A longtime staple of downtown dining is leaving the Central Business District, while an out-of-state investor is keeping quiet about its plans for a prime stretch of real estate near Austin’s epicenter.
Annies Cafe & Bar will close April 22 on the ground floor of 319 Congress Ave., where it has operated since 2009. Prior to that, owner Love Nance ran Apple Annies Cafe in a below-ground spot at the Chase Tower for more than 20 years, which was her second location following a few years at the Littlefield Mall at Sixth and Brazos streets. In all, she has had a downtown restaurant almost continuously since 1982.
Now Nance is leaving downtown altogether and focusing on a trio of eateries she has at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport: another location of Annies, a grab-and-go market called Farm Aire and I Vini, an Italian cafe.
To open Annies Cafe & Bar downtown, Nance purchased the ground-floor space and basement at 319 Congress in 2008 from Jeff Blatt, a longtime player in the downtown real estate market.
“After calculating the rent I’d paid over the years, I decided I would never rent again and talked Jeff Blatt into selling the Congress Avenue space instead of renting it to me,” Nance said.
Nance said the space was dilapidated and she hired late architect Dick Clark to restore it, using a business enhancement and retention loan from the city of Austin to help pay for permitting and historical renovations.
In 2016 she sold the space to Austin-based Cielo Property Group, which then sold 319 Congress and adjacent buildings at 315 Congress Ave. and 323 Congress Ave. to Asana Partners LLC of Charlotte, North Carolina through an entity called AP N Congress Ave LLC. The combined properties were appraised for tax purposes at nearly $16.6 million in 2017.
Annies has leased back the space from Asana since the sale closed in September 2016.
Other tenants in the three buildings include restaurants Swift’s Attic and Counter 3. Five. VII, as well as the Austin office of digital design business Fjord (an Accenture plc subsidiary) on the second floor of 319 Congress.
Brian Purcell, a managing director at Asana who handles acquisitions, declined to comment for this story and the fate of the other tenants. However, a look at the firm’s holdings in other cities provides hints about its wider strategy.
Asana Partners is a real estate investment firm, with a specialty in retail. One of its co-founders and managing partners, Terry Brown, was previously CEO of Edens Investment Trust, which owns more than 120 retail centers nationwide.
In its North Carolina hometown, Asana has lured donut-maker Krispy Kreme to open a corporate office in the historic South End neighborhood. And Charlotte Business Journal reports the firm is making a name for itself by scooping up infill retail properties in urban areas and repositioning them to attract new tenants.
On its website Asana said it seeks to buy property in “dynamic growth-oriented markets in the United States with high levels of educational attainment, population density, and household income.” In 2017 it closed on a $500 million debut fund to buy properties.
At least one of the ground-level shops already appears spoken for: At 323 Congress Ave., signs have gone up for a business called WineLair, which according its website is a European wine club with locations coming to Austin and Washington, D.C. A beer and wine permit application has been filed with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission by ThreeWineGuys Texas LLC.
Annies occupies a prime spot on Congress Avenue — touted as the Main Street of Texas — with a stylish outdoor patio.
Congress Avenue commands some of the priciest commercial rent prices in the county at $58.20 per square foot. Compare that to the likes of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, where monthly retail rent averages $72.91 per square foot.
Nance formed Paseo Brands in 2014 to operate airport-based eateries. The Annies location at ABIA recently underwent extensive renovations, while I Vini opened in 2017 with bruschetta, pasta, pizza and more. Nance said the plan is to expand to restaurants in other airports.
Running a restaurant at the airport differs significantly from running a standalone business, as Nance told Austin Business Journal last year.
I Vini brings tastes of Northern Italy to airport
Love Nance, founder of Paseo Brands, has opened I Vini, her new eatery at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
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