On a hot, sticky morning in July, a sleepy Austinite may head over to the Beware Coffee truck for a morning fix. This being Austin, she can opt for hemp milk or coconut oil add-ons to the brew, before heading over to the good seating at Spider House Patio Bar & Café to drink it.
And if you think the owners of Spider House wouldn’t appreciate customers bringing in outside purchases, think again. Beware Coffee is parked on Spider House’s front lawn, and the owners invited them to be there.
To hear co-owner Conrad Bejarano tell it, this is just the latest way he’s doing his part to “keep Austin weird.”
Austin is the fastest growing large city in the U.S., according to census figures. Austin demographer Ryan Robinson calculates that 110 people move to Austin every day – and that’s net arrivals, factoring in the few people who leave.
The complaints reflect the ever-present anxiety that spawned the “keep Austin weird” slogan in the first place – that the people flocking to Austin will ruin Austin’s Austin-ness, like the smothering “Woooooo!” at a concert when the band plays its hit song.
That’s where Spider House comes in. Open since 1995, the purple café and its sprawling, junk shop-decorated patio, is an Austin institution. And after watching food truck owners – who can’t afford to rent a brick-and-mortar store – struggle to find a reliable location, Bejarano and co-owner John Dorgan invited some of them to take a spot on the patio. Now there are seven other businesses on the property, in addition to many community groups and even a church.
Bejarano makes it clear that he’s still a businessman. The food truck tenants pay rent to compensate for his loss in food and coffee sales. And Spider House is still the only business on the property authorized to sell alcohol.
“It’s been awesome for Spider House, because you’re introducing just a new group of people continuously,” Bejarano says. “The business is being in the business of culture.”
Selling “culture” is a strategy that has worked for Bejarano and Dorgan in the past. They’re also the owners of I Luv Video, one of the few brick-and-mortar movie rental stores left in the country. The business has survived because its catalog (mostly DVDs) is simply too weird to be undercut by Netflix or Redbox. Bejarano says they may soon expand.
“People are just super-hungry for culture, because that’s what they expected when they were, you know, wherever,” he says.
(Full disclosure: I lived in Austin for eight years and have been to Spider House dozens of times.)