Austin has a reputation for a lot of things, from being a college town to the epicenter of the state’s always bizarre and sometimes evil politics to the hotbed of barbecue and tacos. However, there’s another aspect of the city that is glaringly amiss: its tiny Black population. This is why a new coffee shop and bar, and community space, Origin Studio House, is intent on centering the city’s Black denizens on its grounds at 2925 East 12th Street in Rosewood in the late summer.
According to a University of Texas at Austin study, census data from 2000 to 2010 determined that Austin was the only growing major city in America with a declining Black population. Austin-based nonprofit Measure conducted a survey to research why Black people were leaving. 88 percent of respondents stated it was because of the high cost of living, and 80 percent said it was a lack of belonging that drove them away. While Origin founders Brittney Williams and Dante Clemons can’t do anything about how expensive the city is, they hope to rectify the issue of Black people feeling lost and untethered in Austin.
“The idea of Origin was just around rootedness,” Clemons says. “We’re building for something we recognize is missing and, instead of complaining about it or expecting somebody else to fill it, I’m gonna recognize the opportunity.” Since 2021, Origin has hosted occasional pop-up events with cocktails and DJs outside on its quarter-acre grounds, featuring food trucks owned by people of color including Phoenix Grille, Better Say Grace, Mama A’s, Nosh’d Luxury Snacks, and Luv Fats Ice Cream. Veteran bartender Robert Björn Taylor has also been tagged to create drinks.
Starting in the late summer, Origin will begin operating with regular hours. Fridays through Sundays, it’ll offer Black-owned liquors, beer, and wine brands, as well as brands and drinks made with ingredients that gesture toward the African diaspora. “We pull our ingredient references from ancestral places, but the ways in which we’ve been able to discover them is through the heritage of our American loved ones and relatives,” Williams says.
There’s the Big Mama’s Brew, a sangria punch with cognac, and a brewed mixture of hibiscus, ginger, pineapple, blood orange, mint, and a spice blend. Hibiscus punches go by different names in different parts of the world. In Jamaica, it’s Jamaican sorrel with rum; in Nigeria, a similar concoction is zobo; and in other West African countries, the punch is called Bissap.
Origin’s space includes a bar and barista counter inside of a customized shipping container created by Craig Hoverman of architecture firm DIG:A in collaboration with Origins founders (Williams and Clemons have backgrounds in interior design and architecture respectively). Sometime next year, the bar will move into a house on the property pending the lengthy permitting process. “For this community, we can’t wait nine to 18 months,” Clemons says. “We can’t afford to wait both financially as well as culturally.”
Williams was born and raised in Austin. When she was growing up, what the city lacked wasn’t at the forefront of her mind. “When I was younger, I didn’t feel like I was completely missing out versus when I got older and moved to New York City,” to study urban studies at the New School, she says. When she returned home, something didn’t feel right. “I was missing that breadth of Blackness in all of its facets that you get in New York. Being from here really solidified a part of the reason why I always felt like an outsider in my own city,” she says. “I feel like Origin is the perfect opportunity to rewrite that narrative for myself and other people moving here.”
Clemons was raised in New Orleans and arrived in Austin by way of New York City eight years ago. When she came here, she was meeting a lot of new people, particularly Black people who were looking for community. Unable to find that, they would often stay for around a year and escape to Dallas or Houston’s more diverse pastures. “I was reckoning with that reality for a lot of folks and I had a somberness about that,” she says. “I was tired of dope people leaving the city for something that I thought could be fixable.”
Williams previously worked as an interior designer at McGuire Moorman Lambert Hospitality and Emmer and Rye Hospitality Group, but neither she nor Clemons has direct experience in restaurants and bars. The two have leaned on the friendly service industry where people were willing to share their expertise with them. They reached out to places where they were customers, and those people became helpful advisors, teachers, and coaches. This includes Brew & Brew/Better Half’s Matt and Grady Wright imparted wisdom on operations and building menus. Canje’s chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph gave Williams a peek at the restaurant’s back-of-house so she could learn how services are run, and allowed her to sort of stage. “I wasn’t allowed to be behind the bar,” she laughs.
The duo’s quest to study how hospitality is done is predicated on a desire for quality. “Our elevation of Blackness is always at the forefront and it doesn’t come second to just being a business,” Williams says. “You shouldn’t come here thinking you want to just give a tax write-off to Black women. It’s like, ‘I came because the quality is excellent and I know I’m gonna have a good time, the drinks are good, the people are dope, the music is awesome, and they’re Black-owned, and it’s two Black women. That is how we think and operate.”
Origin’s next event is for Juneteenth called Eighteen65, which focuses on Black joy, with cocktails, food, and a DJ. It takes place on Saturday, June 17 from 6 to 9 p.m., with tickets for $20.