Just this week, Hut’s Hamburgers, in downtown Austin since 1969 (and on South Congress Avenue for three decades before that), announced it’ll close its doors for good in October. Its sister restaurant, downtown pizza joint Frank & Angie’s, already said goodbye last fall, its owners citing an increasing lack of affordability for small businesses in the central business district as one of the driving factors.
Those two are far from the only notable recent casualties of the city’s dining scene. Last July, the Frisco Shop, which opened in 1953 and played a role in Austin’s racial integration, shuttered. Threadgill’s, a legendary shrine to the city’s Waylon & Willie days, folded its location near Lady Bird Lake in December (its original North Austin outpost survives, for now). Suzi’s China Grill closed that same month, as did the rebooted J.T. Youngblood’s Fried Chicken—a revival of a legendary Texas joint from the 1960s.
East Side Cafe, a longtime brunch spot that used herbs and vegetables from its on-site garden, shut down in January. Zocalo, a less storied taco spot that nonetheless helped define casual dining in the Clarksville neighborhood during its twelve-year run, closed in March…
There are a lot of reasons that restaurants fail—rising rents, bad marketing, financial mismanagement—but in Austin right now, even folks who knew how to keep a place thriving for decades are finding business more difficult than ever.
The issue isn’t just that a local icon goes out of business. It’s that the replacements are almost always more expensive, increasing the cost of living (no, dining out isn’t a necessity, but if you’ve ever been lower/low-ish income, an affordable place to eat out or bring in occasionally is an island of sanity). This is how cities loses their middle and lower-middle classes–and that’s not a good thing.