Jade Place-Mathews and her husband Greg Mathews are the kind of couple that you just want to be friends with. Well-traveled and funny with impeccable taste, one needs not look any further than their East Austin bistro Hillside Farmacy for proof that the duo is great at crafting a memorable experience.
For their latest venture, they've moved the party a few blocks south from Hillside's East 11th locale to an arguably grittier patch of Cesar Chavez near Pleasant Valley. Here, the couple and partner Jill Bradshaw have spent eight months turning a rundown bungalow into Friends & Neighbors, a boutique, coffee shop and wine bar with a very lofty, but simple, ambition: to serve only the best.
Friends & Neighbors feels like spending the afternoon in the home of your most fabulous friend — you know, the one with the enviable wardrobe and the house that is the perfect mix of bohemian and luxe.
"It's all curated by three people who travel a lot and like nice things," explains Place-Mathews as we tour the almost-finished space. Whereas Hillside Farmacy has garnered a reputation for high-quality, local ingredients, Friends & Neighbors will sell high-quality products you can't easily find in Austin (if you can find them at all).
Using the bungalow as a guide for the design, Austin's newest specialty shop will have rooms for home goods, clothing, textiles and lingerie alongside a seasonal rotating display. The original bathroom has been turned into a space for lush beauty products. The home's dining room will feature a full display of housewares and dinner party accouterment. A handcrafted nook has become the perfect place to display piles of beautiful linens. Meandering from room to room, Friends & Neighbors feels like spending the afternoon in the home of your most fabulous friend — you know, the one with the enviable wardrobe and the house that is the perfect mix of bohemian and luxe.
But unlike your pal's place, here you can actually snatch up the goodies for your very own. Each item is hand-selected and then discussed among the staff before landing on the shelves. "[At Friends & Neighbors, there] is an emphasis on the product. If people are going to spend a little more money, we want to explain where it is from and why it's important or different," explains Place-Mathews.
It's that comfortable, friendly feeling that the proprietors hope draws people in — and gets them to stick around for a while. While patrons can certainly come to shop, they can also come for a snack and a latte in the cafe before heading out to the expansive backyard the owners are planning to turn into a garden space complete with tables and chairs. There are also grand plans for the original storage shed on the property, too, which will hopefully be converted into a community space for classes and film screenings.
It's that comfortable feeling of spending time in a friend's backyard that the proprietors hope draws people in — and gets them to stick around for a while.
For the cafe, the owners are sourcing simple, high-quality goodies to be served alongside wine, beer and coffee from Portland's beloved Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Under General Manager Mercedes Singleton, who cut her chops at Brooklyn's famed Marlowe & Daughters, expect to find a place to simply take a seat and enjoy your surroundings. "We don't want fancy drinks or fancy food, we just want a comfortable place to be," says Place-Mathews.
Admittedly, Friends & Neighbors is as much about filling a need for the owners as it is about filling a need in the Austin community. "When we built Hillside, we wanted somewhere to have coffee in the morning and oysters at night," says Mathews. "But it's grown into its own thing. [At Friends & Neighbors] we just wanted to scale back, start smaller." Even the name, which was inspired by friends living nearby who stopped in to lend a helping hand during construction, evokes this sentiment.
To make the goal of opening by SXSW (Mathews admits they are "gluttons for punishment"), there are a few final touches before Friends & Neighbors is ready for the public. The Evan Voyles-designed neon sign must be installed, as well as the custom La Marzocco espresso machine.
Over the next few days, Jade, Greg and Jill will get to enjoy the space that they've labored over for nearly a year. Once open, we imagine the space will be filled with not only their friends and neighbors, but with all of Austin.