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Photo by Amber Heckler

What started as a single-person card-making Etsy shop has led to a thriving stationery store and workshop studio in East Austin. Pei Sim founded The Paper + Craft Pantry, which celebrated its seventh anniversary earlier this month, in 2015 as the next step to expand her two-year-old card design business. She is the sole designer of the shop’s in-house stationery line that is also printed locally.

Since the shop’s opening, their products have expanded from their famous card wall to subscription boxes, and as of this holiday season, their very first stationery advent calendar. The shop regularly releases products for special occasions such as Valentine's Day, Lunar New Year, and Christmas. In addition to stationery, the shop also provides home goods such as candles, crystals, desk supplies, chocolates, and snacks.

Like many small businesses in Austin, The Paper + Craft Pantry was no stranger to difficulties during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when in-store shopping saw a steep decline, the shop had to reinvent the way they provided customers with their well-loved stationery. The shop’s often sold-out monthly subscription box helped bridge that gap and is now in its third successful year of operation. The box is hand-curated by Sim and occasionally features exclusive products that are available to subscribers before being released in-store or online.

Another successful product line is their collaboration with fellow small business Archer & Olive. Archer & Olive is a stationery company that provides tools to improve mental wellness through journaling and creativity. Sim designed over 10 exclusive notebook cover designs that launched in 2021 and 2022, most of which are now sold out.

The shop doesn’t just fulfill stationery needs – it also hosts monthly classes in the workshop studio. Some classes are taught by Sim and others are taught by local or visiting artists. Popular workshops include watercolor painting, candle pouring, and leather bookbinding. The shop hosts seasonal workshops as well, such as Reindeer Shag Cake Decorating and Holiday Floral Arrangements.

The Paper + Craft Pantry has always been active within the creative community in Austin. Just last month, the store hosted a Fall Festival Market with several local vendors, and in November, it participated in weekends 2 and 3 of The Austin Studio Tour. Additionally, as a way to prioritize giving back to the Austin community, The Paper + Craft Pantry donates a portion of the proceeds from its in-house stationery line to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Black Mamas ATX.

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7 things to know in Austin food right now: Upscale bowling alley rolls into Cedar Park

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

Sometimes it feels like Austinites always have to be doing something, and that's what makes this town beautiful. In the spirit of not taking drinks sitting down, Spare Birdie Public House is rolling into Cedar Park (1400 Discovery Blvd) for a soft opening on February 1, and a grand opening on February 20. A bit like an upscale Top Golf or neighborhood bowling alley with an incredibly chic interior, the bar and restaurant serves its "chef-driven" food among bowling lanes, augmented reality and indoor golf setups, billiard tables, yard games, and more. The team that started Goodfolks in Georgetown are bowling over alley cliches like hotdogs and fries with lamb meatballs, grilled oysters, and Wagyu sliders.

The Belterra Plaza out in Dripping Springs is collecting new restaurants left and right, making itself a fast burger destination. Mighty Fine Burgers opened its seventh location — the first that is freestanding — in a huge 4,000-square-foot space at 165 Hargraves Drive, Suite T100. The simple menu sticks to the tried-and-true with The Classic Texas Burger, crinkle fries, onion rings, and Blue Bell milkshakes. In January, monthly specials shake up those base elements: a pimento cheese burger and a coconut cream pie shake. The new location is the first in Dripping Springs.

Theres been some buzz about burgers at the Buzz Mill recently, with the very recent departure of the vegan food truck Plow Burger. The buns were barely cold before the Buzz Mill opened its own burger truck, some vegan and some not. The grand opening coincided with the bar and coffee venue's tenth anniversary, on January 20. These are not beefy burgers; the thin patties leave plenty of room for toppings, and there are lots of other snacks to fill up on, like loaded fries, meatless chicken nuggets, and extra patties. The truck is open daily from 11 am to midnight.

Other News and Notes

Chefs Michael Fojtasek and Amanda Turner, of Austin's celebrated Southern restaurant Olamaie, are throwing a new chef series in the fryer on January 31, emphasizing Southern cooking styles while utilizing Texan ingredients. "Southern Exposure" is scheduled for the last Tuesday of every month, and there are three on the calendar already. Chef Turner, a James Beard semi-finalist and CultureMap's reigning rising star chef of the year, is taking the lead while collaborating with Fojtasek. Tickets ($100) available at olamaieaustin.com, benefitting the Jeremiah Program.

Nothing gold can stay, and unfortunately that means Loro's golden ramen noodles are ephemeral on the menu. For the month of February, the "Asian smokehouse" is offering two types of ramen. Both serve up a unique Balinese curry broth, one with brisket and one with grilled prawns. These winter items pair also include ajitama egg, green onion, and sesame, as the more traditional elements. Loro does not accept reservations.

If you can't afford rent in Austin, have you tried, like, not buying coffee? That might work if you were used to Proud Mary Coffee Roasters, an Australian company with an Austin cafe offering just 22 super-luxe cups of $150 joe here and Portland, Oregon. It seems like it's worth the price, given its award-winning flavor and very expensive source beans, but in case that's still not in your budget, a golden ticket giveaway may cover it. Purchase a Hartmann presale tin ($48) online on January 26 to enter.

The Bloody Mary Festival is now almost two weeks away, so people who love drinking their tomatoes should consider snatching up a ticket soon (although ticket sales will technically be open until the day of the event, if they last). On February 11 from 10:30 am to 6 pm, bartenders are pulling out all the stops, or at least all the toppings. Attendees will vote for participating local bars to choose the best cocktail. Tickets (starting at $49.50) available at thebloodymaryfest.com.

Round Rock flips the first page on a brand-new public library

BOOK IT TO THE LIBRARY

After closing its Main Street location in December, Round Rock Public Library is opening a brand-new building on East Liberty Avenue with a celebration on January 28.

Located a block north from the original, 43,000-square-foot facility, the new library building is three stories tall and spans about 66,000 square feet. It was designed by international architecture firm PGAL, Inc. One of the goals with the new library was to expand its services to people of all ages. The first floor will have classrooms, the second floor will have study rooms, and the third floor will have areas for quiet working or studying. There will be additional space for activities and crafts, dedicated story time rooms, early learning areas, and spaces for programs and collections.

“This is truly a library for the community, intended to serve people from all walks of life,” said Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan. “This building, and the programming that will happen in it, will help shape the future of Round Rock.”

Significant thought was also put into the outdoor areas of the new state-of-the-art facility. The first-floor public courtyard will feature a flexible artificial turf lawn with fun lighting and outdoor furniture sets for all visitors to enjoy. The rooftop will spotlight a wood-decked discovery garden and artificial turf labyrinth, perfect for children. The library’s parking garage will have a screen for movie nights or community gatherings.

The grand opening comes a decade after the 2013 bond election where voters first approved funding for the project. Construction company Hensel Phelps spearheaded the project after breaking ground in June 2021. Round Rock’s General Self Finance Construction fund also helped pay for the new building, with Type B sales tax revenues funding the cost of the 289-stall parking garage. In all, the entire cost of the new library was $34.7 million, while the parking garage cost $13.4 million.

The general public can join the grand opening of the new Round Rock Public Library building, located at 200 East Liberty Avenue, from 2-6 pm on Saturday, January 28. Rain or shine, the outdoor ceremony will start at 2 pm, followed by the grand opening at 2:30 pm. Families are encouraged to attend to learn more about the new facility and to participate in family-friendly activities. More information about the Round Rock Public Library system is available at roundrocktexas.gov.

Renowned neighborhood for unhoused Austinites to expand by 1400 homes

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR

A 24-year-old Austin nonprofit serving the city’s unhoused community has announced an expansion of a master-planned neighborhood designed for individuals coming out of chronic homelessness.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes (MLF) was founded in Austin in 1998 and started the largest prepared feeding program for the homeless in Central Texas. They developed Community First! Village in northeast Travis County in 2015 to provide permanent housing and a supportive environment to the city’s homeless community.

Currently, the Village houses over 350 formerly homeless men and women on 51 acres of land. The first phase of the neighborhood features 100 RV/park homes and 130 micro-homes, while phase two brought the total property to over 500 homes. The expansion plan for the next two phases was first announced in April 2021.

Home designs for phases three and four of the Village are a collaboration between MLF and several Austin architecture firms, including Mark Odom Studio, which has worked alongside MLF to refine the site layout.

The 700 micro-homes for each new phase will range between 144 to 200 square feet with six custom floor plans. Five layouts will be single-floor, and one layout will have two floors. Each micro-home prototype will have a porch and is expected to “reflect and accommodate the different personality types of its inhabitants,” according to a press release.

“Mobile Loaves & Fishes has created something truly special at the Community First! Village. Everyone we worked with, from directors to neighbors, brought so much knowledge and experience to the table,” says Paul Holmes, project manager at Mark Odom Studio in the release. “We’re excited to see the community they built come to completion with phases three and four.”

MLF’s site design concept for the Village is known as the 14 “Neighborhoods of Knowingness,” where each “neighborhood” is a cluster of homes centered around shared common buildings, including outdoor kitchens, laundry areas, restrooms, and shower facilities. This was designed specifically for neighbors to get to know one another and develop a sense of community.

Infrastructure work on the 127-acre neighborhood expansion is expected to begin in early 2023, with move-ins projected for 2025. Once the neighborhood is fully developed, Community First! Village will have 1900 homes on 178 acres.