It would take us years to tally up Austin’s near-countless cultural gifts to Texas, not to mention the rest of the country, but a good place to start might be the national businesses that originally found their roots somewhere around here. A lot of the original locations for these companies weren’t exactly glamorous, but that’s the scrappy startup saga every aspiring entrepreneur wishes they could call their own — and believe it or not, some of these brands are large enough now that a lot of people have no clue they originally found their legs in our fair city. Hit it:
Whole Foods Market
Vegetarian college dropouts John Mackey and his girlfriend Renee Lawson opened SaferWay — a health food store and restaurant named to parody grocery chain Safeway — in a 1910 single-family home converted for commercial use at 801 Rio Grande Street in 1978, living on the third floor. By 1980, the entrepreneurs had merged with nearby grocer Clarksville Natural Grocery to form Whole Foods Market, with its first 10,000-square-foot location opened at 914 North Lamar Boulevard.
The original Whole Food Market location on North Lamar Boulevard is now a Goodwill Boutique store, with Whole Foods’ flagship location now located only a few blocks south from here.
Less than a year later, the nearby Shoal Creek’s nasty flooding habit struck the city on Memorial Day, 1981 — drowning 13 Austinites and causing nearby half a million dollars in damage to the store and its inventory.
With help from customers and neighbors, plus a few patient creditors and investors, the store reopened and the brand never stopped growing — now a subsidiary of Amazon, there are currently approximately 500 Whole Foods stores across North America and the United Kingdom. The grocer’s flagship store is now located at 525 North Lamar Boulevard, just a few blocks from the first location — and at 80,000 square feet, it’s roughly eight times the size of the original store.
The technology company now known as one of the largest computer vendors in the world found its roots in founder Michael Dell’s dorm room of the Dobie Center tower at the University of Texas in 1984, but early success selling personal computers led Dell to drop out shortly after and establish offices for what was then called the Dell Computer Corporation. Newspaper ads from August 1984 indicate the company occupied retail space at 7801 North Lamar Boulevard, a nondescript office park full of various stores and small businesses — many likely founded by folks who dream of eventually reaching Dell’s great heights as a multibillion-dollar tech giant.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
The original Alamo Drafthouse Cinema opened in 1997 when Austinites Tim and Karrie League set up a single screen and projector in a former warehouse space at 409 Colorado Street, operating as a second-run movie theater with an emphasis on food and drink service — beer a big priority, naturally — offered during screenings.
Expanding to a shuttered four-screen theater at 2700 West Anderson Lane in 2001 and gaining the ability to show first-run movies, the brand slowly grew through the 2000s to its current 41 national locations. The original location didn’t survive, however, relocating to the Alamo Ritz at 320 East Sixth Street in 2007 — the old space, currently used as offices for the technology arm of the Walmart corporation, is set to be demolished as part of the construction of 41-story office building Tower 5C.
The sandwich shop now branded as an “Austin Eatery” at many of its more than 350 locations across the country — not to mention a few international outposts — kicked off in 1971 at 1301 South Congress Avenue, in a retail building now better known as the Amy’s Ice Cream walkup patronized by tourists and locals alike in the South Congress shopping and entertainment district.
After rapid 1980s and 1990s expansion, including a relocation to a custom-built flagship store at 218 South Lamar Boulevard, Schlotzsky’s went through ups and downs in the 2000s but is still kicking to this day in a form mostly recognizable to fans of its sandwiches in previous decades — but that South Lamar Boulevard flagship is preparing for demolition, with a seven-story office project on deck for the site.
The billion-dollar national jewelry company named for its founder and designer Kendra Scott started in earnest when Scott incorporated in 2002, making jewelry out of a spare room in her Austin home and selling it to area boutiques, trunk shows, and other informal marketplaces — and despite growing in acclaim through the rest of the 2000s, she didn’t open the brand’s first retail store until 2010. There are now more than 100 Kendra Scott retail stores nationwide.
With more than 40 locations across the southern and southwestern United States, Austin-born gringo taco and queso embassy Torchy’s Tacos first rose to greatness out of a food truck opened in 2006 by former fry cook and corporate chef Michael Rypka at 1311 South First Street. Though the original “Trailer Park” location closed back in 2018, the food truck’s spirit lives on in the form of a “trashy” fried chicken taco.
Leave a Reply