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

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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.”

Austin Restaurant Weeks run through Sept. 3

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The next couple of weeks in Austin will offer diner a chance to eat out at some of Austin’s top restaurants while supporting the community. Austin Restaurant Weeks began Aug. 16 and runs through Sept. 3, with more than 80 restaurants in the area serving fixed menus with a portion of proceeds directly benefiting the Central Texas Food Bank.

Olive & June is one of more than 80 restaurants participating in Austin Restaurant Weeks. (Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Participating restaurants will serve lunch for $25 and offer fixed menus for $35 and $45 at dinner. What kind of impact does that have on the community? Organizers say that for every dinner served, Austin restaurant donate between $5 and $7 to the Central Texas Food Bank. And, with the Food Bank able to create four meals for every dollar raised, a dinner for two could help raise the money to feed up to 50 people.

Participating restaurants Barley Swine, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, Central Standard, Contigo, El Naranjo, La Condesa, Olive & June, Parkside, Via 313 and many more. For a complete list of restaurants and more details on the event, visit austinrestaurantweeks.org.

There’s a new place for sushi and Pacific Asian flavors in 2nd Street District

The 2nd Street District received an infusion of Asian flavors today, as She’s Not Here opened in the former Malaga space at 440 Second St. next to the Violet Crown Cinema.

Nigiri at She’s Not Here. (Credit: Nicolai McCrary)

The menu at the restaurant operated by Uchi veterans Ben Cachila (former Uchi development director) and Chris Romero (branding and marketing director) includes nigiri sushi ( yellowtail, big eye tuna), hand rolls (soft shell crab, ume shiso), cold dishes (marinated yellowtail with lychee, green apple vinegar and pickled Asian pear), and hot dishes (pork adobo). Cocktails will feature Pacific Asian-influences flavor profiles from the use of hibiscus rye, roasted coconut, jasmine, cloves, falooda syrup, cardamom, kaffir lime and more.

She’s Not Here is open Sunday-Thursday from 5 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday until 2 a.m. The restaurant plans to expand to lunch, which will include grab-and-go bento boxes, soon.

Austin restaurant lands on Food & Wine’s 40 Most Important Restaurants of the Past 40 Years

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If you want to take a tour of modern American culinary history, from West Coast to East, you could do a lot worse than starting with Food & Wine magazine’s recently released list of the 40 Most Important Restaurants of the Past 40 Years. It would be a dining tour that would take you from The French Laundry in Yountville to Daniel in New York City, with stops at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant and Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and much more.

Franklin Barbecue in Austin. (Laura Skelding/2014 American-Statesman)

Food & Wine’s comprehensive list would also send you to Texas where you would make a stop at arguably the most famous barbecue restaurant in the world. Aaron Franklin was the first barbecue cook to ever win a James Beard Award for Best Chef, and now his and wife Stacy’s restaurant, Franklin Barbecue, has landed a spot side by side with some of the nation’s most classic and beloved institutions. Of the restaurant, the magazine writes, “The occasional six-hour line is worth it, we promise; the lunch-only spot delivers on the hype, a rare feat in restaurants.”

Also making the list were Brennan’s of Houston and The Mansion in Dallas. Check out all 40 here.

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Wink Wine Bar introduces expanded bar menu, including roster of burgers

One of the coziest happy hour retreats in town has upped its offerings. Wink Wine Bar, the separate space opened in 2004 adjacent to the fine dining restaurant that opened at 1014 Lamar Blvd. in summer 2001, has long been known as a great place to sip from a collection of quality wines while noshing on snacks and sliders usually set to a tasty soundtrack. The neighborhood haunt from chefs Mark Paul and Stewart Scruggs is now giving guests an excuse to stay a little longer.

The wine bar recently rolled out an extended bar menu that includes five full-sized burgers, including the famous Wink Burger with caramelized onions and brie ($14); a bacon blue burger ($15); a burger with foie gras, a Wink staple, added ($24); and another made with a mixture of duck and mushrooms ($18). If you wanna go old-school with some sliders, those are sold for $16 for a trio, with upcharges for foie and duck.

Contributed

In addition to the burger menu, Wink still offers a variety of economically priced snacks and plates like PEI mussels in vermouth ($14), deconstructed escargot with mushrooms in a burnt brandy cream ($16) and, of course, the mac and cheese with black truffles ($16). All of the bar plates and burgers, along with a trio of bruschetta, such as hamchi confit ($12) and shaved prosciutto with white bean hummus ($12), are half off during happy hour, which runs Monday-Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m.

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The new bar menu at Wink Wine Bar.

Now open: Tex-Mex barbecue restaurant N’Esperado opens in old Alcomar space

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The new restaurant N’Esperado brings together Tex-Mex and barbecue in the space formerly occupied by Mexican seafood restaurant Alcomar at 1816 S. First St.

The building that once houses Alcomar is now home to N’Esperado. (Rodolfo Gonzalez AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The restaurant, which is operated by the owners of Tex-Mex/Indian hybrid Nasha on East Sixth Street, features a menu with Mexican dishes like enchiladas (which can come with barbecue sauce) and carne guisada, and Tex-Mex staples like chili con queso, along with crossovers like brisket quesadillas. The barbecue section is limited to brisket, pork ribs and chicken. As for any Indian influence on the menu, the only real trace is on the turmeric. N’Esperado is now going through a soft open, with lunch service daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and plans to expand to dinner service once the restaurant has acquired its liquor license.

The El Chile restaurant group closed Alcomar in May.

Mediterranean fast-casual Cava giving away free meals Thursday on Congress Avenue

D.C.-based Mediterranean fast-casual concept Cava opened to big crowds in Westlake earlier this summer, and this week it brings its customizable bowl and wrap concept to downtown. The restaurant will open at 51 Congress Ave. on Friday, but in advance of its opening, it will be giving away lunch and dinner on Thursday.

Cava is giving away free lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday as part of its Community Day. (I recommend the spicy lamb meatballs.) During this time, Cava will accept donations to benefit local non-profit partner Urban Roots, and will also donate the value of meals provided during their friends-and-family preview services to further support Urban Roots.

Cava, a fast-casual Mediterranean concept from Washington D.C., has big plans for the Austin market. (Contributed)

Founded in 2011 as a modern, fast-casual version of their Mediterranean restaurant, the ownership group, which includes three friends who are all first-generation Greek-Americans, serves a variety of salad and grain bowls and pitas topped and filled with popular Mediterranean-inspired proteins and mezzes like lamb, falafel, hummus, feta, cucumber, mint, olives and more. The restaurant builds relationships with regional vendors and will source beef for its Austin store from 44 Farms in Cameron, TX.

Two Austin restaurants land on Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America list

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Bon Appetit today released its list of the 50 best new restaurants in America, a list they call the Hot 50. Overseen by newly minted Austinite Andrew Knowlton, the list includes Austin spots Sour Duck Market and Suerte. The former is a bakery, cafe and bar from the team behind Odd Duck, while the latter is a masa-loving modern Mexican restaurant from owner Sam Hellman-Mass, also an Odd Duck co-founder, and executive chef Fermin Nuñez. I recently called Suerte the best restaurant to open in Austin this year, granting it a 9.5 rating, and the East Austin restaurant was also recently named one of the 18 best new restaurants in America by Eater national restaurant critic Bill Addison. Bon Appetit will name its final Hot 10 on August 14.

The Green Chorizo Tlayuda, made with white bean refrito, quesillo, almond, and pumpkin seeds, is on the menu at the modern Mexican restaurant, Suerte. (Amanda Voisard/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

 

 

Austin Justice Coalition presents ATX Black Food Week

Black-owned restaurants in East Austin, like many other businesses, face increasingly stiff challenges to remain in operation amidst continued gentrification and rising property taxes and rents. The Austin Justice Coalition next week will shine a light on some of the pillars of the black community in East Austin with its ATX Black Food Week.

David Mays at Sam’s BBQ in 2013. (Andy Sharp/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The week-long series of dinners and conversations begins Sunday at Roland’s Soul Food (311 Chestnut Ave.). The restaurant will be open from noon to 4 p.m., with a Meet and Eat session slated from 1 to 4 p.m. The event continues along a similar schedule at restaurants throughout the week. Each restaurant has posted hours of operation and then a block of time during which diners and community members and hear the stories of the men and women who have nourished and enriched the East Austin community for years.

The following restaurants will participate, with dining hours followed by Meet and Eat hours: Monday, Mr. Catfish at 1144 Airport Blvd. (11.a.m to 8 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m.); Tuesday, Big Easy Bar and Grill at 1806 E. 12th St. (11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m.); Wednesday, Hoover’s Cooking at 2002 Manor Road (11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.); Thursday, Tony’s Jamaican Food at 1200 E. 11th St. (11:45 a.m. to 11 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m.); Country Boyz Fixins at 4140 E. 12th St. (11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m.); Sam’s BBQ at 2000 E. 12th St. (10 a.m. to 1 a.m. and noon to 4 p.m.).

 

No, Franklin Barbecue is not closing

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Slow summer news days can create some hardcore speculation. A barbecue-centric podcast titled “Tales from the Pits BBQ” released its 65th episode yesterday. It’s entitled “Changes at Franklin Barbecue.”

Update: It appears the podcasters at Tales from the Pits BBQ have permanently deleted the podcast in question from their archives both on their website and in iTunes. They sent out a Tweet Monday evening responding to Franklin’s comments and explaining their methodology.

Franklin BBQ’s success is due to the dedication and hard work of the powerhouse couple in Aaron and Stacy Franklin. The two are daily fixtures at the east Austin restaurant overseeing every aspect of the culinary hotspot.
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Using some circumstantial evidence, such as Franklin working on a steak cookbook, the coffee trailer at Franklin closing and a longtime member of the Franklin team having left recently, the show speculated in its show notes the following:

In our episode we discuss recent high profile departures from Aaron Franklin and his restaurant’s inner circle, upcoming projects we’ve confirmed he’s involved in, as well as documents we’ve seen that lend credence to a very surprising development our sources have been telling us is in the works: Aaron Franklin may be stepping back from the barbecue world.

Based on the information we received and facts we’ve found, we have a few theories on what may be developing which we discuss at length on this podcast. Not everything has been confirmed and spelled out for the public yet, but with everything we’ve seen, discovered, and been told, we firmly believe that Franklin Barbecue as we know it is undergoing a major change and in the not too distant future may not be owned and operated by Aaron and Stacy Franklin.

Barbecue lovers can rest easy, however. While the Franklins are on vacation until August 9, and are working on a book, they have no plans to end their stellar run.

“Yes, we have had staffing changes after the fire, folks moving on for one reason or another,” Stacy Franklin said via text. “We have no plans of selling or not operating Franklin Barbecue. That is simply not true.”

“That’s a good laugh,” Aaron Franklin added after hearing about the speculation.

OK, everyone. Get back to eating barbecue and fighting about Lockhart.

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