A month after my daughter and her family moved to Austin, TX, I went to visit them in their new hometown. As soon as I walked off the plane, I saw signs that this is a place that is proud of local businesses. The airport has few chain businesses, but you can find Salt Lick bar-b-que, Amy’s ice cream and magazines and books from Book People.
Jennie, Hector and their kids picked me up at the airport and we were off to explore. Before we went to their house, I got the mini-tour. When I commented on all the people we saw who were running, walking or bicycling, Jennie said, “This town isn’t about buying stuff; it’s about doing stuff.” I liked it already. I got even more interested when Hector exclaimed, “What I love about this place is all the little independent businesses.”
That entrepreneurial spirit has rubbed off on both of them. Early this year, Hector launched his online business, Live Counseling, which uses 21st Century technology to connect clients with experts from many fields. Jennie opened her doula practice, Sweet Beginnings Austin, to give support to pregnant women before, during and after childbirth.
While it’s hard to miss all the local ventures in this lively and creative city, you can see the planning process at work at any one of the local coffee shops that are springing up all over town. One of my favorites is Dominican Joe where you’ll see almost as many laptops as coffee cups. Eavesdrop on the folks at the next table and you’re apt to hear enthusiastic brainstorming.
Austin entrepreneurs have another terrific resource to help them on their Joyfully Jobless Journey. In a beautifully restored post-Victorian house David Walker runs Austin’s first co-working space called Conjunctured. He and his partners have created a place where solo entrepreneurs can come and work in a less isolated environment. Walker is wildly enthusiastic about the Joyfully Jobless life, but this isn’t his only business. He’s also co-owner of 302 Designs which produces t-shirts with beautiful designs and inspirational words. When I met him last fall, Walker had just signed a contract with Whole Foods who will be distributing their shirts. Everything about being an entrepreneur seems to excite him.
When the new Red Rocks Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas decided to include an authentic Texas bar-b-que restaurant they scoured the Lone Star state looking for the best they could find. Austin’s Salt Lick was the winner. Even though the Vegas locale is in my neighborhood and the menu is the same, I prefer the original for ambiance. Located in the gorgeous Hill Country outside of Austin, the original features long wooden picnic tables, live music and country hospitality.
Another business caught my eye on my first visit when we passed a parking lot where there was a shiny Airstream trailer with a giant cupcake on the roof—and a long line of people. As I was about to discover every time we passed that way, the long line of people never diminished. I couldn’t wait to learn more about Hey Cupcake! As soon as it was politely possible to excuse myself, I began investigating this business on the Internet. I found out that Hey Cupcake! is the brainchild of Wes Hurt, a 20-something Texan who says he was born entrepreneurial.
His story reminded me of an article I wrote in Winning Ways newsletter called Take a Trip, Come Back With a Business. That’s exactly what Hurt did. The inspiration came during a trip to New York when he visited the Magnolia Bakery. He says, “I waited in line for 20 minutes or so and was amazed by the enthusiasm and anticipation emanating from everyone in line. That day I started planning what would eventually be Hey Cupcake!”
Hurt’s idea wasn’t exactly an instant success, however. He opened his first cupcake stand on the campus at the University of Texas where about 10,000 students passed by daily. Unfortunately, not enough of them stopped to buy a cupcake. Hurt was disappointed, but in true entrepreneurial fashion decided to revamp. He changed locations and moved into the Airstream. That did the trick. On their busiest days, they now sell about 1,000 cupcakes.
Of course, there’s more to the business community than food. Happily, Austin is home to one of the great independent booksellers, Book People. If you’re a booklover, you’ll find two floors of temptation here. There’s an extensive children’s section, gifts and all sorts of in-store events including author appearances, book camps for teens and preteens and weekly story hours for the younger crowd.
In this health-conscious community you’ll find lots of yoga studios, gyms and numerous alternative health practitioners offerings their services. One of the loveliest spas in the area is The Crossings, which is also home to retreats and workshops.
Finally, if you want to see more of the entrepreneurial spirit in action, visit some of the small towns in the gorgeous Hill Country surrounding Austin. There’s Fredericksburg, home to dozens of little shops, restaurants and charming bed and breakfast inns. Or take a slightly longer drive and you’ll find yourself in Gruene, situated between Austin and San Antonio. How could you ignore a place whose slogan is, “Gently resisting change since 1872”?