2022 began quietly, cautiously. Moving tenuously on tip-toes, carefully stepping around the remnants of the pandemic while trying to move forward anew, the trajectory was unclear. For a while, business began to improve, life started humming ahead like “normal” while we picked up the pieces of a broken society. Despite clear progress, it feels like running in place when we stop to look up at the unchanged scenery around us. Alas, that’s not true; if anything, in many ways, we’re going backwards again.
Right now, as I do at the close of every year, I’m talking about the restaurants that have left us. This was a particularly brutal culling to look back on, wiping out true pillars of our Austin vegan community in a matter of months. What once seemed stable, unshakable, and always reliable are now mere memories. Such losses are crushing, but let’s take a moment to celebrate the fleeting moments that we were fortunate enough to share.
Sundaze slipped away while no one was looking. One day the south trailer was missing in action, then mobile orders were turned off for their Possum Park location, and finally, the website went down. Only unanswered questions remain in their wake. It seems pretty conclusive that no matter what happened, their affordable fast food-style vegan fried chicken sandwiches will grace our city streets no more.
Binge Kitchen lives on in San Antonio, but this bastion of vegan soul food and southern specialties has closed up shop in the capitol city. Austin is now bereft of the southern-style home cooking they excelled at, smothered in love as if it was gravy. Hope remains that they may reopen in a new spot, but no solid leads have yet materialized.
Sweet Ritual called it quits in late May after over 10 years in business. Having survived so many tough transitions with a seemingly endless upward trajectory, this announcement was a real bellwether of change. Between the combination of ingredient shortages and increasing expenses, the pioneering scoop shop could no longer keep its cool. As one of my earliest memories of Austin, and a deep love of ice cream in general, this one hit me particularly hard.
Sassys Vegetarian Soul Food
Sassys Vegetarian Soul Food pulled off the city map in search of greener pastures. The truck survives, now parked in Dallas, so close yet so far from hungry fans in central Texas. No one else makes meaty seitan quite like their signature fried “chicon” and in an age where more restaurateurs lean into prepared plant-based products, it’s unlikely anyone ever will.
Plow Bao left us in the dumps without their unparalleled red oil dumplings, crispy cream cheese rangoons, and breakfast bao tacos. Calling it quits in mid-August, they went out with a bang, throwing a party to remember all the good times and great meals. Without this funky spot on the Buzz Mill patio, Austin remains bereft of any fully vegan Chinese establishment.
Opera Cafe converted to an all-vegan menu despite facing considerable push back, and still didn’t get the community support it needed to thrive. Their struggle to stay afloat is truly heartbreaking for all the effort that went into making it a more sustainable, inclusive space.
The Corn Dog Guy
The Corn Dog Guy began life brilliantly, offering loaded fries and meatless corn dogs in a daily celebration of childhood comfort foods. The location just outside of numerous breweries was ideal for tipsy revelers. This closure might have more to do with greater ambitions for the chef, with whispers of a potential ramen spot brewing in its wake. Only time will tell if the rumors pan out, but the lack of fake meat on a stick is definite.
Wasota Vegan Paradise shuttered abruptly, representing a truly devastating loss that no one can seem to fill. There are simply no other sources for plant-based Nigerian and West African food anywhere inside state borders, and quite possibly anywhere within the United States at large. While the owners certainly deserve to retire from the back-breaking labor, it doesn’t make the culinary vacancy any easier to swallow.
Chilaquiles Factory fought hard to keep their footing after numerous setbacks. It started with electrical problems and only escalated from there. Bad landlords and litigation forced the original location to close, but even that wasn’t enough to put the family-owned business down. They reopened briefly out of another Cedar Park establishment, only to end that partnership in under two months. If there’s a will or a way, they’ll reemerge from the rubble yet again, though there are currently no signs of life.
The Steeping Room
The Steeping Room co-founders decided not to renew their lease in mid-September after a 15-year run. Now it exists as an online shop to share fresh brew with the world, without the brunch and breakfast specialties they became renown for. Finding a vegan scone is still a rarity- Increasingly so with this terrible setback.
Stray’s Pizza, a wee newborn in the food service industry, left us after only 10 weeks. As an offshoot of Li’l Nonna’s, the slices were the same high quality with all the sass and swagger you can fit into a tiny trailer. Ultimately, creativity couldn’t make up for a lack of workers and what is described as an “epic financial flop.” There remains a flicker of hope that this is a temporary hiatus, but signs of life are nowhere to be found.
WHYLD’s Vegan Kitchen
WHYLD’s Vegan Kitchen rose through the ranks quickly, jumping from trailer to brick-and-mortar in the span of a few months, offering a diverse range of cuisines that could accommodate all dietary restrictions. No other menus can boast an entire category of oil-free options, while still catering to any food-loving omnivores. However, less than a year later, their wings were abruptly clipped by a family emergency. It was a tearful goodbye and untimely demise for a young upstart restaurant just beginning to hit its stride.
Counter Culture, cornerstone of the vegan community, sent shock waves through all of Austin after announcing that this December would be their last. Having beaten the odds for over 13 years of business, it’s especially difficult to accept that their hearty, home style sandwiches, snacks, salads, and raw specialties will no longer be with us. Coming so late in the year, it truly felt like the bottom fell out of the neighborhood as a whole.
Skull & Cakebones
Skull & Cakebones won’t even leave behind material remains following 7 years in Dripping Springs. Haunted by memories of tender cupcakes, flaky biscuits, and unparalleled kouign amann, there’s still a glimmer of hope that these baked goods may one day rise from the dead. In signing off, the message from co-owners Yauss Berenji and Sascha Biesi is cautiously optimistic: “This isn’t the end, just the closing of a chapter. We have plans for our future that we can’t wait to share with y’all.”
The nature of the hospitality industry is volatile and transient on a good day. The odds are against you no matter how solid the business plan, robust the investors, or passionate the chef. To the brave souls that take their chances nonetheless and challenge the status quo; I salute you. The food may be long gone, but the memories will always be with us.