East Austin has a rich cultural history. From segregation to assimilation, the area has been a deemed a “City within a City” at times, but continues to retain and add to the distinctly Austin vibe.
The area has come a long way since the 60’s, when it was infamous for crime and low standard of living. Amidst the infamy, a strong sense of community and culture thrived. The remnants are still visible, an integral part of what makes East Austin so special. Those who have persevered through the gentrification continue to preserve what was, and keep East Austin’s culture alive.
On any evening, take a stroll through the east side and you’ll witness families hanging out together on their porches, enjoying good conversation, company, and music. The happiness is infectious, a trait that seems to be inherent to some of the legacy families. Their familiarity and long-standing relationship with the area seem to exude a comfort that can only be attributed to having lived there for generations.
Swamp Daddy’s Ra-gin Ka-jun
Just a little ways down the road from newer hot spots like Hillside Farmacy, you’ll find the friendly Mr. Bobby Mitchell, who owns and runs a little convenience store on the corner of Rosewood and Angelina streets, Ideal Soul Mart. In the year that I’ve lived on the east side, Mr. Mitchell’s business has seemed to adapt faster than most around him. The convenience store has rapidly evolved, at first by changing what the store stocked to better suit the changing demographic, and now by adding Swamp Daddy’s Ra-gin Ka-jun food truck, owned and operated by him.
Mitchell extends his culinary talents, dishing out excellent gumbo and crawfish for cajun food lovers. The simple cash-only food truck has outdoor seating, and the convenience store has been converted to an indoor seating area. Mitchell holds block parties ever so often. His parties have become a staple part of the remaining African American culture in East Austin. Weekends are always dotted with a DJ playing tunes, and people enjoying the atmosphere, food, and good company. It’s an easy place to be, with an easy vibe to get absorbed into.
When asked about why he has these gatherings, his answer was a simple one. Mr. Mitchell wants to keep the old community alive. He has been at that corner for 25 years and loves the neighborhood dearly. He said, “Most of the older folks have moved out. There’s no more bars left for us to hang out at, so I wanted to give them a place to come enjoy their old neighborhood again. They come, drink a couple of beers, enjoy a po’ boy, and by 10:30 [p.m.], done! Everyone’s happy and go home feeling like they still belong. It’s not a “Black” thing, it’s an everybody thing. I want everyone to feel like they’re a part of something.”
Featuring African American Talent
Mitchell also loves supporting the local arts and culture. During our conversation, a couple of people came in and began setting up a spoken word workshop. When I asked them about it, they told me they’re trying to help youth in the area further their interest in poetry by hosting these workshops. Most of Mitchell’s block parties feature African American talent.
As far as the addition of the food truck goes, Mr. Mitchell said he always wanted to do this, but never had the resources to see it through. So when his pastor was looking at selling a truck, Mitchell jumped on the opportunity. He sees the food truck as a way of honoring his pastor’s memory and the hard work he put into building the truck. Mitchell is proud of his food and thrives on the legacy of his pastor.
Fighting to Preserve the Familiarity of East Austin
Mr. Mitchell’s is a business that has adapted to the changing East Austin area with flair and great success. He has taken active steps to be involved in supporting the changing community, while keeping his African American culture intact. While his business acumen has adapted to the change and gentrification, his emotional side still misses the “meet your neighbor” feeling. He says he misses being able to walk down the street and know what’s going on with whoever crosses his path. He feels the familiarity has gone. Or at least, it isn’t as prevalent as it used to be.
Mitchell and his efforts to keep a part of his culture alive are nothing short of impressive. With so many changes coming so rapidly, his willingness to adapt and absorb the changes are serving him well. It’s thanks to his efforts, and many others, that East Austin continues to honor and reflect its history.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is your favorite East Austin business that has survived the changes?
Vi is a UI/UX designer who takes her food way too seriously. When not belting out awesome designs, she can be found eating whatever Austin has to offer, or navigating through her indecisiveness at a coffee shop with a little help from her pup, Ms. Poe, and partner, Mr. P. Keep up with Vi on her Instagram!
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