Lance Thompson and his brother Gregg never thought they would get into the restaurant business.
In 1981, Lance started a landscape architecture firm—Thompson & Hanson—in Houston. About 20 years ago, Gregg, a former investment banker, bought half the firm.
For more than three decades, that architecture business has been about building places for people to enjoy. It was only when Lance and Gregg noticed people coming to the Thompson & Hanson garden shop for a meal that the notion of opening a restaurant entered into their consideration.
“People would come to our garden shop, and they would bring their lunches at lunch time and just sit in there—because they love the spaces,” Lance said. “We love to develop spaces that people want to be in.”
To transform a beautiful space to a thriving restaurant, however, the brothers needed a chef. They brought in Baron Doke as a third partner, and the trio created a restaurant they called Tiny Boxwoods—named after the potted trees in the garden—and opened their first location in Houston in 2007.
Lance Thompson has been an Austin resident for 19 years. He had a few clients in the Austin area at Thompson & Hanson, so he moved in 1999, commuting back and forth from Austin to Houston since then to run his business.
“I love this place, love this town, love the neighborhood,” he said.
So when Tiny Boxwoods took off and became a local favorite, it made sense to expand into Central Texas. In spring 2017, Tiny Boxwoods opened its first location in Austin on West 35th Street. In May, Tiny Boxwoods Austin will celebrate its one-year anniversary.
The Austin Tiny Boxwoods eatery features many of the same staples as the original spot—shrimp and risotto along with pizzas fired in a brick oven on the dinner menu, and chocolate chip cookies from the bakery. Those cookies became so popular, Tiny Boxwoods opened up a walk-up bakery spot called Tinys Milk and Cookies (they plan to open the same concept in a new space later this year).
Tiny Boxwoods Austin chef Ava Sonleitner said Doke’s vision is not to make complicated dishes—it is to execute simple food elegantly and do it in an inviting atmosphere.
In that spirit, Doke has made it a point to always keep a pepperoni pizza and a burger on the Tiny Boxwoods menu.
“It’s so approachable, but we try to do it at the highest level we can,” Sonleitner said.
The chefs wanted to bring some of their original favorites to 35th Street, but since opening a year ago, Sonleitner has also made some adjustments. For example, when diners called for a vegan dish, she added a Grains & Things bowl with quinoa, farro and kale.
“Now that we know what people’s favorites are, we’ve added a few other things we think people in Austin would really enjoy,” she said.