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Happy Hobo hopes to become East Austin's first food co-op

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

East Austin has long been overlooked by grocers. In the past three years, more than half a dozen new stores specializing in organic and natural foods opened all over Central Texas, but not a single Sprouts Farmers Market, Sunflower Farmers Market, Natural Grocers, Whole Foods Market or Central Market exists east of Interstate 35 in Austin.

Flint Fancy, having lived in East Austin for 12 years and cooking soups and daily specials at the now-closed Cafe Mundi for seven of them, knew that the neighborhood options for buying products such as locally raised meats, organic produce and eggs, chemical-free household supplies and bulk grains, teas and spices were limited to the urban farms, farmstands and the HOPE Farmers Market on Sundays.

"All the artists and the independent business community are centered in the east," Fancy says. "You look at the East End and East Sixth and you see this mix of new and old, and it has so much potential ... but there's absolutely nothing within a bikeable, walkable distance."

So, Fancy teamed up with Sarah Cheatham and Joe Egnot to start Happy Hobo Co-op Cafe and Grocer, the first cooperatively owned grocery store and cafe in East Austin. They found a 2,000-square-foot space (2502 Webberville Road, "right in the crux of it all," Fancy says) and started raising money and spreading the word.

"We've got our local farms on deck and different vendors waiting, and hundreds and hundreds of positive responses from the community," Flint says. "Carpenters, welders, farmers. People are helping in every direction, but money is the big issue."

Several hundred people have already become consumer members ($50 for two years or $100 a year for families), but Flint says that with all the permitting expenses and start-up costs, they still have quite a bit of money to raise before they'll be able to open.

On Saturday at 9 p.m., they are hosting a benefit show and fundraiser at Books Beyond Borders' warehouse, 618 Tillery St., featuring food from Hot Mama's and Ararat Cafe and live music from La Guerrilla and WinoVino. (Flint says this is the final performance for the Austin band WinoVino.)

Once they hit their fundraising goals, hopefully in the next few months, Flint says they will open the grocery and coffee shop part of the operation first, followed by a restaurant-like space where you can buy prepared food to go or to eat there.

For more information about Saturday's benefit, or how to become a member or get involved, go to www.happyhobo.snarko.com .

abroyles@statesman.com;

912-2504