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Celebrating Austin Restaurants Doing Good for the Local Community

Dining obsessives call out some of the Austin restaurants that have stepped up to feed and assist their neighbors in 2020

The community fridge at Nixta
The community fridge at Nixta
Nadia Chaudhury/EATX
Erin Russell is associate editor of Eater Austin, a native Austinite, and a big fan of carbs.

As is the tradition as we near the end of 2020, Eater asked a trusted group of friends, industry types, and local bloggers for their takes on the past culinary year in Austin. Given the insanity of this year, Eater has adapted the standard survey into one the reflects the new realities of takeout, restaurant shutters, and a shaky industry. All answers will be revealed before the year ends — cut, pasted, (mostly) unedited, and in no particular order. Question number eight:

Was there one restaurant in particular that you felt really stepped up for your local community?

Pat Sharpe, executive editor and food writer for Texas Monthly
Although it’s not Austin-based, the Southern Smoke Foundation in Houston has been enormously helpful to people in the restaurant industry nationwide who have fallen on hard times. It’s given out $4.7 million since it was founded in 2017, most of it recently. Its fundraising expertise has much to do with founder Chris Shepherd’s expansive personality; the chef knows everybody in the restaurant community, it seems.

Robert Jacob Lerma, photographer for Eater Austin and others
As someone who operates hospitals, it was amazing to see many places reach out to feed my staff early in the pandemic. Stiles Switch, Kemuri, Nixta, Hopdoddy, and many others refused to take our money. It was touching to see places want to take care of others when they were struggling themselves.

Katie Friel, editor, CultureMap Austin
L’Oca d’Oro. What they have done with Good Work Austin and Safe Table has been remarkable. They saw major holes in our food system — farmers with produce, Austinites going hungry — and figured out a way to close that circle. It’s aggravating that there is no safety net, but I’m exceedingly proud that L’Oca d’Oro stepped up like this.

Jane Ko, blogger, A Taste of Koko
Easy Tiger donated more than 10,000 loaves of fresh bread to Austin-area food banks and have pledged to donate 100,000 by Labor Day 2021.

Lenny Dewi, @eats_n_noods and Eater contributing writer
I don’t think any particular restaurant did more than the other. I have seen many stepped up to help bring meals to healthcare workers when the hospital numbers were high, some have participated in fundraising events to fundraise funds for local charities. All tried to do the best with what they have.

Sarah Engstrand, contributing writer, Eater Austin
Crema Bakery and Cafe. They started offering no-questions asked, free bagged lunches for children at the start of the pandemic. When they realized the need was even bigger, they opened it up to anyone in need. This is a small business who has literally given away hundreds of meals to people, and put themselves in a tight spot financially to do so, because they believed it was the right thing to do.

Erin Russell, associate editor of Eater Austin
The Austin restaurant community really shone this year, and there are so many ways to answer this question. A few that immediately come to mind:

Vic and Al’s: When the Cajun restaurant’s opening was delayed, they turned into a free community kitchen serving those in need.

L’Oca d’Oro: They’ve been leaders in organizing Good Work Austin for safe reopening, advocating for restaurants, and keeping their own employees safe. No surprise from one of the first restaurants in Austin to offer employees a living wage with health insurance!

Nixta Taqueria: Love their free fridge — and, I’ve seen co-owner Sara Mardanbigi turn her full hospitality powers on for visitors who stop by to use it.

Tiff’s Treats: The cookie company is fairly quiet about their extensive nonprofit work, but those $10,000 donations to the NAACP and Austin Justice Coalition?

Nickel City: I thought they had a unique take on supporting Black-owned businesses in Austin. In addition to donating a portion of each highball to the Austin Justice Coalition, they offered deeply discounted drinks with a receipt from any of their neighboring Black-owned businesses.

Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin
I’ll continue to shower praise on L’Oca d’Oro because they were very vocal about what Austin restaurants needed while also providing for the community, and Nixta Taqueria for being the first to participate and really stock the Austin Free Fridge Project. I’m also adding Tso Chinese Delivery because of the way the company continues to operate, while still giving away free food to those in need, and Joe’s Bakery for how co-owner Regina Estrada continues to unite and inform the East Austin community.

And, I’ll end with all of the small food-centric businesses that have been trying their best to continue to stay operational, give back to the community, and stay safe for both their staffers and customers.