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Food for Thought, Rebekah Epstein, Allen’s Boots and more

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

SCHOOL: Serving food to serve up ideas on cutting school drop-out rates.Communities in Schools has proven it can do what some thought was impossible: Cut drop-out rates. Just how they do it, I’m still learning. Attendance at the group’s annual Food for Thought gala helps. This informal confab, staged this year with plenty of elbow-room at the Austin Music Hall, lines the venue with tasty bites from area chefs, serenades the guests with appealing live music, then gets down to the business of telling its story and raising more money. I was impressed, first, by the Manor High School marching band, out front, then inside by far-flung conversations with Turk and Christy Pipkin, Marc and Carolyn Seriff and Candlelight Ranch’s Harriett Kirsh Pozen as well as Clint and Susan Hackney, who filled me in on the planning for the 2014 Toast of the Town for St. David’s Foundation health sciences scholarships.

MEDIA: Nobody wants to make the call — or get the call. Reporters and editors dread cold calls from publicists pitching a story that might have absolutely nothing to do with their current storytelling needs. How do you turn down such nice people? But you do. Public relations firms usually assign the task to low-level employees or interns, who have no standing with the journalists. After working on both sides of the fence in New York and elsewhere, clever Rebekah Epstein, originally from San Antonio, sensed an opening. Now through her Austin start-up firm, Fifteen Media, she takes on pitch-and-place calls for two dozen PR firms that need somebody with her warm, funny touch. Like many creative folks, she’s consulting on the side. (The free market will find a way.)

STYLE: Allen’s Boots: The Next Generation. The Westernwear merchants at Allen’s Boots got into the biz just weeks before “Urban Cowboy” generated a global market for their goods. During the 1990s, however, interest faded and the Austin company reduced its presence to two stores, one on bedraggled South Congress Avenue. Thanks first to SXSW, then the rebirth of the retail district as SoCo, Allen’s is booming again. Give credit, too, to Sean and Lauren Greenberg, both 28 and part of a fourth generation of family merchants, who have boosted online sales and are introducing a new app that should take Allen’s to the next commerical plane. (Expect a detailed story soon on the family’s history in Austin.)

CITY: The nagging question remains, how to keep the park an urban gem? Reported by Andrea Ball in the Statesman. “When Austinites gather to celebrate the reopening of Wooldridge Square Park today they’ll be greeted by a space designed to lure them back. Thick, green grass carpets the sloping land. Freshly planted and mulched trees are scattered about. The century-old bandstand is coated in brilliant, white paint. New benches invite visitors to relax. Now the question is how to keep it that way. For years, this 1.75-acre park nestled between the city library and courthouses on Guadalupe Street has been a source of tension in the community because of its primary visitors — homeless people. During the day, they stretched out on the grass or sat on the bandstand. In the evenings, they flocked to greet meal trucks bringing them food.” http://shar.es/ilL3v(For more on the park’s history, go to http://shar.es/ilLZR.)

FOOD: It’s a snappy idea, so we’ll give this snack spot another chance. Reported by Gary Dinges in the Statesman. “Statewide expansion is in the works for a growing Austin-based business following a newly received infusion of cash. Snap Kitchen revealed this week that it is the recipient of a capital investment from Catterton Partners, a private equity firm.The amount of the investment wasn’t revealed. The chain, which has offered premade meals for health-conscious consumers since 2010, currently has six Austin-area locations. It also has a presence in Houston, where it expects to have a total of six stores up and running by year’s end. Snap Kitchen plans to enter the Dallas-Fort Worth market, where it doesn’t yet have a presence, by early 2014.” http://shar.es/ilNyd(Our first meals there were fresh, but uninspiring.)