Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke has a knack for supporting local businesses during his campaigning treks across the country, and this often includes local restaurants and food trucks.
“We’ve eaten very well across the state of Texas,” O’Rourke tells Eater during a stop at Austin Community College’s Highland campus as part of his state-wide college tour on October 5. O’Rourke says he and his team always asks the people who live in those towns when he plans on where to eat. “I always try to find locally owned, mom-and-pop businesses that are doing something right,” he says, “and typically, the folks within a community [who say], ‘This is where you gotta go when you’re in name-this-city.’”
Earlier this week in Austin, he shared that he went to fast-casual restaurant (and Eater Austin 38) Bird Bird Biscuit because of a staffer’s suggestion, which he called “the most amazing sandwich I ever had.”
Out in Tyler, Texas, O’Rourke often stops by Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q for real barbecue, calling its smoked meats “one of the best that I’ve ever had and in the state of Texas.” His order is the brisket sandwich: “It’s so good.” He recounts a story about how he picked it up to-go, and after he drove away, he realized he forgot to get barbecue sauce (nowadays barbecue sauces aren’t as much of a faux pas as they have been before; also this is barbecue sandwich rules rather than straight-up barbecue). “I was like, ‘God, this is not going to be any good without sauce.” And was promptly proven wrong: “It was one of, if not the best sandwiches I ever had,” he recalls.
Other recent barbecue stops included Porky’s Smokehouse & Grill in Marshall, Texas, and La Barbecue in Austin. Of the latter, he says he had it for the first time, and yes, he ordered the brisket. He called the meal “phenomenal.”
In O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso, one of his favorite restaurants is Lucy’s Cafe, a breakfast and lunch counter near his home. His go-to dish is the machaca plate, which comes with shredded beef with tomatoes, onions, eggs, and chile con queso. “That, and a cup of coffee, there’s no better way to start your day,” he says.
Supporting independently owned small businesses is one of O’Rourke’s tenets in his campaign for governor. “I want to make sure we level the playing field,” he tells Eater. “We don’t begrudge the success of big corporations, but when they, for example, don’t pay their fair share of property taxes — which they are not today — it means that the rest of us, including independent restaurant owners and entrepreneurs, and homeowners and renters by extension, all end up having to pay a little more.” To that end, he’d want to lower property taxes for small businesses while making sure that bigger companies do pay property taxes.
Another way he wants to support Texas small businesses, if he is elected governor in November, is by expanding Medicaid in order to make sure that more Texans have health insurance. “I want to make sure that we fully fund, at the state level, health care,” he says. “That means that employers are not on the hook or not losing out on employees who are not healthy or well enough to be able to go to work.” He also wants to raise the minimum wage.
O’Rourke also addresses the increasing costs of living in Texas. “I want to make sure that we reduce the cost of living and doing business in Texas,” he says. “I mentioned earlier that we’re now paying more in Texas here than people are in California. It makes it a little bit harder for [entrepreneurs and business owners] to find the resources to pay their employees more or to take better care of their customers.”
Many Austin restaurants have announced closures this fall due to some of all of the above reasons. Salad drive-thru Baby Greens is closing on October 7 because owner Sharon Mays doesn’t have enough staffers to keep the business; she cites the city’s lack of affordability as a key reason why employees are leaving Austin. Gelato shop Gelateria Gemelli is closing on the first of November because there aren’t enough sales to keep the business successful amid COVID expenses plus inflated ingredient prices and rents, according to owner Andrew Sabola. Then there are so many other restaurants, food trucks, and bars that are closing because of impending development at their addresses or declining to renew leases because of very high rent increases.
And O’Rourke does his part to further support local restaurants by “just always finding the local place that we can eat at and trying to show that with pride,” as he says.