KXAN Austin

East Austin’s Nubian Queen Lola’s restaurant finds new home in Taylor

TAYLOR, Texas (KXAN) – It’s a story we keep hearing as Austin decides how to guide development for the next few decades — high rent forcing people to move.

And it’s a story Lola Stephens-Bell calls her own. She says rising rent and plumbing issues would have taken $10,000 to fix and forced her out of her east Austin stomping grounds when Nubian Queen Lola’s shut its doors.

The east Austin restaurant helped feed the homeless and closed last April. Questions swirled about where she would go next. Would she reopen?

About two weeks ago, she did — in the unlikely new home of Taylor, Texas. She says it’s small, but her kitchen inside the Shell gas station at 1702 N. Main St. is manageable.

“I’m the happiest woman in Taylor,” she told KXAN. But it took time.

After she and her husband set their sights on locations on Manor and Elgin that didn’t work out, they looked to Taylor. Lola’s Cajun menu is the same, but admittedly a lot has changed.

“It’s a big difference. The city is different, the people [are] different, the intro was totally different,” Stephens-Bell said, explaining that for some folks, this is their first introduction to Cajun food.

“You can’t get no more original than this,” Stephens-Bell said.

Her food is for anyone who needs it. The homeless eat free.

“I was living in the projects, I [have] seen the struggle. I’m coming from one of the poorest states in the United States, Louisiana, so I’m born to do this. It’s inside of me,” Stephens-Bell said. “If you’re at home, I don’t care if you have a house, and your food is low, I’m your purpose. Find me.”

And she trusts those who supported her in Austin will find her in Taylor too. “I want them to know I’m still here. You know, I’m not dead, I’m here.”

The blow of losing people like Stephens-Bell to surrounding areas is something CodeNEXT, Austin’s new land development code, aims to soften. Thursday, we asked the city how the proposed code will help small businesses. It’s really about lowering the costs that can get passed down to tenants — burdens that can come with renovating or expanding.

Greg Guernsey with the city of Austin says, “CodeNEXT does address small businesses and probably the one that will get the most attention is we are reducing the parking requirements for small business and for other businesses in the city.”

The third version of CodeNext is expected to go before the city’s Planning Commission for a recommendation in April.