Exclusive: Award-winning chef returns to Austin to open restaurant at new boutique hotel

All that’s old is new again. And then some. That seems to be the mindset of the hospitality group that has revamped a classic South Austin union hall into a hip boutique hotel.

The Carpenter Hotel, slated to open in November, will be a stylized addition to the old Zilker neighborhood. The Austin-based hospitality firm the Mighty Union has transformed the former Local 1266’s Carpenters Union Hall at 400 Josephine St. into a boutique hotel with a design and retro aesthetic that updates the mid-century brick building, built in 1948 and nestled in a grove of pecan trees near P. Terry’s on South Lamar Boulevard.

Expect comforting dishes like chili crab chitarra from executive chef Grae Nonas when Carpenters Hall opens. (Contributed)


Executive chef Grae Nonas, the opening co-executive chef at perennial Austin standout Olamaie, has returned from a brief stint in Minneapolis to helm the culinary program. And much like the revamped Central Texas-meets-West Texas aesthetic of the mid-century modern space, Nonas says he plans to bring “fresh eyes on Texas’ past” to Carpenters Hall, the hotel’s centerpiece restaurant.

Nonas, a native of the New Jersey and New York area who formerly worked at the acclaimed Son of a Gun and Animal in Los Angeles, has long loved the idea of old hotels and the roles they once played in people’s social and dining lives. With the all-day restaurant Carpenters Hall, he hopes to create a new neighborhood institution that embraces the area and its history, a place where people feel equally comfortable on a date night, a family outing or a solo stop at the bar for lunch. “A place where you know what you’re getting,” as Nonas says.

The evocative space, with its original brick walls and wooden floors and design elements that speak to the building’s history, exudes a sense of polished history. Pairing that narrative with an approachable culinary program that inspires ideas of old Texas while evincing its modern flair has posed a welcome challenge to Nonas. One to which the chef says he has applied a “less-is-more mentality.”

Grase Nonas is the executive chef at Carpenters Hall. (Contributed)

The first inspirational dish that helped form the menu’s foundation was a massive chicken schnitzel, which nods to both Central Texas’ German heritage and our love for comforting dishes like fried chicken. Nonas intends a half chicken that seems simple but reveals its glory in the details as you work from light to dark meat colored and heightened with black chimichurri here and aioli there, the dish changing as you eat it.

“It’s kind of silly in a way, but it makes you so happy inside,” Nonas said of the oversized comfort tempered with thoughtfulness.

The menu will be Texan at heart but also reflect Mediterranean and Spanish influences. That massive chicken might appear on a dinner menu that could include appetizers like lamb sausage with pistachio and kohlrabi and corona bean toast with straciatella alongside bold and direct entrees such as grilled steak and potato with herb salad or fish with shaved fennel salad.

Nonas, who won Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef honors with Olamaie founder Michael Fojtasek in 2015, envisions “a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously but has attention to detail and is aggressive when it needs to be.”

Carpenters Hall will open daily for breakfast, when you might find offerings like Spanish fried eggs with beef hash and pickled Spanish peppers or Carolina gold rice porridge with persimmon and granola or a blue crab omelette. A variety of salads and reasonable cuts of steak or a piece of grilled fish will have their places on a lunch menu that will undoubtedly speak to Nonas’ love of sandwiches, including the hotel classic, a turkey club.

The restaurant will seat about 120 total, including indoor and outdoor seating, and be complemented by a cafe on the other side of the lobby that serves coffee, pastries, salads and made-to-order sandwiches. Both operations will be open to the public.

Nonas joined the team after meeting the Mighty Union principals through fellow Austin chef Fiore Tedesco of L’Oca d’Oro. The Mighty Union’s braintrust includes Austin architect and designer Jen Turner, Ace Hotel Portland co-founding partner and native Texan Jack Barron and that stylish, industry-leading hotel’s general manager, Donald Kenney. The group also operates the Suttle Lodge in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, as well as bars  Pepe Le Moko and Spirit of 77 in Portland, with a hotel also slated for San Antonio. Both the Suttle Lodge and Ace Portland have made names for themselves by evoking a genuine sense of place in design, narrative and function, and it appears the Carpenter and the Carpenters Hall intend to follow suit.

“This isn’t a transplanted design or concept,” Nonas said. “It is original to this area and this space. That’s what makes it so unique and special.”

Pizzeria and bar coming to Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar complex

Just a few weeks after opening the market, cafe and bar called Artista Rosso, the owners of that business have their eyes on another project in the same complex.

The former Vox Table space will be the home of South End Connection Pizza & Bar. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

South End Connection Pizza & Bar will take the place of the former Vox Table in the Lamar Union complex. The pizzeria and bar, which management hopes to open by November 1, will set up shop directly across from the Alamo Drafthouse, which serves plenty of pizzas already. Artista Rosso and South End Connection Pizza & Bar are both operated by the owner of Barley Bean.

South End plans to serve dinner Tuesday-Sunday with daytime service on the weekend.

EXCLUSIVE: Familiar Austin faces buy Sweetish Hill, announce plans for bakery’s future

[cmg_anvato video=3920602 autoplay=”true”]

A new school titan of the Austin restaurant world is taking over an old-school classic. The McGuire Moorman Hospitality group has purchased beloved Clarksville-area Sweetish Hill Bakery (1120 W. Sixth St.) from Jim Murphy, with the sale slated to close in early September.

Sweetish Hill Bakery was founded in 1975. (Mark Matson FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The owners of Jeffrey’s, Clark’s, Perla’s (and more) will close the doors for remodeling on September 8 and plan to fully reopen by Christmas under the moniker Swedish Hill Bakery Cafe & Deli. The new spelling is a slight rebrand and nod to the Swede’s Hill neighborhood where Patricia Bauer-Slate and Tom Neuhaus originally opened the business at 14th and Waller streets in 1975.

The new Swedish Hill will serve as the bakery for all seven of MMH’s Austin-area restaurants and also operate a retail bakery offering savory and sweet items, a wine bar, and deli serving prepared foods and made-to-order sandwiches. There are also plans to serve bagels and smoked fish spreads (initially probably only on weekends). And, yes, there will still be three dozen parking spaces on site. 

MMH co-founder and native Austinite Larry McGuire points to the business models and offerings of Gjelina in Los Angeles and Russ & Daughters in New York City as inspirations for the concept that will expand on the bakery that Jim Murphy has owned,initially with Bauer-Slate, since 1990.

McGuire, who grew up in the Travis Heights neighborhood and has fond memories of his family buying Italian cream cakes from Sweetish Hill for birthdays, said his business needed a centralized bakery for its wide assortment of baked goods and that purchasing Sweetish Hill and the land on which it sits would allow them to help preserve a bit of Austin and what makes the city cool.

“If we didn’t buy it, somebody was gonna build an apartment complex,” McGuire said.

The bakery, which will bake the San Francisco-style sourdough for Clark’s, the laminated doughs and baguettes for Elizabeth Street Cafe and much more, will be under the direction of chefs and MMH partners Alex Manley and Jennifer Tucker.

Sweetish Hill co-founder Patricia Bauer-Slate and Jim Murphy at Sweetish Hill Bakery in 2005. Mark Matson FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

After baking in Houston and New York City, Murphy returned to Austin and became the bakery manager at Sweetish Hill in 1988 and a partner in 1990. The bakery, which relocated to the current Clark’s space on West Sixth street in the late 70s, moved across the street to its current location in 1991. Murphy, who helped found the Bread Bakers Guild of America in the 90s, bought out Bauer-Slate’s interest about 10 years ago.

After more than 40 years of keeping baker’s hours, trying to stay afloat in an increasingly expensive city while catering to an aging customer base, and paying fair wages and keeping prices affordable, Murphy said he is ready for a change.

“It’s something we’ve worked hard it. It’s a tough business. It’s a people business. You have to really like it,” Murphy said. “Ultimately, I’m a baker first. And I think the bakery business all over the world is evolving more and more to restaurants and cafes. I don’t want to be in the restaurant business.”

Friendly neighborhood service and cakes like their legendary Dutch chocolate and the fruit-filled holiday cakes have made Murphy and Sweetish Hill a Clarksville-area institutions for decades. And as word has leaked out in recent weeks, many longtime customers have come by the bakery to say thank you to Murphy and pay their respects.  

“It’s just been great to have such loyal customers,” Murphy said.

While he is ready for the change of pace, and to get out from under the soaring property taxes, Murphy, who took about a month to come around to the idea of selling, admits he still has brief moments of doubt.

“Some days I almost wake up with a panic attack, thinking, ‘Gah, what am i doing?’” Murphy said.

What he’ll be doing in the future is consulting, working on projects and maybe teaching classes as Barton Springs Mill. He’ll also help the MMH team get the bakery up and running once construction, which includes expanding into the adjacent Pause & Imagine dress shop, is completed.

Murphy, who along with his partners has always been steadfast about sourcing locally, avoiding trans fats and using unbleached flour, felt it was important that the brand he and Bauer-Slate worked so hard to cultivate remain in good hands. And he believes that McGuire Moorman will honor their legacy.

This is not MMH’s first time to take over a historic brand and space. The company known for its keen attention to detail and stunning aesthetics and branding revamped 80s and 90s icon Jeffrey’s in 2013. McGuire sees his role in taking over the popular neighborhood bakery in the same light, and appreciates the responsibility of polishing a classic brand and carrying it into the future.

“I’ve been through this a bunch before; it’s a valid concern,” McGuire said of people worried about losing their favorite bakery. “We’re trying to open the best thing we can open. My job is to set them up for the next 30 or 40 years. That’s our goal.”

Punch Bowl Social planning downtown Austin location

Punch Bowl Social will open a second Austin location late this year.

The entertainment venue has signed a letter of intent for 22,000 square feet in the Scarborough Building at West Sixth Street and Congress Avenue.

Plans call for Punch Bowl Social to occupy spaces on the first floor and in the basement that were vacated by Brooks Brothers and Gold’s Gym. An outdoor patio along Congress Avenue is envisioned, as well.

When the downtown location opens, it will join one that has been at The Domain since 2014. Nationwide, there are 13 locations – most in urban settings similar to the new downtown Austin location.

“The Domain location was such a homerun from the very beginning,” Punch Bowl Social founder and CEO Robert Thompson said. “We love Austin and are excited to finally have a downtown location.”

While there will be many similarities between the two locations – dining, a bar and plenty of games – there will also be some differences, Thompson said.

“I’d say the look will probably be the biggest difference,” he said. “Back when we opened at The Domain, that was only our third location and we just didn’t the budget then that we have now.”

Expect some menu adjustments, too. The focus will still be comfort foods, Thompson said, but more Tex-Mex cuisine will be added. All dishes are made from scratch.

True Food Kitchen adding second Austin location

Herb hummus from True Food Kitchen.

True Food Kitchen is adding a second Austin location.

The restaurant chain, co-founded by author Dr. Andrew Weil and restaurateur Sam Fox and known for its menu featuring an array of seasonal healthy dishes, will open a location at The Domain late this year.

It will join a location in the Seaholm development in downtown Austin that opened in 2016.

At The Domain, True Food Kitchen will take over the space in Domain I formerly occupied by Blackfinn Ameripub, at 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, between Neiman Marcus and Macy’s.

“True Food Kitchen will be a terrific addition to The Domain’s already impressive retail and dining lineup,” Lauren Krumlauf, the center’s director of marketing and business development, said in a written statement. “Austin residents and tourists who appreciate well-prepared, wholesome dishes and incredible hospitality will enjoy True Food Kitchen as the restaurant is well-known for both.”

Founded in 2008, True Food Kitchen now has 21 locations.

Tres Amigos on Slaughter Lane to close; DK Maria’s Legendary Tex-Mex to take its place 

The chicken enchiladas with sour cream sauce at Tres Amigos will soon be a thing of the past.

Longtime South Austin Tex-Mex staple Tres Amigos will close at 1807 W. Slaughter Lane at the end of the month, and a new Tex-Mex restaurant with new ownership will move into the space.

DK Maria’s Legendary Tex-Mex, which is owned and operated by Mike and DK Reynolds and Bruce and Mary Evans, plans to “keep the lively vibe that Tres Amigos fans have grown to know and love,” the owners said in a release.

Mike Reynolds and Bruce Evans, who named the restaurant after their wives, are both native Austinites with experience in the restaurant industry. Reynolds was a part of the ownership group at the former downtown sushi restaurant Kenichi and Evans is a partner at Cooper’s BBQ on Congress Avenue.

Tres Amigos was originally founded on Loop 360 in 1978 and expanded to several locations, but has downsized over the past couple of years. The original closed in 2015 to much fanfare, and with the closing of the Slaughter Lane location, the only Tres Amigos remaining is at 7535 U.S. 290.

Partners Don Burdett and Bobby Steiner (of Steiner Ranch Steakhouse) are close to opening a new Tex-Mex restaurant, Vaquero’s, on Loop 360 in the original Tres Amigos spot, though a representative for the owners said no opening date has been set.


Fareground food hall will include taqueria from Dai Due, concepts from Emmer & Rye, Contigo, Kome and more

The downtown food hall Fareground, which will be located on Congress Avenue between Cesar Chavez and Second streets, will feature some of the biggest names in Austin dining.

The space will include Easy Tiger, a taqueria from Dai Due, an all-day concept from Emmer & Rye and more, it was announced today.

The operation is being helmed by Easy Tiger owners Elm Restaurant Group and will have an outpost of Easy Tiger at the space that will also include Antonelli’s Cheese Shop’s second location and Contigo Fareground, which will find chef Andrew Wiseheart serving his ranch-inspired restaurant’s brand of Texas comfort food, including burgers and rotisserie chicken.

Jesse Griffith’s Dai Due Taquería will source hyper locally for its tacos, as part of a collaboration with chef Gabe Erales. Options will include tacos like venison suadero, wild boar chorizo, wild catfish and more. Easy Tiger will serve its trademark pretzels and sandwiches, along with offering two bars.

Henbit, the new cafe concept from Emmer & Rye, will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Honeybit will be a cart from Emmer & Rye partner and pastry chef Tavel Bristol that serves ice cream and sweets.

The team behind Kome and Daruma Ramen will roll out Ni-Kome, a hybrid ramen and sushi bar.

There is no set date for the opening. Follow progress at faregroundaustin.com.