Bennu Coffee taking over Dominican Joe’s space on South Congress Ave.

The inside of the original Bennu Coffee at 2001 E. MLK Blvd. (Credit: Bennu Coffee)

South Austin will soon be able to get its caffeine fix 24-7 from Bennu Coffe the way East Austin has for the last eight years. The coffee shop from Stephanie and Steven Joel Williams will take possession of the Dominican Joe’s space at 515 S. Congress Ave. (at Riverside Drive) on May 1 and initiate a quick turnaround. The owners expect to have the new Bennu open in “very early May.”

As with the original location, which opened in April of 2009,  the new Bennu will be open all day, everyday and serve their specialty coffee drinks, like the Iced Bennu, their Gourmet Mocha menu, cold brew in town, individual French presses, and more. They will also add the “Dominican Joe Honey Cream Latte” to the menu at both locations as a tribute to DJ’s legacy. Bennu will continue to serve DJ’s trademark coffee that benefits Makarios, “a non-profit working to pull families out of poverty by making sure children get an education in the Dominican Republic,” which will be sold by the bag and on rotation for drip coffee at both Bennu locations.

Food offerings will continue to have the  same local feel, with grab-and-go options from local vendors. While all of the relationships haven’t yet been confirmed at the new location, you can likely expect to see some of the familiar names from Bennu East, where you’ll find pizza from Hoboken Pie, pastries from Russells, sandwiches and wraps from The Green Cart, breakfast tacos from Taco Mex, Stroopwafels from The Stroop Club, Vegan pastries from Skull & Cakebones, salads, sandwiches, and pasta salads from Fricano’s Deli, and bagels from Hot Jumbo Bagels.  There will also be several vegan options.

Dominican Joe Coffee Shop, which was started as a partnership between Mehul Patel and Sharla Megilligan (founder of Makarios), originally opened in September 2006. Patel and Megilligan, who are involved in other businesses and non-profits in Austin, decided to sell DJ after being approached by the Williams.

“It’s always been a side project for both of us and we’ve never been able to give it the focus it deserves,” said Megilligan, who is in the process of starting a program for kids aging out of foster care called Ninety-nine & One. “We were happy to sell it to them knowing that they will not only do a great job and keep our staff, but they’ll keep selling our coffee and thereby support Makarios’ programs in the DR. It’s been a very friendly transition and both Mehul and I are excited to see the future of the shop … We’ll continue to be regulars at the shop.”

Food & Wine magazine names Austin sushi chef one of Best New Chefs in America

Chef Yoshi Okai of Otoko has been named one of the Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine. (Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Food & Wine magazine has named Otoko chef Yoshi Okai one of their Best New Chefs in America. 

The Japanese chef helped steward the 12-seat modernist kaiseki to a spot in the Top 5 in last year’s Austin360 Dining Guide. The restaurant, imagined by chef Paul Qui and New Waterloo Hospitality, is located at the top of a furtive staircase in the courtyard of the South Congress Hotel and opened in March of last year. The list of 10 winners from 9 cities around the country also includes Diego Galicia and Rico Torres, chef-owners of the also-12-seat modernist Mexican restaurant Mixtli in San Antonio, as Mike Sutter of the Express-News reports.

Okai relies on exceptional sourcing and artistic flourishes to create a host of raw and sushi dishes that comprise about half his 20+ course tasting menu. Tickets for dinner at Otoko (which runs $150 per person, without tax, gratuity or beverages) can be ordered a month in advance.

The chef, who has fronted several garage rock bands since moving to Austin from Los Angeles in the late 90s is almost as memorable for his colorful personality and flare as he is for his knife skills, often entertaining his guests with his ebullient braggadocio and infectious excitement.

“I feel like a rockstar! Still can’t believe I’ve been named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs. Crazy. When I got the phone call I almost screamed,” Okai told the Statesman. “I never in my life expected this. So honored.”

Okai joins a healthy list of Austin chefs who have previously received the honor, including Tyson Cole (2005) and Qui (2014), with whom Okai worked at Uchi and Uchiko.

“Food & Wine has a rich history of Best New Chefs in Austin, especially when it comes to cutting-edge sushi chefs,” Food & Wine editor-in-chief Nilou Motamed said. “Yoshi learned under the best at Uchi and Uchiko. But he’s added his own unique stamp at Otoko. The way Yoshi takes Texas into account is what most distinguishes his work—he incorporates hyper-local ingredients like henbit and edible flowers, and somehow manages to give sushi an unmistakable Lone Star terroir.”

Other Austin chefs to receive the honor over the years include Will Packwood (2001), David Bull (2003), Barley Swine and Odd Duck’s Bryce Gilmore (2011), Olamaie’s Michael Fojtasek (2015) and Kevin Fink of Emmer & Rye (2016).