Nau’s Enfield Drug — an Austin fixture for nearly 70 years — has temporarily shut down its iconic 1950s-era soda fountain and grill, thus sounding the alarm about its perilous future.
In a heartfelt, unvarnished letter given to “neighbors, customers, friends, and visitors,” manager Laura Labay explained that the business was forced to close its in-store restaurant in the face of competitive pressures from nearby Clarksville businesses.
“We took the bullets to the heart and plugged away each day despite a huge decline in business, the acute competition among our fellow businesses just yards away,” she wrote in the letter, citing West Lynn Street neighbors Caffé Medici, Fresh Plus, Galaxy Cafe, and Zocalo Cafe. “I have never wanted to give up hope.”
In a phone call with CultureMap, she added that the eatery lacks the staff — including full-time cooks and servers — to keep the restaurant running. According to Labay, Nau's stopped operating in mid-January; one of the victims of the temporary closure was about $1,000 worth of food that had to be tossed.
Labay described customers’ response to the letter, which she posted at the store, as “very positive.”
“My father, the owner, hated it and took it down multiple times,” she said. “He found it depressing and thought I was being too honest.”
Labay assumed control of Nau’s after her father, Lambert Labay, suffered a massive heart attack in February 2016. Lambert Labay began working at Nau’s in 1963 and purchased the store eight years later.
Diners at the nostalgia-steeped shop — furnished with retro booths and stools — were, until recently, able to order signature items such as breakfast tacos, eggs-and-bacon platters, grilled cheese sandwiches, and five kinds of burgers, and then top them off with a shake, malt, float, or ice cream soda.
Labay told CultureMap she’s weighing several possible options to save the operation, including an investment from a local hospitality group, a crowdfunding campaign on the GoFundMe platform, or a partnership with a local catering company.
The pharmacy and general-goods store remain open, but the entire step-back-in-time landmark has been struggling financially for a few years. Labay said she’s not inclined to sell the business. At this point, she’s unsure when food service might resume.
Labay said customer traffic has dropped off since the soda fountain and grill closed, with just a few people a day coming by to pick up prescriptions. The store has practically been empty in the wake of the shutdown, she said.
“I hope and pray that those of you that have taken a few moments to read my overly honest explanation as to why Nau’s [has] been forced to close will share this with your friends and neighbors,” she wrote, “and remember when Austin was a fair, reasonable, safe, good-hearted small city with room for everyone to live and work.”