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Austin restaurants transform into neighborhood grocery shops amid COVID-19 crisis

Austin restaurants transform into neighborhood shops amid COVID-19

Jester King Country store
Jester King is just one of many local spots offering provisions and pantry staples for locals. Photo courtesy of Jester King

The current global pandemic has many Austin-area businesses scrambling to survive while adjusting to new restrictions. Meanwhile, residents are scrambling to adjust to hours-long trips to the grocery store and delivery services with days-long waiting lists. 

If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, some Austin entrepreneurs are finding new ways to add revenue while helping neighbors access the food staples we all need. From Dripping Springs to Airport Boulevard, restaurants and bars across the region are transforming into makeshift mini-marts — albeit ones selling local veggies and organic dairy instead of soft drinks and salty snacks. 

Though traditional grocery stores are working hard to minimize contact, these spots offer no-touch, drive-thru, or curbside options all while operating within CDC guidelines.

In Dripping Springs, Jester King is brewing up something entirely different to help get them through the next few weeks. With the brewery and pizza destination unable to operate normally per city and county regulations, Jester King is adding a "charming country store" to help boost revenue and give customers much-needed access to pantry staples — and toilet paper, of course.

"When we closed our restaurant to the public, we had a lot of grocery items left over," says owner Jeffrey Stuffings of the inspiration. Now, in addition to ordering pizza and beer to-go, the brewery is also selling vegetables, coconut milk, baking supplies, and offering free rolls of toilet paper for orders over $50.

In East Austin, Dai Due is offering $25 bushels of organic produce alongside its curbside menu, while nearby Sour Duck has transformed into a veritable grocery store with everything from coffee and eggs to pesto and acorn tea available for purchase.

On Webberville Road, The Cavalier is finding creative ways to adapt to our collective new normal — including creating a virtual farmers market. Along with to-go frozen cocktails and a menu of classic Southern fare, The Cavailer offers a selection of deli meats, fresh produce, dairy, and other pantry staples. Patrons can also snag meal prep kits and pre-packed picnics (and bonus music playlists!) to help break up the stay-at-home monotony many of us are facing in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

"The Cavalier is committed to meeting the new needs and changing lifestyles of our community," explains co-owner Rachelle Fox. "Providing our neighbors with access to fresh produce and pantry staples is crucial to their quality of life."

In response to these rapid changes, Quality Seafood has temporarily moved operations into its North Austin parking lot. Customers can order lunch or dinner from the Quality food truck, along with eggs, milk, fresh produce, and, of course, toilet paper. Down the street on Airport Boulevard, Sala & Betty is selling a $100 box bursting with five pounds of ground beef, a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a large variety of veggies, and salad dressing. 

On nearby North Loop, Foreign & Domestic added a "staples" section to the to-go menu. In addition to the restaurant's food and booze menu, patrons can order up bread, eggs, milk, and some veggies. 

South Austin's Aviary Wine & Kitchen is also getting into the market game, selling toilet paper; sugar; flour; eggs; and a $50 "bird box" stuffed with lettuce, citrus, beets, potatoes, broccoli, kale, and more. Nearby at Radio Coffee & Beer, customers can snag an ever-rotating menu of goods — including coffee, of course — at Radio's makeshift "drive-thru."

Our new reality has only just begun, and city leaders are indicating it will likely extend far past the April 13 deadline. As Austin small business owners adapt to this new normal, consumers too must begin to think creatively about how — and where — we get our groceries. If a trip to locally owned restaurant means bypassing the grocery store, it's not just helping curb exposure to COVID-19, it's ensuring that these businesses survive long after it's gone. 

As the Cavalier's Fox says: "Though we may all be apart from one another, it is a time for us all to come together."

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Kelly Stocker contributed reporting for this story.