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Austin food trucks and DIY food culture
"My friend and I are thinking about starting a food truck back home in Columbus", said my hometown friend, Joey, between bites of fish and chips from Bits & Druthers food truck on East 6th Street in Austin. I had taken him to this particular food truck cluster, dubbed East Side Drive In, selfishly. Ever since first trying the TLT (vegan BLT) from The Vegan Yacht, a food truck neighbor of Bits & Druthers, I'm always searching for an excuse to take friends to the East 6th Street cluster; just east of I-35. But excuses aren't difficult to find. This particular food truck nesting spot houses not only The Vegan Yacht and Bits & Druthers, but a few others, too. There's The Local Yolk, which specializes in eggs, especially egg sandwiches. There's Pueblo Viejo, which just happens to have some of my favorite tacos in town. Pig Vicious is there too satiating all pig-related cravings. Mati dishes up Greek favorites and Love Balls serves Japanese street food. The roster seems to always be changing over at East Side Drive In, though, which is why it's one of my favorite spots to frequent, especially with folks from out of town.
Take, for example, Joel Haro, the founder of Love Puppies Brownies in Austin. Haro says his brownie company was "accidental". He "accidentally" got into New York's CIA and after returning to Texas and opening and closing a catering company, calls kept coming in for his chocolaty morsels... so he "accidentally" started Love Puppies Brownies. But I'm not sure all of this was accidental. His talent, of course, plays a huge role in his success. With flavors that employ dark chocolate chips and pecans, peanut butter, mocha, and even ground peppers, Haro knows what he's doing. Another factor, I'd guess, is the notoriously supportive community in Austin for indie food. How else could a one man brownie show gain and sustain popularity so quickly?
When I spoke with Haro about the Austin community, he agreed that support for DIY food is widespread in the city. He cites Go Local, Keep Austin Weird, and Go Texan campaigns as breeding grounds for local business support. "Austinites are open and adventurous which is reflected in their culinary tastes", says Haro. He hopes to eventually see his decadent treats sold nationwide and with Austin as a launching pad, that very well may happen sooner than later.
Haley Callaway is another Austin-bred non-food truck but indie food success. She's a busy college student who manages to head up HayleyCakes and Cookies--a bakery she runs out of her own kitchen by herself. I've never seen hand-decorated desserts compare to hers in their artfulness, especially her sugar cookies. With passion, talent, and, I'm guessing, a lot of caffeine, she has managed to launch her company while working between classes, studying business. The Austin community has warmly embraced her and when I spoke to Hayley about her increasing success, she noted that she had only slept 45 minutes the night before. It takes hard work, indeed, but it also takes a community that's interested in straight-out-of-the-kitchen-at-home or straight-out-of-the-food-truck food. And Austin is that community.
So then the question now arises... what is it about Austin? Why are indie bakers and restauranteurs here doing so well? Maybe it's a combination of the nice weather and affordable living. Maybe it's an interest in new business that has been effectively fostered in this city more so than others. Perhaps we can study Austin and learn a thing or two about supporting the self-motivated and, in turn, broadening our culinary options everywhere.