IndieAustin: Hoover’s Cooking

It’s 2pm on a bright Friday afternoon and the lunch rush at Hoover’s Cooking is still simmering with laughter and conversation. The welcoming scent of smoked meat drifts through the open dining room where new and longtime customers enjoy generous plates of the city’s finest comfort food. Hoover’s Cooking is twenty-one years old and still going strong, thanks to the inspired efforts of owner Hoover Alexander and his mission to promote, maintain, and protect Austin’s culinary traditions.

“I’m a guardian of Austin restaurant history,” he says. “I maintain that honest, straightforward niche, help bridge the old and the new, and celebrate and honor the unsung heroes of the past and present. At some point, pride becomes a brand of its own.”

To understand where he’s coming from, you have to go all the way back to 1932, the year the Night Hawk restaurant opened. The chain, whose last Night Hawk Frisco Shop closed its doors last year after a 65-year run, employed women and minorities before such things were politically correct, and was Austin’s first fully integrated restaurant. Its owner, Harry Akins, was an innovator, entrepreneur, and food quality evangelist. (He raised his own beef to ensure the quality of Night Hawk’s steaks and hamburgers.) The Night Hawk and Frisco Shop were legendary, and Hoover Alexander started working there when he was in college and went on to learn every thing there is to know about running a successful restaurant business.

“I worked every single position there. I started as a busboy and ended up doing everything, he says.” One of the unsung heroes he honor to this day—he thinks a lot about life’s unsung heroes—is Mr. Leon, a longtime Night Hawk friend who showed Hoover how much love, effort, and labor it took to make the food that made the Night Hawk so special. “Mr. Leon worked there forever. He had a third- or fourth-grade education, could read bible verses and recipes, and was a real inspiration to me. He mentored me. He taught me how to make gumbo, pie shells, the whole from-scratch thing.”

Fast-forward to now, an era of lightning-fast growth and a super competitive restaurant market. Where does that leave Hoover’s Cooking, an Austin institution of the highest degree? “ We have to constantly reinvent ourselves, keep giving the customer what they like, “ he says. “ You have to keep marketing to the new population when you aren’t the new kid on the block. You just have to keep your name out there.”

Adapting to change and staying relevant is right up there with being “honestly, sincerely grateful” for the twenty-plus years as the captain of his own ship. Hoover says, “after this long, you have the perspective of a business owner, and you start to really appreciate the core group of employees who don’t get the credit, but do get the blame.” Several members of this core group have been with Hoover since the beginning, back to when he owned
GoodEats. “I get up every day and set the dial for ‘G,’ for grateful,” he says. I have a lot to be grateful for.

Visit Hoover’s cooking at 2002 Manor Road, 512-479-5006, www.hooverscooking.com

—Story and photo by Ann Guidry

IndieAustin: Precision Camera & Video

Precision Camera has maintained its status as an Austin original since 1976 when it opened as a camera repair shop. Founders Jerry and Rosemary Sullivan grew the business into the largest camera store in Texas, the oldest camera repair shop in Austin, and the most trusted retailer for photography equipment, classes, and print services in town. The store is known for its stellar customer service and talented staff of salespeople. General Manager Gregg Burger says, “Everyone who works here is incredibly knowledgeable about photography and cameras. And they are all really nice people, too.”

Recently, the Sullivans retired and handed the reins over to new owner Phil Livingston. The previous Oakland Raider (he was a Super Bowl champion in 1981) relocated from Boulder, Colorado to Austin to run Precision Camera. Burger says, “There’s a renewed energy in the store. We’re offering the same great service and equipment, but now we’re taking our expertise out into the community. We are going to New Braunfels, Fredricksburg, Houston, and outlying areas so customers who usually come to us can take classes where they are.” Among the free and paid workshops Precision Camera now offers outside the city limits are basic how-to-use-your-camera classes as well as Flash Fest, a three-day event that teaches photographers about off-camera flash techniques.

Some things are changing while most others stay the same. Precision Camera continues to sell cameras and equipment for the same price as online retailers and big box stores. The difference is that when you shop at Precision Camera, you gain the tremendous benefit of the staff’s expertise and guidance. Burger says, “When you shop here, you get to play with the equipment, talk to a professional about it, make sure you are getting exactly the right camera for your needs. We have deep knowledge about what is going on in the industry. That means we can let our customers know, for example, that it might be better to wait a month and buy a camera that’s just coming out if the one in the store doesn’t suit them.”

That kind of value is hard to find, and it’s what Precision Camera does best. In addition to selling cameras and photography equipment, and offering top-notch classes, the shop does photo restorations, including transferring your old movies and videos onto memory sticks. Burger says, “We do everything in-house, so you don’t have to worry about your memories getting lost in the mail.”

Visit Precision Camera & Video at 2438 West Anderson Lane, 512-467-7676 or www.precision-camera.com today.

—Story and photo by Ann Guidry

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