AUSTIN 9KXAN0 - It was the San Francisco band's fourth trip to Austin for South by Southwest and the members of The Stone Foxes decided to drop by Waterloo Records to catch some in-store performances by other bands.
The visit completed a circle of life that had started more than a decade earlier in the mind and heart of a young graduate student working on a social work degree.
In 2000, Jen Biddle was supporting her schooling with a part-time job at the record store. When she learned that Lyle Lovett was scheduled to visit the place, she baked him a pecan pie. He said he liked it.
A couple of weeks later, news arrived that Willie Nelson would soon stop by Waterloo, as well. Biddle baked another pecan pie. Willie, too, said he liked it.
Fellow employees noticed all this and asked for pies of their own. They also liked them, liked them so much they encouraged Biddle to start her own little pie-making business. So in 2006, she created the Texas Pie Kitchen .
Then two years later, following the beating heart of a true social worker, she sold the business for $1. The buyer was the nonprofit organization, Zephaniah Community Development Corporation , another Jen Biddle creation. The idea was that Zephaniah would operate the kitchen as a job-training program.
The students are low-income adults with any of a variety of barriers to employment: things like criminal histories, mental health issues and homelessness. The program operates through ARCH , the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.
The pie-baking operation enables the students to learn skills that could help them in the culinary arts employment environment.
"We currently sell to Texas Coffee Traders, Bouldin Creek Cafe, Thistle Café," Biddle said.
That, though, is just the beginning.
"We do a job training class where we focus on interviewing skills, resume writing, preparing for jobs," said Biddle. "We also do financial literacy courses through the Travis County Financial Literacy Coalition .
"We have employment partnerships with different employers in town," Biddle went on. "When our students are getting ready to graduate, we connect them with the different resources that we have. We let them know that we have a graduating student and then, if they're eligible, they can get an automatic interview."
The work is paying off. According to Biddle, two recent graduates are working at Randall's grocery stores. Another landed a job at the Austin Country Club and a fourth at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater chain.
As for the pies, they are sold to area stores and coffee shops and all of the proceeds go back into the job training effort.
"We have only two paid staff right now," said Biddle, "and they only get paid for 10 hours a week. I'm not even paid."
Coincidentally, the social work intern at the Pie Kitchen is a woman named Sarah Crocker. She's a family friend of a Stone Foxes band member and for all four years the group has attended SXSW, she let the musicians crash at her house. When she mentioned a volunteer opportunity at the kitchen, the guys jumped at the chance.
So at 8 a.m. Thursday, band members Shannon and Spence Koehler, Elliott Peltzman, Aaron Mort and band manager Joe Barham arrived at the Pie Kitchen, bleary-eyed from a typical SXSW night's sleep that didn't get started until after 2 a.m.
Their faces, smoothed into smiles by coffee and breakfast tacos, paved the way for their remaining body parts into the world of assembly-line pie making. It was not a flawless journey. Here's just one sample conversation overheard between band members:
"I don't know what a teaspoon is."
"That might be one."
"Do you know what a teaspoon is?"
"Ask somebody who knows."
"Is that a teaspoon?"
"Here's a quarter of a teaspoon.
"That one says, ‘Half.'"
Amazingly, though, pies got baked and Biddle was delighted to have the assistance.
"I think they're helpful," she smiled. "Sometimes we do get volunteers that can be in the way, but today I have to say the pies came out really great and look really tasty. And so I think they were very helpful."
As for the guys in the band, the volunteer effort was their way of simply saying thank you to a town they have come to love.
"In Austin, we've had amazing food," said guitarist Spence Koehler. "All the people have been super friendly to even San Franciscans from so far away. It's just a really fun city to hang out in."
"It's really great to build relationships with more than just the venue you're playing," added Barham, the manager. "You actually build a relationship with the community."
But by far, the most enthusiastic summation came from drummer Shannon Koehler: "It's a really cool, like, just the project itself makes everybody go, 'Wow! Pie!'"
All over town, tens of thousands of musicians were swarming hither and thither. At a small kitchen in a gigantic homeless shelter, five young men stopped swarming long enough to celebrate their good fortune together and give something back.
"A lot of musicians get by on just a little," Spence Koehler said, "and so we realized
that if we have a little bit of something to have time to help someone else get along, then we ought to."
And remarkably, along the way, they learned what a teaspoon is.
More than 100 trees covered in lights now shine bright throughout Zilker Park. The Trail of Lights is open for another season.
A 10-year-old was killed while standing outside of a vehicle which lost control during the icy conditions, DPS said.
Travis County non-profit Center for Child Protection will benefit next March from an all day fundraiser at the Circuit of the Americas that will see plenty of donors racing on the track.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg heads to court this week as a defendant in a civil trial that could oust her from office.
Santa visited Austin early on Sunday, joining hundreds of motorcyclists for their annual Toy Run.
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.