2020 in review: 23 featured businesses, restaurants in Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hutto

Gino Catenacci pours a sparkling blood orange martini. (Taylor Jackson Buchanan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gino Catenacci pours a sparkling blood orange martini. (Taylor Jackson Buchanan/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gino Catenacci pours a sparkling blood orange martini. (Taylor Jackson Buchanan/Community Impact Newspaper)

While 2020 has been an unprecedented year for businesses and restaurants, many area institutions found ways to modify their operations while still providing the products, foods and services customers love. Here is a look back at all of the Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto business and dining profiles featured during 2020.

Round Rock Barber Shop

Ohio native Dennis Burky and California transplant Will Santoliquido said they likely would never have met each other if they had not happened to enroll in an Austin-based barber school on the same day. Ten-and-a-half months later, they graduated at the same time and opened a barber shop together.

“I live in Round Rock,” Burky said. “My kids go to Round Rock schools. We want to be a part of the Round Rock community and grow with the city.”

Read more here.

Pita Shack

Ayman Attar Bashi and his wife, Raya Thanoon, came to Texas on Nov. 3, 2010, as Iraqi refugees, having fled their home country amid heightened violence. Attar Bashi said when he first came to the United States, he craved a sense of familiarity in a world so foreign and new.

“When you go to a new place, the first thing you start looking for is something you knew: your culture, your food, people of the same region,” he said. “We started looking to eat our food—Arabic food, Middle Eastern food, Mediterranean food.”

Read more here.

Bless This Nest

Up creaking steps and through the front porch door, antique furniture, women's clothing and home decor cover every inch of surface at Bless This Nest in Hutto. A gentle breeze runs through the backyard, nearly muffled over the sounds of shoppers entering and greeting each other with smiles and laughs.

"There's nothing like it," Marci Wagner, owner of Bless This Nest, said with a smile. "I've never experienced anything like it, and that's why I don't think it can be duplicated."

Read more here.

Gino’s Vino Osteria

Gino Catenacci said he started busing tables in the summer of 1966. Fifty-four years later, he has swept floors, bartended and owned restaurants in six states, he said.

Now he serves upscale Italian cuisine at two locations of Gino’s Vino Osteria. The original location is on 51st Street in Austin, and the second location is on Old Settlers Boulevard in Round Rock.

“I’ve been making homemade pasta since I was a little boy,” Catenacci said. “I’ve been at this my whole life.”

Read more here.

Burn Boot Camp

Burn Boot Camp opened in Round Rock in February 2019, part of a fitness chain originally created in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2012 by husband and wife Devan and Morgan Kline. But what sets the studio apart from other fitness brands, Round Rock manager Anne Townsend said, is that the studio strives to create an inclusive environment for people of all physical capabilities.

“Wherever they’re at, whatever ability level you’re at, you need to be moving. You need to be active,” Townsend said.

Read more here.

Fortune House

Andy Tang brought his vision of a Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant to Hutto in April 2019. At Fortune House, he serves rice dishes, noodle bowls and a variety of entrees as well as boba tea, a Taiwanese milk tea with flavored tapioca balls.

“Come try our food,” Tang said. “The way we make everything is a homemade style. We don’t put any imitation ingredients in there.”

Read more here.

Pilates 512

Brittany Harpole, owner of Pilates 512 in Round Rock, was sitting at home on a recent Friday night following her first week of online Pilates classes. Harpole, alongside many fitness studio owners in Round Rock, had been forced to temporarily close her studio on March 25 in the wake of COVID-19.

In her email inbox sat an unread message from the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation: Pilates 512 had been granted funding from Round Rock Cares.

“I just started crying,” Harpole said. “To get that bit of good news was just an amazing way to end the week.”

Read more here.

Alcove Cantina; The Flats Round Rock; Round Rock Sports Bar

On March 18, Michelle Ly and her husband, Erik Hall, made the difficult decision to temporarily close three of their four Round Rock businesses: Alcove Cantina, The Flats Round Rock and The Rock Sports Bar. The temporary closures came as restaurants and bars across Central Texas and throughout the country were forced to close dine-in operations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In an effort to support local businesses struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Round Rock Cares—a fund organized by the city of Round Rock, the Round Rock Chamber, the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation and Dell Technologies—launched March 25. The Flats and The Rock were among more than 80 recipients of the fund.

“Overwhelmed doesn’t even explain it—you’re at a time where businesses have the potential to never see the light of day again, and then people are stepping in to help you get through this really dark time,” Ly said.

Read more here.

Aqua-Tots Swim Schools Round Rock

Aqua-Tots Swim Schools Round Rock celebrated its ninth year in business April 4. A day normally marked by the sounds of children’s laughter and splashing water, co-owner Dr. Andy Neillie said, was silent.

In an effort to support local businesses struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Round Rock Cares—a fund organized by the city of Round Rock, the Round Rock Chamber, the Greater Round Rock Community Foundation and Dell Technologies—launched March 25. Aqua-Tots was among more than 80 recipients of the fund.

“We were so pleased. We’ve been a part of the Round Rock community for nine years,” Neillie said. “Just to be recognized as an important contributor to the Round Rock community—we teach tens of thousands of little kids to swim in our little swim school there. It just felt right.”

Read more here.

Bluebonnet Beer Co.

Tucked between an industrial park and a field of wildflowers in east Round Rock, Bluebonnet Beer Co. was founded in 2013 by David and Clare Hulama. In the years since, the Hulamas said they have faced a fair share of ups and downs. However, those moments pale in light of the challenges that confront them today, David Hulama said.

“The coronavirus is the biggest challenge craft brewers have faced since prohibition,” he said. “It’s not a complete shutting down of alcohol production businesses, but it’s pretty close.”

Read more here.

Armbrust American

In a 15,000-square-foot facility near SH 130, an assembly line of machinery creates 120 surgical masks a minute. As the prototype proves successful, Lloyd Armbrust, founder and CEO of Armbrust American, plans to ramp up production to 1.2 million masks a day.

“Typically, masks are made manually,” Armbrust said. “I realized I could speed up production and eliminate the high costs associated with labor by automating the process.”

Read more here.

Teriyaki Madness

Delivery has become an essential component of the service model at Teriyaki Madness in Round Rock amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers will notice a new delivery option on the restaurant’s website—an opportunity to sponsor a teriyaki bar for local health care workers.

Franchisee Sylvester John said the concept, which is being offered at Teriyaki Madness locations across the country, began with the desire to “contribute to health care workers who are working overtime and spending time away from their families.”

Read more here.

The Oaks at Forest Creek, Mi Mundo Coffeehouse & Roastery, Huahuasco Grill Taqueria y Mas

With restaurants forced to operate at limited capacities during the pandemic, business owners have innovated their approaches. This is particularly salient for local restaurants that opened just days before the initial restrictions went into effect in March—including The Oaks at Forest Creek, Mi Mundo Coffeehouse & Roastery and Huahuasco Grill Taqueria y Mas.

Read more here.

Liberty Barbecue

The smell of smoked meats permeates as customers enter Liberty Barbecue in downtown Round Rock. Sounds of knives on plates and muffled chatter characterize the Tuesday lunch crowd. Owner John Brotherton circles between tables, exchanging greetings with customers.

Brotherton and his business partners, the Perez family, opened Liberty Barbecue in Round Rock in December 2018. The barbecue joint shares recipes with Brotherton's other restaurant,

Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue, in Pflugerville—recipes that earned his Pflugerville business top honors in a statewide ranking of the best new barbecue places in Texas.

Read more here.

Bell’s Gaming Center

Lifelong gamer Michael Bell said he is no stranger to twists of fate. As recently as February, he watched customers rally after a captured chess piece or to overcome a blocked board game route as they gathered nightly in his store, Bell’s Gaming Center.

However, in March, when the coronavirus reached Central Texas, Bell found himself facing unexpected challenges of his own. Statewide restrictions shuttered businesses like his, which functions as both a retail and an event space.

Read more here.

Gossip Shack 2

Hints of maple syrup saturate the air within Gossip Shack 2 in Pflugerville, paired with the sound of sizzling chicken wings in the kitchen. A bulletin board brimming with business cards and flyers for Black-owned businesses hangs near the counter.

The significance behind the name Gossip Shack, owner Michael Blaylark said, is prophetic in nature.

“If your name is in everyone’s mouth consistently, that’s gossip,” Blaylark said. “You can’t be forgotten, and someone is going to hear about you.”

Read more here.

High Society Relief

Tyrone Howard and his wife, Shakana Howard, first thought of opening a CBD shop in part due to health conditions she faced. Shakana Howard has an unrepaired atrioventricular heart canal and related heart complications, and she was let go from her previous employer after frequent hospitalizations.

The Howards were drawn to the medicinal benefits of CBD, which has been associated with relief for chronic pain, anxiety and insomnia. Sourcing from outside manufacturers, products include edibles, coffee, joint creams and oils.

Read more here.


Working the lunch crowd on a recent Monday, manager Hyukki Soon seats customers and waits tables alongside his staff at Miso, a Korean and Japanese restaurant in Round Rock. Meanwhile, his father, Youngho Soon, prepares sashimi behind the sushi bar, and his mother, Okhwan Han, whips up Korean cuisine in the kitchen.

“We are truly a family business,” Soon said. “We want the customers to feel good, to have a good experience here. We think that’s really important, that they are happy with the food and the service.”

Read more here.

East Social House

Lisa Woods opened East Social House in August 2019, overseeing the coffee shop while also owning her own photography business. As an entrepreneur, she said she spends hours working from coffee shops, drawn to them by their spirit and character.

“I love coffee shops, and so when I travel, I seek out local coffee shops, and I go try them out,” Woods said. “What I didn’t want was to just be labeled as coffee, especially in a community that needed more of an outlet. I wanted it to be very community-oriented.”

Read more here.