

“This is an entry level product,” Ceadel said. “We’re not asking you to take the whole cricket and put it in your mouth and chew it up.”

At least not yet.

The goal right now, he said, is getting people desensitized to the idea of entomophagy and educating them about its benefits. Crickets are nutrient rich, containing 68 percent protein by weight, all nine essential amino acids and other nutrients such as iron and calcium. They are also sustainable: it takes just one gallon of water to produce one pound of cricket protein, compared to 1,000 gallons for beef and 600 for pork.

Information from Graphic by Anna Daugherty

Information from
Graphic by Anna Daugherty

So far Ceadel and company are only selling bars made with “cricket powder,” but they have a list of products they plan to roll out in the not-so-distant future that will start masking the bugs less and less.

“If you look at the way sushi and other things are mainstream the way they weren’t, you know, 50 years ago, I think that this will be very, very mainstream in five years,” he said.

Information from Graphic by Anna Daugherty

Information from
Graphic by Anna Daugherty

La Condesa on Second Street is ahead of the curve. The Mexican restaurant began serving their seasonal chapulines – fried grasshopper tacos – in late September. Executive Chef Rick Lopez wasn’t sure what to expect, but was “blown away” by the positive reception after selling out within two hours on the first day.

“I didn’t want, like, bros coming in and just saying ‘Nah, we didn’t like them. It was just a dare.’ I really wanted people to eat them, and every single dish that came back was empty,” Lopez said.

Kale covers the grasshoppers to represent how they are harvested in Mexico. "When you dig grass away the little bugs start jumping up...that's how they get harvested," explains chef Rick Lopez. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Kale covers the grasshoppers to represent how they are harvested in Mexico. “When you dig grass away the little bugs start jumping up…that’s how they get harvested,” explains chef Rick Lopez. Photo by Andrew Masi.

The restaurant gets the grasshoppers whole, clean and boiled like “little tiny lobsters,” and treated with toasted garlic, salt and lime juice, he said. They come from Mexico, which in Lopez’s opinion is exactly as it should be.

“We’re just kind of paying homage to Oaxaca and Mexico City where people eat this stuff everyday,” he said.

The total cook time is less than a minute. Lopez heats a pan and adds chopped raw garlic. He then adds the grasshoppers with some lime juice and epazote, a Mexican herb. He serves the dish “build-your-own” style with homemade corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa verde and chipotle sauce on the side. He uses the dish’s presentation to play on the grasshoppers’ natural habitat, covering the skillet of bugs in fried kale to simulate grass.

“So what we tell the tables is when you move back the kale – you move your grass away – you find the little bugs underneath living close to the wet mud, you know,” Lopez said. “Where they want to be.”

Conference attendee David Comer eagerly snacks on a whole cricket, describing the flavor as "pistachio-y and almond-y." Photo by Andrew Masi.

SXSW Eco Conference attendee David Comer eagerly snacks on a whole cricket, describing the flavor as “pistachio-y and almond-y.” Photo by Andrew Masi.

Focusing on where bugs want to be is also important to Little Herds founder Robert Nathan Allen. Little Herds is an Austin-based educational nonprofit that works to promote ethical insect farming.

“Insects can be raised in environments that are preferable. They like dark, teeming, cramped conditions,” Allen said. “They have abundant food, they don’t have natural predators, they don’t have to worry about parasites and diseases.”

People who are vegetarian for health or environmental reasons are likely to support the idea because insects offer a sustainable and healthy protein alternative to red meat, Allen said. It is also a good option for those who are vegetarian for ethical reasons, he said, because they are killed painlessly: they simply lower their body temperature until they die peacefully in their sleep. He acknowledged that vegans and “philosophical” vegetarians are not their target audience due to their perspective on animal life and consumption, but that doesn’t mean these groups shouldn’t support entomophagy as a movement.

“I think there’s a lot of gray area there that insects have a really good role in,” Allen said. “And even if you’re not willing to eat insects, I think everybody should be on board with the idea of more people eating insects.”

Grocery shopping trends check out the digital aisle

By Joe McMahon, Alice Kozdemba and Silvana Di Ravenna

Grocery shopping in Austin, like many things in these days of smartphones and tablets, is going digital. Instacart is one of the newest services that offers Austinites an online grocery shopping service with HEB, Central Market, Royal Blue, Costco and Whole Foods.

The idea of grocery shopping at the touch of a button is gaining popularity in the U.S. as more grocery deliver services are entering the market. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna


Instacart allows customers to purchase all stock items from these Austin area stores, with the exception of alcohol and in house prepared food items. Customers have the option of getting their order delivered to an address within the city limits or picking up the order at the store. Adam Alfter, an Instacart representative at the Whole Foods Market in Austin, spoke about his experiences delivering food, and the ease the service offers to customers

“When I used to deliver, it would be to a lot of young mothers,” Alfter said. “People who are busy with kids who wanted to bypass the hassle of wrangling them into a car and getting them to the grocery store.”


Alfter, a full-time chef,  works with Instacart on the side. He no longer delivers, but stays in the store and does the actual shopping for customers who place their orders online.

“Probably one of the reasons I do this on the side is because I don’t mind being in a grocery store,” Alfter said. “It’s obnoxious going grocery shopping for some people because it can take two hours sometimes.”

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Accoring to Rachel Malish, Whole Foods’ Austin Media Community Relations Coordinator, the selling approach grocery delivery services are pitching  to consumers is that it saves shoppers time.

“I think what it does for us is it gives time back to customers when they don’t have time to go to the store and explore the aisles,” she said.

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Instacart was initially launched  in San Fransisco in 2012. It has since then expanded and Austin became the 12th city to offer the service in May.

“One of the things that we did when we launched it in Austin, was that we asked people if they wanted to use Instacart and in return we gave them a $5 gift card that they could go use in the store for a cup of coffee and read a magazine, or go to the bar and get a flight of wine,” Malish said, “So there’s definitely still effort put into bringing customers into the store as well as encouraging them to use the Instacart services.”

Instacart announced  a national deal with Whole Foods Market on Sept. 8 but despite it’s national score, it isn’t the first service to help shoppers speed up the weekly chore in Austin. Some smaller local delivery services such as Austin Grocer, Speedy Grocer and Greenling have all been in operation longer than Instacart. Founded in 2005, Greenling, which operates solely as a delivery service, also has the full selection of a grocery store, and everything they carry is locally or sustainably produced, or certified organic. Aside from the organic focus, Greenling Marketing Team Lead, Aspen Lewis, described the business relationship they have with farmers.

“We work directly with the producers and distributors,” Lewis said. “And we do have a warehouse, so local farmers will come directly to us from their farms and the rest we buy from distributors just like Whole Foods or any other grocery store would.”

“It’s definitely a space that’s heating up,” she said. “Some services only provide local produce so it’s much more of niche market, and then there’s services that don’t actually hold inventory, that just goes by on-demand. We’re able to offer a wider variety of items because we do hold our inventory and we can take customer requests more easily.”

Lewis, who said she has long had a passion for teaching people how to cook, thinks that home delivery helps consumers embrace traditional cooking and promotes healthy eating habits.

“One of our main tenants is that people have increasingly gotten away from the kitchen and that’s the reason our food has gotten so bad,” she added, “So making it exciting to create things at home is something I really enjoy about my job.”

These businesses also take to social media and highlight customers making these healthier choices.

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With socialization, transportation and now grocery shopping going digital, it’s anyone’s guess what will be next.

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Oktoberfest Season: A Spotlight on German-Texan culture

Monolithic Domes: Architecture of the Future

By Helen Fernandez, Madison Hamilton, Melinda Billingsley, Jonny Cramer and Claire Edwards

Portable cassettes, Mr. Potato Head, and Bruce Springsteen topping the charts are all things of the past. However, one relic from 1975 has lived on – and it’s thriving in the 21st century.

After building his first monolithic dome nearly forty years ago, David South has expanded his business to 49 states and 53 countries.

“I will never live long enough to forget the feeling when that dome went up – standing inside, and realizing it’s the building of the future,” says South.

caterpillarBruco, a giant caterpillar composed of seven interlocked domes, is an easily recognizable landmark on the side of I-35. Photo by: Helen Fernandez


Headquartered in Italy, Texas – Monolithic is home to the first dome community. Surrounded by a vast array of domes differing in colors and sizes, South’s two-story dome sits in the heart of the neighborhood.

Although skeptical as first, many have come to embrace the fairy-tale looking structures.

“It’s really comfortable and there’s no extra [electric and water] bills,” says Italy dome resident, Patsy Hall.

However, convenience and economics aren’t the only reasons for Monolithic’s international success.

In 2013 more than seventeen hundred homes were destroyed after a tornado ravaged the town of Moore, Oklahoma – with only one structure withstanding: the monolithic dome. South says dome survivability is a common theme among disaster-ridden areas.

Another benefit is the low cost of building, South explains.

“We don’t need to spend a lot of money, or waste resources to build domes,” he says.

The rounded structures are also eco-friendly.

Despite their unparalleled efficiency, living in a dome has its repercussions. The inflatable Airform building method causes all domes to be the same shape – unlike traditional housing. And although rooms can later be segmented off, many domes in the Italy community are much smaller with less open space than the conventional home.

However, at only $90 per week, living in the Italy community is seemingly economical – which is exactly what South envisioned forty years ago.

“My role since day one has been to teach and help people,” he says. “I really want it to be an industry and not just a David South business.”

A Brotherhood Leads Texas Men’s Rugby

More Than Just a Pretty Face