Austin Agencies Launch Projects to Support Local Businesses and Restaurants

GSD&M aims to 'Keep Austin Weird,' while R/GA creates a locally-sourced cookbook

T-shirts next to text that says, "Austin Table Recipes From Beloved Austin Restaurants
Proceeds from cookbook and t-shirt sales will go to local nonprofits and support funds. R/GA Austin, Marc Ferrino, Kristeen Parmeter, Bob Schneider, Avery Orendorf
Headshot of Kathryn Lundstrom

It’s a strange feeling to miss your own city without ever leaving it, but a lot of things are strange about sheltering in place.

While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott officially permitted some businesses to reopen on Friday at limited capacity and under new rules, many Austin restaurants who fall under the order’s jurisdiction have chosen to stay closed or remain takeout only, worried that the rule change was premature or that they won’t be able to make ends meet at the 25% capacity limit.

Either way, the coronavirus pandemic has already taken a huge toll on local businesses and the people who staff them. Funds to support bartenders, musicians and businesses have cropped up to mitigate the disastrous effects of the shutdown. Local businesses are also still reeling from the loss of  roughly $356 million that South by Southwest brings to the city—a two-week festival that many rely on for a large percentage of their annual income.

In an attempt to bolster support for those affected and give homesick city dwellers something to do with that longing for a patio marg or dose of live music, Austin-based creative agencies are launching new initiatives to support those in need. Proceeds will benefit local bars, restaurants, musicians and nonprofits.

Creative agency GSD&M, which was founded in Austin in 1971, partnered with local artists and nearby screen printing business Outhouse Designs to reimagine the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan for the Covid-19 era. A group of small businesses, including BookPeople and Waterloo Records, popularized the slogan some 20 years ago during a rally against a big box store that had planned to open up nearby the legendary downtown shops, the agency said.

For the next 10 to 12 weeks, the new Keep Austin Weird project will release one limited edition T-shirt each Wednesday, designed by a local artist with all proceeds going to a group of nonprofits and support funds benefiting Austinites most affected by Covid-19’s economic impact. That includes All Together ATX, Stand with Austin Fund, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Central Texas Food Bank and Austin Creative Alliance’s Artists Emergency Relief Fund.

“Keep Austin Weird is exactly the spirit this city needs right now,” said Chad Joyner, partner and creative director at Outhouse Designs, adding that “many people have forgotten that it started as a rallying cry to support local businesses and invest in our city.”

Working alongside Visit Austin, agency R/GA’s local office released a downloadable charity cookbook, Austin Table, featuring two dozen recipes from some of the city’s most well-known and celebrated bars and restaurants. Highlights include Il Brutto‘s Frozen Aperol Spritz, Micklethwait‘s Jalapeño Cheese Grits, Sway‘s pork and rice dish Son-In-Law and Lick‘s Cilantro Lime Ice Cream. All proceeds from the 55-page digital book will go to the contributing establishments.

The downloadable cookbook features recipes from 21 Austin restaurants.
R/GA Austin

“Our local restaurants and bars are at the heart of what makes Austin, and we wanted to do something to help them through this hard time,” said R/GA Austin executive strategy director Elizabeth Thompson in a statement. “We hope this effort inspires people to remake and share some of their favorite drink and food recipes to rally behind Austin’s hospitality community.”

In other cities around the U.S., agencies have found way creative ways to support local businesses. Global agency The Community has raised money for bartenders in cities where it has offices, including in Miami, New York and San Francisco. Meanwhile, Boston-based agency Arnold is creating restaurant guides for Bostoners to navigate changes in service, and Cincinnati-based Curiosity created #SaveCincySmall to highlight small businesses, which it financially supported through purchases or donations.

@klundster Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.