Category: Local food
by Paige Atkinson, Claire Bontempo, Olivia Leitch and Savannah Williams
What would prompt a man to walk away from a six-figure income? Winning the lottery? Or receiving a massive inheritance from a distance uncle? For Brent Petersen, it all started with a trip to Italy more than a decade ago.
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By Anderson Boyd, Mackenzie Drake and Kylie Fitzpatrick
When someone mentions the Japanese comfort food ramen, what usually comes to mind is a square package of cheap, freeze-dried almost-noodles with a shake-in packet of some protein-flavored “broth” that broke college students buy in bulk.
This is not that ramen.
This ramen is made with thick, hand-cut noodles in a rich broth with heaps of toppings such as beni shoga pickled ginger, chiasu pork shoulder, kikurage mushrooms, and, in one case, Shiner Bock beer foam.
To compare these gourmet dishes with what HEB sells for 35¢ per pack is like comparing The Godfather II to Grown Ups 2: Both are “movies” in that they are sound and video together on a screen, like both “ramens” are essentially noodles in a bowl of steaming broth.
The comparison ends there.
Since 2012, the gourmet ramen craze has taken Austin by storm. Places like Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Daruma and Michi Ramen, consistently rated among the best in the city, keep their ramen traditional, while others, like Top Chef winner Paul Qui’s side project East Side King, create a fusion of flavors not often found in a bowl of noodles.
David Cardena, general manager of East Side King at Hole in the Wall, said he considers their ramen to be specialty fusion, or what he calls “traditional with a twist.” He said he thinks ramen as a trend has caught on in Austin because it’s foreign to most Americans.
“It was foreign to me before I stared working at East Side King, and now I’ll eat at other ramen places just to feel it all out,” Cardena said. “I love our ramen, and I also love eating at Tatsu-Ya. It’s one of my favorite ramens, but I like traditional ramen.”
Unlike more conventional ramen dishes, like the pork-based Tonkotsu Original at Tatsu-Ya or the chicken/fish-based Shoyu Ramen at Daruma, East Side King at Hole in the Wall serves three distinct ramen bowls: the aforementioned Shiner Bock miso ramen, which is their take on “traditional” ramen; the chicken tortilla ramen, made with a Tom Yum shrimp base; and the Kimchi ramen, complete with spicy kimchi and pork belly.
“We aren’t just doing traditional stuff,” said Justin Guy, a fry and ramen cook at East Side King. “We’re pairing flavors that might not go together… [we’re] making a hybrid food out of something that didn’t before exist.”
Guy said he realizes the ingredients they use might be intimidating for first-time eaters, but that shouldn’t dissuade those interested in eating.
“I can see sometimes [by] popping my head out of the [kitchen] window that people are intimidated by the menu if they’re not familiar with the ingredients,” Guy said. “Sometimes you just [have to] go with it, and trust reviews and people who say it’s good. Just give it a shot.”
Ramen has caught on in Austin because it offers a change of pace, according to Guy.
“I think it’s something different,” Guy said. “It’s not barbecue and Mexican food, which is everywhere in this state, and it tastes good. It’s good, it’s different.”
One East Side King customer, Brian Jones, said the ramen there stacks up to authentic Japanese ramen.
“I lived in Japan, so…I used to eat [ramen] eight-14 times a week,” Jones said. “It’s good. It’s different, a different combination of flavors you’d get in Japan, but it’s quality.”
Shion Aikawa, who created Ramen Tatsu-Ya with his chef brother Tatsu and fellow chef Takuya Matsumoto, said in a 2014 article on Munchies — Vice Media’s food blog — that the cuisine in Austin is changing for the better, since returning to the city after moving to California and Japan in 2005.
“The climate back in 2005 was a lot of Tex-Mex, chain restaurants like Red Lobster, and fast food,” Aikawa said. “Yes, there were restaurants, but it seemed like a lot of old mom-and-pop joints were trying to cater to everyone in town…I’m happy to see the change that’s happening in Austin since moving back.”
Austin’s shift in food climate can be attributed to residents becoming more culturally aware, according to Aikawa. With over 110 people moving to Austin every day, people with different and even multiple cultures live side-by-side.
“We’ve got more people who are aware of other cultures today,” Aikawa said. “You ask anybody in Austin nowadays, “Where can I get pho?” and you have about an 80 percent chance of someone actually knowing what pho is; five years ago, no one would have had a clue.”
Ramen Tatsu-Ya and Michi Ramen were unable to comment by press time.
Small Businesses Say Good Bye To Guadalupe at Hands of Big Corporations
By Claire Hogan, Chelsey Pena, and Andrea Rogers
AUSTIN—The vessel that runs through the heart of the city known as Guadalupe Street, or as many say the Drag, has been a staple to the University of Texas. The street that lies parallel to UT is lined with restaurants and shops, both local and corporate. Many of these local shops have called the Drag home since their establishment and have resided next to bigger businesses, until now.
The store Manju’s at 2424 Guadalupe St., popular for women’s apparel and accessories, will finally close it’s doors at the end of this month after 37 years of residency on the drag. This isn’t because the game day favorite is going out of business, but instead being pushed out by a competitor.
Manju’s owner Kavida declined an interview but briefly said that closing her business is not of her choosing.
Select the image below to view an interactive map of the property
A few doors down at 2406 Guadalupe the Pennsylvania based retail giant Urban Outfitters is housed. The two story establishment that sells both men’s and women’s apparel, as well as house décor, records, books and other miscellaneous gifts, has plans to expand their franchise on the drag.
Chris Johnson the Development Assistance Center Manager in the City of Austin Planning & Development Review Department says that although Urban Outfitters has not directly announced an expansion, they have expressed interest.
“Urban Outfitters had a meeting with his Planning and Development Review team back in December about some options they were considering for the land,” Johnson said. “They discussed remodeling the existing buildings for new businesses or even building a multi-tenant development with an entertainment area that included a restaurant and bar on the floor level.”
Both partial and total demolition permits have been applied for the addresses that include Urban Outfitters, what were originally Pipe’s Plus, Texadelphia and Longhorn Lux, and Manju’s. With the exception of Mellow Mushroom, BHF Guadalupe LLC owns all of the addresses on the same strip as Urban Outfitters.
The Washoe Company based of out Luling, Texas owns Mellow Mushroom. The pizza-based restaurant’s lease will end later this year, but there is no word on either a renewal or sale of the property.
Of the addresses owned by BHF Guadalupe LLC, the only address that will remain intact is Chase Bank. Despite being able to stay at their drag location, representatives at the bank say that their parking in the back of the address has been purchased and they will soon have to park elsewhere.
Most recently on January 20th, the 2424 partial demolition permit application was submitted for a remodel to accommodate an Urban Outfitters MEN store at what currently is the Manju’s location.
Urban Outfitters has declined to comment on any purchases, renovations, additions and permit proposals they have made.
This isn’t the first instance of a major corporation buying out small businesses to add or expand their brand. In just the last year 7-11, ATT&T have moved into the drag taking over what once were local shops like the Co-Op Market.
Student’s that that regularly shop on the drag say that part of what keeps Austin weird is having these local shops that cater to the personality of the city.
“These small businesses make up what Austin is and what America is,” UT student Sahare Wazirali said. “I think as long as local business have an equal opportunity for advancement, then I think it’s fair. But what ends up happening is that bigger corporations end up making more money and they have more power and money to do these things. [Buy out small businesses]”
An official date for construction to begin on any of these properties has yet to be announced.
Compare images from the Drag in 2009
. . . And the Drag in 2014.
By Joe McMahon, Andrew Masi, Jared Wynne, Ellen Chen
Austin’s continued growth may have driven from the city one if its most unique tenants.
The Food is Free Project is a nonprofit organization that began operating close to three years ago. Started with a single frontyard garden, the project soon spread through the surrounding neighborhood and turned into a communal happening.
“Food unites us.”
That’s the message that was given by John VanDeusen Edwards in a recent promotional video. It was assembled in the hopes of attracting community support and donations to Food is Free. Those funds were made necessary when the owner of the land Food is Free’s headquarters had to that point been based at decided that he was going to sell to a new buyer.
The location at 5608 Joe Sayers Ave. is yet another to fall victim to the growing influx of new Austin residents. Over the past 25 years, the inner city’s population has nearly doubled, with much of the metropolitan expansion turning inward as old properties are converted into new, more efficient uses of the land.
When he discovered that Food is Free would soon feel the effects of the city’s changing landscape, Edwards was concerned.
“It was disheartening, honestly, looking around at our farm, what we’ve put so much work into,” Edwards said.
The landowner, who declined comment, had made up his mind. Edwards and his compatriots at Food is Free would need to find a new home. To do that, Edwards reached out for monetary contributions.
The organization established an online funding campaign using Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website. The stated goal was to raise at least $250,000 towards the establishment of a new and permanent headquarters for the project, a place where the group’s efforts could be furthered and those new to communal gardening could be trained in the practice.
The campaign was not as successful as Edwards had hoped.
“Our campaign was raising more money than we’d ever had, but we’d asked for $250,000 to buy a new permanent home and we were at 20 or 30 thousand,” Edwards said.
But as concerns were growing at Food is Free, a new benefactor stepped into the picture.
A landowner offered to provide Food is Free with a new space for the headquarters. The individual, whose identity has not been revealed, had been looking for a group to develop the land into a space that could be developed and used for teaching about environmentally friendly practices such as gardening.
The only catch was the location: Fayetteville, Arkansas, far removed from the city of Austin where the project had originated. But that wasn’t going to stop Edwards and his team.
“It almost seemed destined. It was really amazing,” Edwards said.
And while it would mean leaving Austin, Food is Free has already expanded beyond the city’s boundaries. Close to 200 cities have established gardens through the project’s outreach. Those cities cover 26 countries, including Egypt, New Zealand, Thailand and Tunisia.
“That (the project) has already gone around the world and back again proves that it’s an idea that resonates with so many,” Edwards said.
Map of Food Is Free locations in the United States – By Joe McMahon
Note: Markers are not exact locations of farms.
Food is Free has been able to expand in such a way largely on the strength of the universality of its message.
“So many people today are living paycheck to paycheck, working jobs that they hate, and they feel trapped,” Edwards said. “If food, water and shelter are met then all of a sudden so many of our problems go away.”
It’s a message that has attracted support not only from communities like the one that sprung up around Food is Free in Austin, but also from those with a strong platform for spreading it.
Comedian Reggie Watts offered his support to the project, calling communal gardens “an essential part of a growing and aspiring community.”
That the city of Austin no longer has room for such a thing might speak to where it is headed in the wake of so much growth.
Ranked by Forbes as the fastest-growing city of the year, Austin boasts a low unemployment rate of less than 5%, a rate lower than the percentage by which the local economy grew last year. With tech giants such as Apple and Dell in the area, and new entrants such as Dropbox continuing to arrive, these numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise.
But they do hide the fact that smaller organizations like Food is Free, which have in large part helped to establish Austin’s modern identity, are feeling the pressure.
By Briana Franklin, Breanna Luna, Joe McMahon and Elizabeth Williams
Sustainable and organic produce is not something UT is known for, but a plot of land on the east side of campus is trying to change that.
The UT Micro Farm is the university’s first student-run farm. Established in 2012 as a Green Fee project, the farm occupies about a fifth of an acre near Disch-Falk Field. The farm grows vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs to be sold to various markets and donated to a local food shelter. Students practice organic farming and hope to eventually be a sustainable farm.
“I thought it was really fascinating to see where food came from,” said Stephanie Hamborsky, the farm’s development assistant, on beginning her work with the micro farm. “I got really excited about really taking charge of this farm and turning it into something that the whole community knows about and providing people with affordable and sustainable produce.”
Austin is home to more than 10 urban farms and 30 community gardens that provide local restaurants, grocers, farmers markets and communities with items ranging from fresh produce to free-range eggs to mealworms. The micro farm, as its name suggests, runs like a farm on a much smaller scale.
Katie Lewis, a sophomore biology and pre-veterinary major, is the farm’s manager. She said that the farm provides a special experience to student life.
“Organic farming and working with my hands and being able to grow things has always been a passion of mine,” Lewis said. “It’s nice to be able to express that while at school.”
Students manage the day-to-day operations of the farm, from tilling the soil to planning crop irrigation. While they have access to campus advisors and resources, much of what the students do is learned on their own.
Edgar Navarrete, a third-year nutrition major and the farm’s fertilizer specialist, has been volunteering at the farm since the Fall semester began. He said that learning on the job is a major part of working on the farm.
“Learning a position here is tough,” Navarrete said. “It’s like taking another class.”
“I got really excited about really taking charge of this farm and turning it into something that the whole community knows about…” – Stephanie Hamborsky
The farm is a hands-on experience where students can gain a better understanding of where their food comes from while contributing to the local food economy.
Hamborsky, a junior plan II and biology major, said that one of the farm’s biggest goals is to change Austin’s food economy by providing organic food to a growing city.
“We want to engage the local community to come out because one of the biggest problems in Austin is the disparity between East Austin and central Austin,” Hamborsky said. “East Austin is essentially a food desert. There aren’t a lot of sources for organic, local foods here and there aren’t a lot of accessible grocery stores in their area, so we’d like to provide affordable produce.”
While the farm aims to transform the city’s food market, the group still faces an essential hurdle.
“We do have some students who come out to volunteer in big groups, but a lot of times it’s difficult to retain volunteers,” Hamborsky said. “I think that definitely being in a big city and school that doesn’t have an agricultural focus, it’s hard to find students that are interested in this.”
Getting the university community involved has been a constant challenge for the micro farm. Open volunteer work days at the farm occur during the week. Students also sell their produce at both the HOPE Farmers Market and their own stand in front of the farm, but establishing a reliable volunteer and customer base is an ongoing battle.
“I talk about it all the time and my friends are like ‘what’s that’?’” Lewis said. “I think as an organization, that’s one of our biggest challenges — getting students to know that we are here and getting them to volunteer.”
Through social media and campus farm stands, the students hope to impact Austin’s food community for good.
“We have a lot of biology and environmental science majors volunteering because there are a lot of scientific aspects to farming,” Hamborsky said. “But what a lot of students don’t know is that we need students from all backgrounds to help out.”
Check out Austin’s other urban farms.
By Adam Beard, Melinda Billingsley, Madison Hamilton, Omar Longoria and Landon Pederson
Some people “pay it forward,” but this organization “challahs back.”
It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. A student lugging a heavy backpack pauses for a moment to breathe in the tantalizing scent before crossing the street. There’s something cooking in the building on the corner of 21st and San Antonio St., but he isn’t quite sure what.
Through the doors of Texas Hillel, down a long hallway and past an extensive meeting room lies a kitchen. UT students donning chef hats are scattered throughout as 90’s pop music blares over the clanging of pots and pans.
By 6 p.m. the kitchen will be cleared out and more than 70 loaves of challah bread will be neatly wrapped and ready to sell in West Mall the next day.
This is how the national non-profit organization Challah For Hunger operates.
“I think Challah For Hunger is a great because it’s both social justice and fun at the same time,” says chapter president, Cari Cohen.
The Texas Hillel is home to one of the many Challah For Hunger chapters across the United States. Founded in 2006, the UT Austin branch has raised thousands of dollars to help fight hunger in both Austin and Africa. By selling challah for $5 in the West Mall, they are able to give upwards of $200 per week to MAZON: a Jewish national non-profit organization, as well as the local food bank.
Although challah is a traditional Jewish bread eaten on holidays, both Jewish and students of non-Jewish descent are invited to Texas Hillel to prepare, braid and decorate challah bread to help raise money for humanitarian aid.
“If they’ve never heard of challah before, we explain to them that it’s an egg-based, really sugary, awesome bread that’s based in the Jewish faith,” says Challah for Hunger member, Hillary Haspel.
Incorporating ingredients such as chocolate, cinnamon and their “fun flavor” each week, the bread has become popular among students from all backgrounds – even the ones who pronounce the “c” in challah.
“Not only does it taste amazing, it goes to a really awesome cause,” says Haspel.