By Kelli Weldon
Chains, local restaurants look to feed growing population
Restaurateurs continue to see potential in Southwest Austin as a result of the area's growing housing market.
In particular, young families continue to find homes in Southwest Austin, and restaurants are seeking a slice of valuable real estate nearby, said Stephanie Piland, owner of the Austin-based company Harvest & Vine Food Industry Consulting.
"I think there's a market for restaurants in Southwest Austin that has only begun to be tapped," she said. "There's still a certain degree of traveling up toward the river [to eat downtown] that happens in this area that I don't think will be happening for too much longer."
Some national fast-casual chains have opened recently, and Piland said she now expects to see a surge in unique establishments that maintain the city's signature flavor and "keep Austin weird."
More chefs and entrepreneurs are looking for work in Austin, said Clara Oliver, a Southwest Austin–based franchisee for Patrice & Associates. As an executive headhunter for restaurant managers, Oliver said most job candidates like having the option of working at small, creative, Austin-based chains. As examples, she cited Kerbey Lane Cafe, Jack Allen's Kitchen, Rudy's BBQ, Torchy's Tacos, Cantina Laredo, Waterloo Ice House and Maudie's Tex-Mex.
Alamo Drafthouse, P. Terry's and other Austin staples are doing well, and the region's hot housing market means more growth awaits, according to Christopher Commercial Inc.'s Joseph Christopher, leasing director for The Shops at Arbor Trails and Escarpment Village shopping centers.
"I think the area is filling out right now," he said. "[Restaurants] are trying to bring what people like to the suburbs so people aren't having to go downtown and find it."
According to a Community Impact Newspaper analysis, more than a dozen eateries have opened in the past six months in Southwest Austin, a region that Community Impact defines as south of Southwest Parkway, west of I-35, north of FM 1626 and east of FM 1826.
Among the newest developments is The District, an American-style bistro that is planning to open a location later this year in Escarpment Village, Christopher said.
Serving paleo, gluten-free and grain-free food, Picnik Austin opened in April on South Lamar Boulevard. Donn's BBQ introduced a location in Southwest Austin in May.
Handcrafted pizza restaurants including Stanley's Farmhouse Pizza, Pieous and food trailer VIA 313 Pizza have opened.
Cinnamon and Chad Nemec opened Stanley's with business partner Mike Gatlin in January. Cinnamon said customers have been receptive to the pizza, adjacent brewery and aesthetic.
"They're happy to see something interesting in this area," she said. "It's not just another chain."
Chad said he anticipates more artisan eateries will open.
"It's good food, but it's made with passion," he said. "It's not just mass production, 'sell as much as you can.' It brings something unique."
The restaurant is only open on Saturdays and Sundays but is expanding to Fridays this summer.
Weekend and dinner business is strong in Southwest Austin, but more fast-casual restaurants are coming in to capture the lunch market, Oliver said, adding: "It's excellent, fresh food."
Noodles & Company, based in Colorado, opened its fifth Austin location in Sunset Valley in May. Marketing Manager Nick Filler said several residents requested that the chain open a South Austin location to bring more variety to the area.
In April and May, fast-casual restaurants Smashburger and Zos Kitchen also found homes in Southwest Austin.
Smashburger's Regional Director Brad Brown said when the chain has opened locations in other areas, the first week was busy and then business slowed. But at the Southpark Meadows shopping center location, business has been steady and strong since day one.
"There's so much demand out there. There's a lot of growth coming quickly," he said. "There's a rush to get more retail and restaurant options in Southwest Austin because there's a lot of people living out there."
The chain plans to open two more stores in the Austin area this year, he said.
In Texas, restaurant sales in 2013 are expected to increase 5 percent compared with 2012, reaching $40.8 billion, according to National Restaurant Association data.
Oliver said she expects to see more outdoor dining options and dog-friendly locations to cater to the laid-back, casual nature of Southwest Austinites.
Many Southwest Austin restaurants also offer live music.
Brown said concerts at Southpark Meadows draw dinner business to Smashburger.
Piland noted other restaurants have also realized the possibilities of music, pointing to Evangeline Cafe on Brodie Lane and Strange Brew Austin Coffee on Manchaca Road, which recently expanded and added more space to its stage area, Strange Brew Lounge Side.
In some areas, including The Shops at Arbor Trails, there is not much turnover, Christopher said. He said the number of businesses there that have sustained and increased sales year after year is a testament to the strength of the local industry.
Hill's Cafe also offers live music, but recently has increased its focus on weddings and corporate events, according to Christie Deschodt, Tradelogic Corp. director of marketing.
Many consider Hill's an iconic South Austin business, Deschodt said, noting that when it was struggling in January, Tradelogic took control of operations. The group plans to hold chili and gumbo cookoffs this year to draw families and introduce Hill's to the next generation, Deschodt said.
"There's a culture here, and we want to keep that alive and keep that genuine feeling."