After more than 20 years in Central Austin, Austin Java will be closing the doors at its original location, 1206 Parkway St. The coffee spot and lunchtime hang that opened in 1995 will close permanently on November 1, citing “economic changes in the area.” The coffee shop always maintained its original 90s Austin vibe, coming along well before the recent wave of hip coffee shops. Austin Java remains open at Austin City Hall on Second Street and at 1608 Barton Springs Road.
But don’t think that one closure means the business is struggling. In fact, the coffee shop announced they will be opening three new locations in the coming months and years. There is one opening at 3799 US 290 in Dripping Springs coming at the end of this year, and three slated for opening in 2018 and 2019. They include slated 5404 Manchaca Rd., the Met Center at 7701 Metropolis Drive and one at on the cellphone lot called The Landing at ABIA.
Round Rock will soon say goodbye to the Scarlet Rabbit, according to Dahlia Dandashi of the Statesman. The “Alice in Wonderland” themed restaurant that was opened by Greenhouse Craft Food’s chef Rob Snow and chef Rich Taylor (formerly of Quality Seafood) in the summer of 2014. The restaurant located at 410 W. Main St. in downtown Round Rock will serve its final meal on Mother’s Day.
“Round Rock has been an amazing home to the Scarlet Rabbit and its staff for the last three years,” owner Rich Taylor said in a press release. “Soon, there will be a new project to take our place in this wonderful space, so there will still be fun and interesting things to do downtown.”
Food & Wine magazine was apparently smitten following visits to the latest restaurant from the McGuire Moorman Hospitality group. The important food magazine named June’s All Day to its list of the 10 Best New Restaurants in America Thursday. The restaurant named after partner and master sommelier June Rodil opened last summer on South Congress Avenue, and true to its name, serves morning, noon and night. When we reviewed the restaurant in December, we called it a mash-up of a Parisian bistro and the Peach Pit, and its menu delivers comforting eclecticism, from a pastrami salmon board in the mornings to meaty bolognese at night, as well as one of the city’s best burgers.
What made the restaurant grab the magazine’s attention?
“All of our Restaurants of the Year winners are defying convention in some fundamental way—and June’s All Day is a perfect example. On the surface, this easy-breezy Austin hangout looks like a stylish wine bar, with colorful design and a cool vintage-diner vibe. But here, the food supports the wine, instead of the other way around,” Food & Wine editor-in-chief Nilou Motamed said. “The kitchen has created small plates to go along with the brilliant wine list, curated by sommelier June Rodil. She comes up with the most unlikely yet spot-on pairings, like a briny South African rosé matched to a hearty matzo ball caldo soup.”
It had initially announced plans to also open restaurants in Cedar Park, Lakeway and near the Mueller redevelopment project in East Austin.
The closures are part of parent company Fiesta Restaurant Group’s “strategic renewal plan.” Fiesta also owns the Taco Cabana chain.
“Fiesta’s recent growth initiatives diverted resources from our core markets and some amount of renewal is required to restore momentum in these markets,” Fiesta president and CEO Richard Stockinger said in a written statement. “While the decision to close restaurants is never easy, we believe it is vital to focus the company’s resources and efforts on markets and locations that have proven successful for our brands.”
Some of the closed Pollo Tropicals may reopen at a later date as Taco Cabana locations, Fiesta said.
Like a phoenix rising from the barbecue ashes, John Mueller has another rebirth in store. The longtime Texas barbecue boss and grandson of Taylor barbecue scion Louie Mueller will soon be cooking again, this time at the Black Box Barbecue trailer in historic Georgetown. Owners Gary Brown and Justin Bohls will soft open the trailer at 201 E. Ninth St. next weekend during the town’s Red Poppy Festival.
The black trailer will serve Mueller’s famous brisket and beef rib, along with pork ribs, pulled pork, chicken and his various side dishes. The trailer is intended to be just the first step in Mueller’s reintroduction to the Central Texas market. His partners, with whom Mueller has been friends for decades, plan to open Black Box barbecue on the adjacent property, with construction to begin soon.
“It feels frickin awesome,” Mueller said of his return to professional cooking.
Black Box Barbecue will be the third barbecue business the enigmatic pit masters has been associated with in the past six years in Central Texas. He opened J Mueller Barbecue on South First Street in 2011, but his involvement came to an end in 2012 following a fiscal dispute with his sister, LeAnn Mueller, who transformed the business into La Barbecue. Mueller then headed to East Austin, where he operated John Mueller Meat Co. at East Sixth and Pedernales streets from 2013 until last August, when the State of Texas closed that business, citing Mueller’s unpaid taxes.
Mueller says that those who may wonder about his business acumen and relationships this time around shouldn’t worry.
“I’m going to cook for people who’ve known me all my life, who’ve read everything there is to read about me and still want to work with me,” Mueller said. “We’re gonna have a really sound business and cook really good food.”
Mueller first came to recognition in Austin, almost as much for his surly attitude as his stunning brisket, while running John Mueller BBQ on Manor Road from 2001 to ’06, during which time a young Aaron Franklin cut onions and worked the register. Following that shutter, Mueller took a hiatus from Austin before returning for his tumultuous run of the last seven years.
As for any doubters or haters, Mueller laughs at the idea.
“Are there still any out there?” asked Mueller. “I don’t think anyone remembers who I am.”
One of Austin’s longest-running fine dining restaurants will see its 32-year run come to a close in the coming months. Carmelo Mauro will shutter his namesake Italian restaurant in downtown on Father’s Day, June 18. Mauro sold the property at 504 E. Fifth St. in March, according to county records, and cites rising property tax prices for the closure.
Mauro said he believes the new owners, listed as AHC-Seazen ODH LLC, intend to build a high-rise condominium on the plot of land at Fifth and Red River streets. According to state records, AHC-Seazen is connected to Houston-based firm Allen Harrison Company, which develops multi-family apartment buildings. The Statesman has left a message with a representative for the buyer.
Mauro first opened Carmelo’s in Houston in 1981 after arriving from his native Sicily in 1978, and opened the Austin location in 1985. The restaurant is located in the 145-year-old building that once the housed Old Depot Hotel, recorded on the National Register as a Texas Landmark.
Mauro said he never intended to sell the land, which he purchased in 1992, but that property tax increases in recent years made staying impossible. According to the Travis County Appraisal District’s website, the property was appraised around $3 million in 2014 and rose to just over $5 million last year. Mauro said his restaurant would have to do $8 million-$10 million in sales annually, a number he says is unfathomable, in order to remain profitable.
“We are not here to become wealthy but because we love what we do,” Mauro said. “But at one point if you work just for the tax man then it is not fun anymore.”
Carmelo’s parking lot had helped Mauro generate extra revenue in recent years. The space played a major role during South by Southwest for 2012 to 2014, with Doritos building a massive stage on the lot. But an ordinance passed by the Austin City Council in 2014 to regulate public safety during SXSW kept Carmelo’s from being able to obtain a permit to host such shows in its parking lost, according to Mauro. Mauro said the change cost his business hundreds of thousands of dollars, which he would have used to defray the rising tax cost.
Mauro thinks local government is making financial concerns the primary factor in Austin’s growth, a move that puts the city’s unique culture at risk.
“They are on a mission and their mission is to get as much money from the business community. The tragedy is there is no cap on businesses, so they can increase as much as they please,” Mauro said. “They forgot who made this corner. Now they are looking for the top bananas with a lot of funds.”
Carmelo’s was once one of the hottest spots in Austin, home to special-occasion family dinners and a regular dining destinations for some of the city’s power players. When Anne Richards was elected governor in 1990, the Statesman’s Lee Kelly wrote that lunches at La Zona Rosa and dinners at Carmelo’s Italian Restaurant were “in.”
Mauro, who served as president of the Texas Restaurant Association from 2007-2008, was recognized in 2001 by the National Restaurant Association as the group’s Cornerstone Humanitarian of the Year, and he regularly participated in charity and community events, including last year’s “Austin Loves Amatrice” benefit following the devastation earthquake in Italy.
“The beauty of Austin through the years is we were able to get involved with a lot of charitable organizations and helped raise substantial amounts. So we were part of the community, and we will always be a part of the community,” Mauro said.
Mauro gave three months notice to his staff, in hopes they’d have time to find new jobs. Some of the employees at Carmelo’s are children of some of the restaurant’s original employees, according to the owner.
The closure in Austin will not affect the original Houston location in that city’s energy corridor.
“Houston is more sensitive when they increase,” Mauro said. “Five or 10 percent.”
Carmelo will spend time in his restaurant in the weeks leading up to the closure, hoping to get a chance to say goodbye to many of his longtime customers and employees.
He closes the Austin chapter of his restaurant life with mixed feelings.
“It’s a shock to each one of us. So even though I cashed in, there is no celebration,” Mauro said. “The heart tells you one thing but the brain says it’s time.”
The sabor of South Texas will soon be rolling up to Austin. Beloved Laredo-based Taco Palenque, which has locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley and north to Houston, San Antonio and New Braunfels, plans to open a food truck in Austin this summer.
Owner Juan Francisco Ochoa (Don Pancho) opened the first Taco Palenque in Laredo in 1987, several years after selling the American rights to El Pollo Loco, which he also founded. The fast-casual restaurant specializes in grilled beef and chicken plates and tacos, and is well known for its massive pirata, a taco slathered with refried beans and draped with juicy grilled fajita meat and melted cheddar cheese.
The restaurants make their own excellent corn and flour tortillas, the latter soft, chewy and spotted with marks from the grill, and feature fresh salsa bars, with several salsa offerings, grilled jalapenos, pickled and raw onions, cilantro, pico de gallo and more. A visit to Taco Palenque will make you totally rethink the idea of fast-casual Mexican food.
Ochoa and his team told me last week in Laredo that the truck will feature several of the restaurant’s most popular items on a smaller menu than that found in their 20+ locations throughout Texas. They are not sure where the truck will be located and say there is a strong possibility the truck could lead to multiple Austin brick-and-mortar locations of the massively popular family-owned chain of restaurants, which expanded to New Braunfels four years ago.