New locally-owned establishments aim to elevate area caffeine scene
Husband-and-wife team James and Sandy Hughes said opening Sunset Valley coffee shop Stouthaus Coffee Pub was a longtime dream, and there was a need in the neighborhood.
"We were tired of going downtown or on the other side of [Hwy.] 290 to get really great coffee," Sandy Hughes said.
Soon after its September opening, residents were stopping by the shop for espresso drinks.
Within the past few months several new Southwest Austin establishments have opened, bringing more craft coffee options to a previously limited landscape in terms of swanky spaces and direct-trade espresso drinks, James Hughes said.
Patika Coffee LLC, which has operated a trailer in Central Austin since 2010, opened its first brick-and-mortar location in late September on South Lamar Boulevard. The location has patio space and makes its own baked goods.
Owner Andy Wigginton said new vendors in the area are focusing on high-quality coffee.
"In the industry they are calling it 'third wave' places," he said. "It's about really paying more attention to the whole process of where your beans are coming from, who is roasting them, are they roasting them well and consistently, and then once they get into the shops' hands, are they brewing them correctly?"
Radio Coffee & Beer co-owner Jack Wilson said he worked in the industry in Seattle before returning to Austin and opening Radio Coffee on Manchaca Road in June.
"Specialty coffee is definitely in South Austin now, but everyone has their own take on it," he said.
Radio Coffee primarily serves Stumptown Coffee, which pays farm workers more than fair trade prices and works to improve farm communities' infrastructure, he said.
"There's a lot more care put into the actual preparation of the coffee," he said. "It's not like, 'Get it out as quickly as possible'—there's a whole presentation that goes into it."
Radio Coffee shares property with local trailer Veracruz All-Natural Tacos and sells food from local companies such as East Side Pies, Moonlight Bakery and Sugar Mama's Bakeshop.
Wigginton said in his classification system there is good coffee, "drinkable" coffee and bad coffee. Patika uses coffee from Cuvee Coffee, which recently opened its own coffee bar on East Sixth Street.
"I think that coffee is one of those trends that as more people are exposed to better quality, it's really hard to go back," Wigginton said.
Location is key
Casey Livingston, who said he grew up in Southwest Austin, opened prepared-foods concept Independence Fine Foods on Slaughter Lane in August. Independence offers Cuvee Coffee espresso drinks, he said.
His brother Sloan Livingston, a managing partner, said young people are migrating south out of Central Austin neighborhoods.
"You have families who get more square footage out here for a home. And they want all the amenities that you can get downtown; that's why you have people who are receptive to craft coffee," he said.
The Sound Gallery owner Marc Campbell said the shop opened in February on South Congress Avenue and sells vintage stereo equipment and vinyl. The store also has a coffee bar. A former coffee shop owner, Campbell said he wanted to incorporate it in his new venture.
Catering to locals is a goal for Opera Cafe & Coffeehouse, owner Aliya Amanzholova said. The European-style cafe opened this summer in the former White Rabbit space. She said the business offers Italian-made Illy coffee as well as lunch and desserts.
Area newcomer Lucky Lab Coffee Co. embraced commuters by opening its first espresso bar trailer at the Y at Oak Hill this summer, owner Courtney Hutton said.
Many customers come from the Dripping Springs area on their commute toward Central Austin and are relieved that there is an option along Hwy. 290, she said.
"I've never lived in a city where there has been such a coffee culture," she said.
Hutton said she hopes to expand and open a second trailer for events in 2015.
Beer adds balance
Casey Livingston said in summer 2015, he plans to expand the Independence menu to include craft beer and wine.
At Stouthaus, Sandy Hughes said beer, wine, kombucha and sodas aid in the goal of establishing "Stammtisch."
"That's German for 'the gathering table,' and in Germany when you visit the local pubs they'll have a sign above certain tables that says 'Stammtisch,'" she said. "It's usually a regular group of people that meet there every night."
Radio Coffee also offers beer. Wilson said he talked with friends who started Brew & Brew in East Austin and thought some aspects of that model would work for Radio.
"[Beer] was a direction that we could expand that would balance out our business so that we would have this morning, mid-afternoon coffee shop that, instead of dying at night, would just pick right back up at night and become this other thing," he said.
That has been the business model of local coffee shop Strange Brew for years, said Shane Widner, president of South Austin Ventures LLC, which owns Strange Brew.
The coffee shop offers fair trade Third Coast Coffee Roasting Co. coffee and food, and the adjacent Lounge Side concept hosts live music.
He said growth in the local craft coffee scene has not harmed business, as the shop's sales are up about 15 percent compared with 2013. Strange Brew plans to begin work this year to double the size of its main coffee bar and expand Lounge Side.
South Austin Ventures will debut its new concept, tentatively named Southside Caf, in the former Bakehouse location in 2015. Widner said the restaurant will serve the same fair trade coffee as Strange Brew.
Other shops have opened or will soon open in South Austin. Seventh Flag Coffee opened in June at 1504 S. First St., and another Austin shop, Caffe Medici, plans to expand to South Lamar Boulevard next to the renovated Alamo Drafthouse Cinema location.
Amanzholova said she hopes to welcome more specialty coffee options to Southwest Austin.
"The more the merrier," she said.