In Austin, eating local may not have the currency it used to have. With the recent openings of Modern Market, Flower Child, North Italia, and Newk’s Eatery downtown, chains have grabbed most of the headlines in the city’s central core. Now, a locally owned anchor of Congress Avenue’s dining scene has decided to end an almost decade-long run.
Annies Cafe & Bar, whose large block letter sign was as much a part of the streetscape as the Paramount’s facade, announced on March 28 that it has sold its downtown property to focus on its trio of concepts at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport: a fast-casual version of Annies, adjacent grab-and-go grocery Farm Aire, and Italian outpost I Vini. The last service for the Congress Annies will be April 22.
Annies was a reincarnation of owner Love Nance’s Apple Annies Cafe, which was a popular downtown lunch destination for 24 years. In 2008, Nance decided to give up her spot in the JP Morgan Chase Tower at 221 W. Sixth St. (soon to be the location of a second location of co-working giant WeWork), in order to open a larger restaurant complete with a prepared foods case and delivery.
The new Annies was opened in 2009 with a farm-to-table ethos under chef Mark Schmidt (the current chef of Houston’s classic Rainbow Lodge, who may be most familiar to contemporary Austin diners for his short-lived Blackbird & Henry). Although Schmidt quickly left and initial reviews were mixed, Annies became a hot spot for its bar program and coveted street-side patio.
In the release, Nance did not share the reason behind the sale. However, over the last few years, Annies’ business has visibly suffered as Austin’s dining market became ever more cluttered. In 2014, Nance started a new chapter as a restaurateur by founding Paseo Brands, a company devoted to developing airport concepts.
The three currently opened concepts are busy stops at ABIA, and the aim is to expand nationally. The company’s website teases a new addition to the family, Frescavola, although it is not clear where the bistro will be located.
Meanwhile, the chain brigade continues to redefine downtown dining and nightlife. Denver-based arts and crafts bar Upstairs Circus will celebrate its grand opening at 234 W. Second St. on March 30, and eat/play company Punch Bowl Social announced on March 26 its intent to move into Congress Avenue’s art deco Scarborough Building.