One of the defining mantras during the COVID-19 crisis has been: "Support the things you love now so they'll be around later." This means ditching Amazon and buying books, coffee beans, clothing, wine, and online exercise classes from locally owned businesses.
But when it comes to supporting local restaurants, that's proven harder. Austin boasts world-class eateries, but it can sometimes feel like the same 75 or so get all the attention. And the COVID-19 crisis has been no different. Even CultureMap's own running list of restaurants open for takeout and delivery has largely overlooked operations without an online or PR presence because, frankly, we don't always know about them.
Local public relations pro Stef Shapira knows the benefits of having a publicity team. For the past six years, she's represented some of the city's hottest restaurant and hospitality concepts. But when COVID-19 hit, and restaurants were forced to close or switch to takeout and delivery options, she saw how mom-and-pop shops without a social media presence suffered.
"I began to worry about those really small mom-and-pop restaurants who don't have the money to hire PR, or the knowledge to run social media or update a website, and felt they might be getting completely lost right now," she says. "Without people calling them directly, there was virtually nowhere listing that they're open. Media and even websites like TakeOutTracker.com are getting that info from publicists or social media, just like the average Austinite."
Together with Rebecca Le, a food blogger and founder of The Honest Foodist, Shapira began creating the list that would become upEats ATX, a list of "under promoted" (hence the "up") restaurants still operating during the coronavirus shutdown.
Shapira and Le combed through each restaurant's digital presence and confirmed each one did not have a PR firm helping them. The goal was not be exclusionary, rather it was to give these small businesses a platform to compete that wouldn't otherwise be available.
"It's important that no restaurant on the list has PR or a super active social media presence explaining details on what they're doing during COVID-19. If anyone does submit one of these places to our list, they won't be added and we suggest they add to one of the other more extensive lists that exist," Shapira says.
"This is in no way to say that PR work isn't important — it's even more important now than ever — but it is not the purpose of upEats ATX."
Shapira and Le partnered with Sav Shrestha, founder and CEO of Menuette, to create the online list, which is searchable by type of cuisine or keywords. Each spot is confirmed to be open before being added to upEats ATX, and menu and ordering details are included along with basic details like the restaurant's address.
But, says Shapira, the work is not done.
"With this being a community built list, we also need people to add their favorite spots so those places can be represented and others know to order from them and keep them alive," she says. Users can submit restaurants here or tag @upeatsatx or #upeatsatx on Instagram to get them on the site's radar.
"We need people supporting these mom-and-pop restaurants if we care about the culture of our city. Without our support, they may close permanently, and we'll be left with a lot less locally owned restaurants and a lot more Austinites struggling."