Archive for: March 2016

Keep Austin Bearded

By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec


Music blared, drinks flowed freely and hair filled the Mohawk on Feb. 20.

Nearly 1,000 people packed the downtown Austin venue for the 10th annual Come and Shave It beard competition.

The Come and Shave It event, which is organized by the Austin Facial Hair Club, is one of largest beard competitions in the country. The 2016 event attracted more than 220 competitors from all around the United States and the world.

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Kevin Becker, from East Haven, Connecticut, finished in third place in the beard under a foot category and said he came to the event because of its magnitude in the beard community.

“I just started competing last year and I heard this was a very big competition so me and a couple other guys from Connecticut, we all came down,” Becker said. “It’s been great.”

Both the Austin Facial Hair Club and the Come and Shave It event have grown in their first 10 years. The club started with four members and now has 50 dedicated members. The original event was started by Misprint magazine, a now defunct publication, and was held at Club de Ville, which is now Cheer Up Charlies. The event quickly outgrew its old venue and moved to the larger Mohawk. 

Bryan Nelson, president of the Austin club and one of the original four founders, said the event originally began as a spoof but grew in popularity. He said the city quickly embraced the event.

“I think Austin has always been a beardy place,” Nelson said. “It’s always been a more of relaxed lifestyle in Austin. You can go into a restaurant and see them in a T-shirt and jeans or something like that. The beard culture itself is pretty strong. Normally guys get pretty proud of their beard. It’s kind of fun to celebrate them.”Beards (1)

Brett Strauss, commissioner of the Facial Hair League, which helps clubs organize beard competitions, said the key to the Come and Shave It event is its dedication to philanthropy. Strauss said most of the beard clubs are set up around raising money for non-profit causes. “If it was just about the beards, I don’t think there would so much commitment and so many people traveling the way they do,” Strauss said.

Nelson said that both the club and the Come and Shave It event have helped multiple charities over the past 10 years. He said they’ve helped with Wounded Warriors, SXSW Cares and the Austin Animal Center, among others.

“We just try to help out community where we can,” Nelson said. “We try to keep it real in Austin. We’re not registered as non-profit but we operate like a non-profit … We just try to have fun and ‘Keep Austin Beard.’”

The charity aspect of the event is important, but the fun keeps the event going. Strauss said he enjoys going to the Austin event because it’s one of the biggest competitions of the year. He also said the time he spends at beard competitions remind him of his college days.

“For me it’s like going back to college for the weekend,” Strauss said. “My mother-in-law watches my kids. I take my wife. We head out of town. And we go and hang out with some wonderful people and drink beer and have fun. It’s just like going back to college. I really enjoy spending time with these people.”

The Austin club and event has helped the beard community grow and “Kept Austin Beard” for the past 10 years and they’re being rewarded for it.  Austin will host the World Beard and Mustache Championships in 2017, which Nelson is excited about.

“It’s been years in the making,” Nelson said.



Graphic Maps by: Kaylee Nemec


How Beards are Judged: A Q&A with Facial Hair League commissioner Brett Strauss

Understanding how a beard competition works is confusing. To help shave the nitty-gritty, Facial Hair League commissioner Brett Strauss discussed how competitions work.

Strauss, a former beard competition judge, discussed a variety of beard competition topics to help get a better understanding of how judging works, what judges look for and much more.


Q: How does judging work?

A: “It’s kind of like Olympic style judging, where each competitor is given a score between seven and 10 on the half-point: 7.5, 8, 8.5. You’re picking the first, second and third out of your final group for each category and you submit it and everything is calculated.”


Q: How does fan-voting work?

A: “The fan-voting is something we call ‘fantasy facial hair,’ which is like fantasy football where instead of picking players that’ll play the best, you’ll pick competitors. You’re going to pick the ones that you think are going to win first, second and third in each category. The closer you are to matching the judges themselves, the more points you get.”


Q: How many beard categories are there?

A: “I would say there are probably around 24 standard categories and there a probably just as many unique categories. The standard categories can include mustache, natural mustache, freestyle mustache, chops, beards, many different categories. Then you have the unique categories, which are things like some clubs will do world’s worst beard. Some people will do Texas red beard, salt-and-pepper for the gray and white beards. So there are some fun ones out there.”


Q: Which categories have the most competitors?

A: “Most competitions, you’re going to get 50 percent of your competitors competing in two categories. It really depends on how the clubs set them up. Usually, it’s, if you’ve got an under-12 inch full beard natural – that’s a very large group of people that have 12-inch or shorter beards. That’s probably going to be your largest group. Then, I’d say the second largest would be the 12-inch or over 12-inch full beard.”


Q: What do judges look for when judging?

A: “It depends. If you’re going for a full-beard natural then basically what you’re saying is it’s someone that does not do any type of cutting, shaving, cleaning up. It’s kind of an unruly set of people. These are people that don’t shave the cheek. They don’t shave under their neck. They just kind of let it absolutely go. So in that case, you’re actually looking for people that are more unkempt. You’re looking for length. Obviously, you want the beard to healthy. Volume helps as well. If you’re looking at another category like styled, or best-groomed beard, then you’re doing the exact opposite. You’re actually looking for people that have perfect beard shapes and have cleaned the cheek up. They have perfect straight lines that are matching.”


Photos by: Kaylee Nemec

Moovly created By: Sara Eunice Martinez

Film By: Sara Eunice Martinez

ATX Taco Exposé


Tacos have been quite the craze in Texas, but in Austin alone, the culinary staple has been become its own culture. Austin, TX: A Taco Exposé looks into the conversation about tacos and its origin, consulting food writers and some of the city’s local taquerias. Click here to read more.


Think Globally, Eat Locally – The Ramen Craze

By Charlotte Carpenter, Dahlia Dandashi and Johana Guerra

Originating in China and gaining popularity as a staple Japanese dish, ramen has now made a name for itself as a food trend in major cities across the United States. Ramen Tatsu-Ya is one of Austin’s first ramen joints, a restaurant that fuses authentic flavors with some southern zest.

For the full story, click here.

Hollywood’s Diversity Problem Clouds Student Aspirations

by Faria Akram, Amayeli Arnal-Reveles and Stephanie Rothman

WIX link:

Julian Torres’ eyes sparkle with enthusiasm and his shoulders quiver with energy as he speaks. He’s in his first year at UT, excited to be on campus and asking which student organizations he should join. He’s a Radio-Television-Film major who has his eyes set on it all, keen to build his future.


“I want to do every single thing I possibly can,” Torres said. “Including acting, producing, directing, maybe even sound engineering as well.”


Torres’ ambitions are high, but there is a thought holding him back: his ethnicity. Torres is Hispanic and hails from San Antonio, a city with a large Hispanic population. Though he aspires to work in Hollywood, he believes the lack of diversity in the industry will hinder his chances.


“There’s been a white power that’s been in position, and it’s still there,” Torres said. “When that starts changing, you’ll see roles start changing.”


Some may not call it white power, but the white race does play a huge role in Hollywood. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending on social media earlier this year when not one person of color was nominated for a major award at the 88th Academy Awards. This led to several actors boycotting the event, a series of jabs at racism during the show themselves, and an opening up to a bigger question of racism in today’s society.


Hard facts tell a similar story. According to research from the University of Southern California’s  School for Communication and Journalism, people of color only directed 13% of 414 films and television shows that came out in the 2014-2015 year. And in front of the camera, only 28.3% of all speaking characters came from ethnic minorities.


UT senior Jacob Barrios believes that at some level, the minimal minority representation in Hollywood is not an intentional choice.


“At the level of writers, lots of times people can cast minority actors and actresses but the script writers are all not minority, they’re white, and they’re still telling mainstream stories,” Barrios said.


Barrios is the co-director of the Native American Indigenous Collective, a group that provides a space for students to come and talk about issues affecting their communities. At their meeting on March 1, they asked attendants to spend 5 minutes writing every movie they remembered that had a native American character in it, and got interesting results.


“We realized the type of roles that were around and the depictions it put people in…you realize there aren’t a lot of movies [with Native Americans] and in the movies the portrayals aren’t good, because people have Pocahontas and Peter Pan in mind, and depictions in that movie aren’t nice.” Barrios said.


Negative depiction of other races has a long history in Hollywood, primarily through . The term refers to a media content creator changing the race or ethnicity of a character, and resulted in a pattern of minority roles being played by white actors instead of actors of that ethnicity. This has been shown in media as early as Al Jolson in the Jazz Singer (1927) to as recently as Ashton Kutcher’s 2012 Pop Chips commercial where he played a Bollywood producer named “Raj.”


According to Indian-American film producer Saurabh Kikani, it’s Hollywood’s belief that diversity won’t have significant financial results that prevents the success of minority actors.


.”The belief that films with diverse casts can’t make money tends to get perpetuated, not because the industry is filled with a bunch of racists, but because it is a myth that keeps getting repeated and eventually accepted as conventional wisdom.” Kikani said.


While strides have been made in getting minorities to the stage and to award shows in the latest decades, African-American actress and Richland Collegiate High School senior Lina Mohammed acknowledges that the equality minorities deserve is not yet present.


“My success and accomplishments will never be as equal as other non African American actors,” Mohammed said. “African American women are entirely absent in the best actress, best director and best screenplay and someone needs to change that.”


Barrios believes change is possible, given the talent in the industry.


“There are a lot of people [who are minorities] producing movies and who are writing scripts and making their own films, they just don’t have the access to the big studio process that other mainstream actors tend to have access to.”


And in a world where Alejandro González Iñárritu and Aziz Ansari are making progress, Kikani believes accurately representing diversity onscreen is possible with continuing talent.


“We live in a world that is far more global and interconnected than the art we see on screens would have you believe,” Kikani said. “That’s changing, but we need to keep driving that change.”



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A Piece of the Pie

By Brian Lee, Felicia Rodriguez and Amanda Voeller


Texas Pie Kitchen provides job training and culinary skills to people who have barriers to employment. The students complete a 10-week course and receive a certification that helps them get hired, often by a restaurant. In this story, the pie kitchen’s students and instructors discuss their experiences with the program and how it has helped them.

Click here for the story.

Why Businesses Fail on The Drag

By Faith Ann Ruszkowski, Samantha Grasso and Ellen Gonzalez

Video by Faith Ann Ruszkowski and Samantha Grasso

Why Businesses on “The Drag” Fail: An Investigation

Story by Faith Ann Ruszkowski

When Noodles & Company closed its location on the corner of Guadalupe and 24th Streets last fall, its departure was abrupt. On Nov. 4 the restaurant was serving pasta, and by Nov. 5 its doors were locked and a note hung on the window thanking customers for their patronage.

Estephanie Gomez, a journalism senior at the University of Texas at Austin, was working for Noodles & Company when it closed. She was shocked when the restaurant went out of business.

“I literally got a text at 10 p.m. the night before that said, ‘Hey, yeah, don’t come to work tomorrow but come and pick up your severance package at 8 a.m.,” Gomez said. “I didn’t catch on—oh, Noodles is doing badly—because we were pretty busy everyday at the same times. I never knew, until the night before.”

While the swiftness of Noodles & Company’s exit might have been shocking, another business deciding to leave the strip of Guadalupe Street, known as “the Drag,” is a relatively a common occurrence.

After Noodles & Company closed in November, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which was located next door, called it quits. Pita Pit, also located on Guadalupe, closed its doors this spring. Earlier in 2015, Manju’s, Mellow Mushroom, and Jack in the Box, all located on Guadalupe, closed up shop.

Out of the 53 establishments currently on the Drag, 13 have been there for five years or less, according to data gathered from in-person interviews and business’ websites. Additionally six storefronts along the stretch of Guadalupe from 21st to 27th Streets are vacant.

Students like Ilda Arroyo have become accustomed to the high turnover of businesses on the Drag. Arroyo, who graduated from UT in December with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences, said she noticed the constant change during her five years as a student.

“I remember as a freshman it consisted mostly of food places, but the food places have changed to businesses like the expanding Urban Outfitters, a real estate office, and a small convenience store,” Arroyo said.

So although the high turnover has become commonplace, it raises the question: why are so many businesses unable to succeed on the Drag?

Why Businesses Leave the Drag

This semester, Melissa’s Custom Gifts vacated its location on the Drag next to the long-standing Goodall Wooten dormitory and moved shop to the corner of 24th Street and Rio Grande. The store’s owner, Ken Jones, said that he made the decision to move for many reasons, one of which was that he wanted to discontinue ATX Books, which he also owned and operated from that location.

“One of the biggest things was I had been planning to end the bookstore for a very long time,” Jones said. “I didn’t need as much space, although they didn’t want me to leave because it is really hard to keep tenants on the drag period. But, it was a little bit too much space, a little bit more than what I wanted for what I was doing here, and, of course, the rent on the Drag—anywhere in this area—is very high per square foot.”

However, during his 5 years on the Drag, Ken Jones did concoct some theories about why so many businesses were failing based on personal experience and observation. For many rent is an issue like it was for him, but one of his main observations is that students do not support local businesses.

“The kids do not connect with the businesses that are there, they just don’t,” Jones said. “I ask kids and none of them know a business owner’s name. They don’t have any allegiance of any kind to anything on there. And guess what? Those businesses go out of business…They do not support the businesses that support them. Bottom line. Why doesn’t it work? It’s the students fault.”

He has also observed that business do not understand the UT campus environment.

“They come in with great intentions thinking we’ve got this concentrated amount of 39,000 [undergraduate] students we’re going to make a killing,” Jones said. “They do not do their research.”

Jennifer Hillhouse, the owner of Jenn’s copies which has two locations on the Drag and has been in business since 1982, also said that many stores open on Guadalupe without realizing how dependent their business will be on the students’ schedules. She has had 12 different neighbors since she opened her second location on the Drag near Dean Keeton.

“This is a nine-month business cycle,” Hillhouse said. “It dies in December, a horrible death, and if you have to sell at least 500 hamburgers a day to make your rent that is not going to happen in December and in June and July and halfway through August… It’s a whole town for nine month out of the year and it is a ghost town for the other three and businesses get blindsided by that.”

Matyear pointed to Terra Burger, a now closed business, as a classic example of a business that was not able to anticipate the campus cycle.

“They ran out of buns on Parents’ Day,” said Hillhouse.

What Successful Businesses on the Drag have in Common

Jenn’s Copies is one of the few businesses on Guadalupe that has achieved decades of success. The Co-Op is the longest running business on the Drag, with 99 years of service. The Wooten Barber Shop has been in business for 52 years. These are all businesses that provide services students are always in need of: prints for projects, books and haircuts.

“People have to get their haircut. It’s a destination shop,” Jones said, of his former neighbor.

Don Stafford has been working at the Wooten Barber Shop on the Drag for 23 years aggregating loyal customers all the while. He characterizes the establishment as plain, but reliable and comfortable.

“They come here because they need haircuts, but they also come here because they feel comfortable in the shop,” said Stafford. “It’s not a place where we serve wine and cheese, but come in and tell us how bad your day was or how good your day was.”

The barber shop is remarkably small, but manages to fit three stations into a space the size of the average public restroom. Jenn’s Copies also operates on a small number of square footage. Hillhouse believes modest decorations, reliable service and limited space are key to remaining in business when rent is so high and the business cycle is inconsistent throughout the year.

“When they [the shop next to Jenn’s Copies] turned into a restaurant their finish-out cost $250,000, comparison mine cost $20,000,” Hillhouse said. “I went to TOPS, which is Texas Office Products & Supplies, everything is secondhand…I only had one fancy piece of equipment and it was leased. I did not have a color copier and my husband literally painted my name on a shingle, on a piece of ply board and we hung it outside.”

Graphic by Ellen Gonzalez

“The Drag” through the Years

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West Campus Construction: A Necessary Evil?

By Will Cobb, Rachael Pikulski, Jackie Sanchez and Ashlyn Warblow



While living in West Campus may sound like a lot of fun to newcomers and many UT students, for current residents, West Campus has become a construction zone.

The first appearance of construction in West Campus was along 21st and San Antonio Street. It was the start of what would become years of construction across the West Campus area.

There are now construction sights sprawled out across West Campus from San Gabriel Street to Nueces Street.

This kind of cross-campus construction affects students, businesses, and commutes for both the buses and residents.

The Delta Gamma sorority house resides at 2419 Rio Grande Street right in the middle of current sidewalk and roadwork construction.

Delta Gamma President Hunter Thomson said that the front door of the sorority house is out of commission due to the sidewalk closure along the front of the house.

“We are located right alongside the new construction of Rio. It is inconvenient because girls coming from 25th Street can’t use our front door and girls trying to walk into the West Campus Area,” Thomson said. “We have to go out the side door which is just not a good entry and exit point.”


Sidewalk closed outside the Delta Gamma Sorority House

Director of The University of Texas Parking and Transportation Services, Bobby Stone, receives notice by the construction companies, when and where construction will be taking place on and off campus.

According to Stone, when a new area is set for construction along current bus routes, UT Parking and Transportation works with CapMetro to design new routes while keeping the students safe.

“Safety is the number one concern for us. We want to make sure that the routes buses take, are not going to harm the students,” Stone said.

UT Parking and Transportation also designs new routes for the 40 Acres bus and Mainline Buses. “Finding detours for West Campus buses not only affects the students, but also affects the other buses on campus,” Stone said. “We have a lot of buses using 21st Street.”

While UT Parking and Transportation manage the detours on campus, CapMetro plays a big role in planning specific detours for shuttles, like those in West Campus.

“We get information from campus officials in order to plan shuttle detours,” CapMetro Communications Coordinator Amy Peck said. “This planning is sometimes complex, depending on road closures and construction zones.”

CapMetro regularly works with the UT Parking and Transportation Services on campus.

Once construction and detours are set, the detour information during construction is placed on the CapMetro website.

Stone said the construction in West Campus is estimated to take another few weeks and should be finished by mid-March. Until then, students will have to deal with the noise and the temporary detours.

“I feel like construction where ever it is, is kind of a necessary evil. It is always going to be really, really inconvenient when it is going on, but it definitely needs to happen,” Thomson said.








Austin Lets Loose for Carnaval Brasileiro

By Jayelyn Jackson, Ashley Lopez, Trisha Seelig and Sarah Talaat


This is Nick Mulberg’s third year at Carnaval. He invested about $200 and a month’s time into creating his costume for the event.

This is Nick Mulberg’s third year at Carnaval. He spent about $200 and over a month creating his costume for the event.


AUSTIN, Texas–Carnaval is one of the most anticipated events to mark the start of Lent for many Brazilians, but here in Austin, Carnaval has different origins.

While Carnaval was originally a part of the Christian traditions celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, Austin’s Carnaval Brasileiro began in 1975 at Dobie Center as a way to raise money for Brazilian students at the University of Texas, according to the organization.

Carnaval Brasileiro, held at Palmer Events Center on Feb. 27, is a one-night homage to the music, dance and vibrant costumes of Brazil’s biggest street parties. For many Austinites and out-of-towners alike, the evening meant an escape from everyday life and a chance to be someone else for the night.

“I think the reason we came here is because [we] get to pretend to be something a little bit different from the normal,” Neona, a Carnaval attendee, said. “I think what it brings to Austin is sense of fun and playfulness and community.”

The event’s long history encourages people to return year after year to see old friends and new costumes.

“This is my seventh year probably. It’s a lot of fun. It’s people getting back into touch with their earlier feelings, maybe childhood, and just letting it all hang out,” Jim, a Carnaval attendee, said. “You get all ages: you get young people, you get old people, you get skinny people and you get fat people. It’s pretty fun.”



Austin’s celebration, though not a parade, featured samba dancers in the traditional sparkly and bedazzled costumes. Drummers and singers played live Samba music onstage throughout the night.

Attendees also join in by creating or building elaborate costumes, complete with accessories and makeup.



Auburn, who attended the event with her boyfriend, said that it is easy to spend upwards of a couple hundred dollars per costume. “I think a lot of people put a lot of energy into being unique. We see a lot of costumes that just go above and beyond. People don’t just want to go into a store and pick something up [that’s] pre-made. That’s the case with us—we’ve put probably a month or so [of work] into our costumes.”

The Austin Carnaval, billed by organizers as “one of the biggest Brazilian Carnaval celebrations outside Brazil,” draws many participants from out-of-state.

“My friend Cheryl told me about Carnaval, so we drove in from Denver to come to this. She’s not from Austin but she used to live in Austin… so we rented a house and all of us girls decided to come. [We’ve been planning] this for about six months,” Marie Roberts, an attendee, said.

Iliana Arizpe attends Carnaval each year to dance and listen to the live music. “I used to live in Brazil and I really enjoy the Carnaval events,’” she said. “I like the Samba music: it’s loud and it has drums, and everything is live.”

Arizpe brought along her friends from her hometown in Mexico to share her love of Carnaval Brasileiro with them. “I recommend it to everybody … It’s something different and you get a little bit of a Brazilian experience, but it’s just a smaller version.”




Johnson’s Backyard Garden: Keeping Austin Fresh

Filmed and Edited by: Alejandra Martinez, Kristen Hubby and Taylor Villarreal

Photos by: Alejandra Martinez, Kristen Hubby, Taylor Villarreal

Infographics by: Marysabel Cardozo

Story by: Taylor Villarreal and Marysabel Cardozo


Twelve years ago, a man named Brenton Johnson converted his family’s backyard garden in Austin’s East Side into a million dollar business.

“Pretty soon I was growing more produce than our family could eat, so I started selling at the Austin Farmers’ Market,” Johnson said in an interview with Find Farm Credit. “We didn’t even know what to charge the first time we were there.”

Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, who formerly served as the Program Administrator for the Water Conservation Field Services Program in Austin, and says he has always believed that “human energy consumption practices need some serious reconsideration.”

Inspired by a Japanese farm that fed its’ community through a prepaid service, Johnson set out to kickstart one of Texas’ first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations: Johnson’s Backyard Garden.

A CSA operation gives members of a community direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers. They are also often referred to as personalized box subscriptions.

To Johnson, CSA’s are “a relationship between the farmer and its customers. And essentially, the customers share in the risk of the farm by prepaying for a portion of the harvest.”

When you become a member of a CSA, you are purchasing a “share” of the crops. JBG offers CSA memberships in over ten major cities and suburbs across Texas. Austin members can pick up their food at one of 24 locations throughout the greater Austin area, and new pick-up sites are being added as needed.

“Through my work with JBG, I have aimed to strike a balance between these challenges and the resource-consuming aspects of food production,” Johnson says on his LinkedIn biography. “I continue to strive for constant improvement and community involvement through the most earth-friendly, biodynamic-conscious, organic farming methods.”

To date, JBG employs 20 workers, feeds over 1,000 consumers and grosses over $1 million in sales annually. The farm welcomes volunteers five days out of the week at either of their two locations, The Garfield Farm, where all of their produce is grown, or the Hergotz Packing Shed (better known as “The Barn”). A half-day of volunteering gets the workers one CSA share of seasonal vegetables.

Lyndsie Decologero, a Post Production Manager, started at JBG three years ago as a volunteer at Garfield Farms where she planted and picked produce to be transported to The Barn. From there she was promoted to manage accounts with wholesale retailers, such as Wheatsville Co-Op and Whole Foods Market.

“My first day volunteering we were harvesting sweet potatoes and digging through the soil. By the end of the day I had dirt crammed so far into my fingernails,” Delcologero recalled. “It was such an amazing experience because people really don’t realize just how much work goes behind getting their food to the table. It was truly an amazing and inspiring moment for me, and I hope more people start to learn about what it means to buy locally and organically.”

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