Austin’s 10 hottest stories of 2021 capture the soul of a changing city
Editor’s note: As we bid farewell to 2021, we look back at the biggest headlines of the year in Austin. This year, Austinites were (unsurprisingly) captivated by mask mandates and H-E-B, local restaurants, the mass migration into the Capital City, and, of course, Matthew McConaughey.
1. Another billion-dollar tech company swaps San Francisco for Austin. A major player in the digital data game augmented its dozens of data centers across Texas by relocating its headquarters to the Capital City. It’s just one of many tech companies to plug in here this year.
2. Austin restaurateur and Ranch Water creator Kevin Williamson dies. Tons of heartfelt condolences poured forth from fellow Austin and Texas chefs, fans, and writers touting the award-winning owner of Ranch 616 and his tenacity, style, and groundbreaking culinary flair.
3. H-E-B reverses mask decision for customers after backlash. Amid the end of a statewide mask mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas’ favorite grocer stood its ground on safety, requiring rather than simply recommending that shoppers, employees, and vendors wear face masks inside its stores.
4. Austin surprisingly not the favorite Texas city for new residents during the pandemic. Despite all the Austin hype and the recent influx of new residents, it wasn’t the Lone Star State’s most popular destination for new Texans in 2020. That designation went to Big D, which added 30,000 more people than Austin that year.
5. Affluent Austin neighborhood named best place to raise a family in Texas. According to one online platform, the No. 1 spot in the Lone Star State to settle down and bring up your kids is in this local community, which scored an A-plus for its public schools and in the “good for families” category.
6. Matthew McConaughey wants to preserve the soul of Austin amid rapid growth. With the city’s population growing like a weed, Austin’s favorite cultural icon said he worries about how the flood of newcomers might affect the city, warning transplants, “Don’t turn here into why you left there.”
7. H-E-B carts out opening date for 100,000-square-foot South Austin store. Though the move was bittersweet for some Austinites who cherished the long-standing Nutty Brown Amphitheatre music venue, news of a massive new H-E-B store coming to the site may have eased the sting a bit for locals. Construction is set to begin in the coming months and be completed by October 2022.
8. 100-mile nature trail connecting Austin to San Antonio springs forward. Nature-loving Austinites breathed a breath of fresh air when they learned about the Great Springs Project plan to protect and connect the four major springs between the two cities with a network of trails.
9. Groundbreaking South Austin restaurant closes after sale of original location. Beloved Thai eatery Sway shuttered its 9-year-old location in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood amid the pandemic, enabling its hospitality management company to sell the property. Members of the team at French-inspired gastropub Hopfields later opened New American concept 1417 in the space, and Sway still maintains its West Lake Hills restaurant.
10. Austin-based private equity firm gobbles up iconic Texas doughnut shop. The owners of kolache and pastry destination Shipley Do-Nuts, which has 20 locations between Georgetown and New Braunfels, likely made some serious dough when an Austin investment firm scooped up the brand from the Houston-based Shipley family for an undisclosed sum.