It’s no secret Austin restaurants have faced nearly insurmountable hardships in recent months. Thanks to a year-long pandemic and a range of restaurant restrictions, once-thriving businesses are struggling to stay afloat.
Some Austin eateries are getting creative with their business models in these COVID times, innovating and making the change to feed customers where they are (at home) using monthly subscription-box services. Of course, takeout and delivery are nothing new in the food industry, but unlike national-chain pizza delivery, these memberships often offer premium products and extra perks.
Until Austinites can back out there and support our restaurant industry in person, these local subscription boxes help patrons dine on some of our favorite dishes at home while also helping sustain a key sector of our economy. Below are just a few of the local businesses now offering membership subscriptions.
The newest Austin biz to get into the direct-to-consumer subscription game is noodle brand Chop Chop, which gained nearly cult-like status when it launched as a pop-up in May 2020. The company specializes in frozen-fresh authentic Asian street-style noodles in broth, and recently launched its Club Mian monthly subscription service.
While Chop Chop does sell its noodle cups piecemeal and the products are now available at a few local retailers, Club Mian is aimed at helping Austinites level up their freezers with a month-long stock of noodle cups. Club Mian features three membership levels: Box Mini, which includes three noodle cups for $24; Box Happy, which includes six noodle cups for $45; and Box Super, which includes 12 noodle cups for $84. Each choice is available with an all-in or mix-and-match noodle option. Members simply enroll online, choose their box type and options, and await delivery the first week of the month.
Membership perks include occasional surprises in subscription boxes, discounts, and the opportunity to try new specials before they’re released.
“For us, street food is the ultimate democratic food. We find that especially relevant in the moment we’re all having today,” co-founder Steve Har says. “We try to bring that community experience to Chop Chop.”
With initial intentions on opening a taco truck, the enterprising entrepreneurs and caterers behind El Camaron pivoted amid the pandemic, turning their plan for a food truck into a bustling taco-delivery service, helping Austinites get through tough days “one taco at a time.”
Though not strictly a subscription-box model, El Camaron works in bulk, delivering taco family packs and tacos by the dozen to stock the freezer. The family-style, take-and-bake taco fiesta (starting at $45) includes three taco options: the Mini Taco Pack, with six tacos of various variety, a choice of salsa, chips and pineapple pico, two seasonal sides, and a choice of seasonal margarita or agua fresca; the Chico Taco Pack, which features 12 tacos and all the same sides and fixins; and the Grande Taco Pack, which offers 24 tacos, sides and fixins, including a half-gallon of margaritas. A la carte items, including the popular prickly pear shrimp ceviche, are also available as part of the delivery service, as is a six-pack of breakfast tacos.
The El Camaron team prepares each meal — gloved and masked, of course — at a commercial kitchen in East Austin, then delivers the tacos (with a $5 fee) at specific hours Tuesday through Saturday. Each taco pack comes frozen and ready to cook, and is accompanied by fresh limes, cabbage, radishes, tomato dressing, queso fresco, and salsa.
East Side King
One of Austin’s favorite purveyors of Japanese comfort food is quickly becoming the king of chef-curated sushi packages. Though only available for pickup, East Side King now offers a subscription service that features all the lip-smacking delights Austinites crave.
With specific ordering and pickup dates each month, the three subscription levels include: the East Side King at Home package ($30 to $55 a month, serving two to four), which includes a unique meal of Japanese entrees, sides, and apps, like steamed buns and East Side King’s mouthwatering kara-age; and the East Side King Sushi Club ($25 to $150 a month, serving one to four), which features a rotating selection of savory sushi and snacks, including chef-prepared maki, sashimi, nigiri, and tamaki. While both packages are available with drink add-ons, the East Side King Beverage Collective package ($35 to $55 per month, serving two to six) might be the way to go, as it includes a curated selection of Japanese beer, sake, and wine offerings, with Japanese bodega snacks available as an add-on.
Let’s face it: Staying home is a lot easier when brisket is involved. In an effort to survive the pandemic and keep locals endowed with tasty meats, North Austin barbecue spot Smokin Beauty has launched its Weekly Meal Club.
For $40 a week, patrons can pick up a smattering of hot, meaty entrees each Tuesday evening. From pho with smoked brisket to marinated and smoked chicken breast, and, of course, smoked ribs, the Smokin Beauty club offerings feature weekly rotating meats with a fusion of Texas barbecue and Vietnamese flavors, along with a variety of side dishes. The meals serve three to four people, and add-ons are available. (Hello, Viet-Tex martinis!) Additionally, the Smokin Beauty folks include a surprise for customers in each weekly package.