Requiem for a Restaurant

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.

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Closing Time, 2021

Saying goodbye is never easy, even if it’s a temporary parting of ways. Considering how often we practice, you’d think it gets easier, but the grief is still the same.

Today, as the sun sets for the final time in 2021, I’d like to honor the restaurants we’ve lost in Austin, Texas this year, as is annual tradition. It’s been another turbulent 12 months that has tested the will, spirit, and patience of everyone, especially those in the service industry. Those “essential workers” that kept food on our tables sometimes ended up with empty plates themselves. Before we look ahead towards better days, we must look back to honor their memory, and not let their demise befall others still with us, hanging on by a thread.

Barrio Verde did not go gentle into that good night, fighting to overcome the devastating winter storm that ravaged businesses across the state. Surviving without power or water is hard enough as an individual, but for a business with perishable assets in limbo, revenue literally rotted on site. Though out of commission indefinitely, this won’t be their last stand. New ideas are in the works as we speak, so hopefully 2022 will see the return of those marvelous elotes and so much more.

Bruja’s Brew announced a temporarily closure during spring break, but never reopened again. The trailer is gone, but the booch lives on, now pouring at a select few restaurants and bars around town. Word is that it may one day be available in cans, but nothing will compare to the magic of getting an icy glass on a hot day, edible glitter sparkling in the sun.

Lo Pan’s Kitchen made a big splash onto the scene as the only 100% vegan source for Chinese American takeout staples. Sadly, they burned out just as fast. After two moves in just five months, the woks came off the fire for the last time. Rumor has it that the trailer has been repurposed as another Plow Burger outpost up north in Denton, TX. Occasionally, you can still catch a few of these comfort food classics as specials on the Brunch Bird menu, though like the source itself, they’re always gone in a flash.

Mission Street Burrito stepped up to the plate in a town known for tacos, delivering tortilla torpedoes as big as your head and nacho boxes that seemed to be bottomless. No one else could wrap up a mega meal like this, loaded with all the plant-based meats and cheeses you could crave. Disappearing in mid-June, social media accounts claim that the trailer is hibernating, but at this point, there are no signs the beast will ever awaken.

The Abundant Vegan was with us so briefly that it seemed almost like a waking dream. They weren’t even established long enough to set up an official website of their own. Serving traditional Mexican plates on East Caesar Chavez for less than a month, all that’s left now is a vacant trailer and a litany of unanswered questions.

Bone-a-fide Vegan isn’t totally gone, per say, but pivoted in September to become Theano Vegan, switching from southern BBQ to Greek delicacies. As a radical departure from their original menu, their soulful smoky pulled jackfruit and plant-based brisket will surely be missed.

Even though these poor souls have turned out the lights and locked up for the last time, tomorrow is a new day. New, brave chefs are stepping up to the plate, even in the midst of such uncertainty and unrest. An incredible number of fresh faces have clocked in already, launching new eateries all throughout the pandemic, despite the odds. To a brighter, better, and more delicious future, cheers to you. Let’s make the new year a time for all of us to thrive, together.