This Texas tale started out as a family affair: When Sean Henry started Houndstooth Coffee in 2010, his brother, Paul Henry, came to work for him as a barista. Since their initial launch, the brothers have continued to gradually expand the company, which now runs six cafes: three in Dallas (where Sean is based) and three in Austin (where Paul is based), as well as the roastery Tweed Coffee. Their latest addition is a new cafe in East Austin that offers coffee during the day and extends into the late hours with beer, wine, and cocktails.
On the day we visit the new Austin location, Paul is wearing a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I can see a bit of Texas tattooed on his arm. I ask him about it and it turns out it’s actually the same logo that’s on my espresso mug: the state of Texas on one side, the Houndstooth fedora logo on the other. He brings up his childhood—he was raised in the suburbs of Dallas—and I ask him how being Texan plays into his business. “There’s a hospitality and swagger to Texas that’s hard to find elsewhere,” he says. “There’s something magic about it.”
The Henry brothers have worked to bring that magic to the new location, which is intended to be more of an all-day hangout than just a cafe for morning fuel. “It seems a lot of people don’t hang out in the same place in the evenings that they do in the mornings,” says Paul. To help facilitate that idea in the new Austin space, Houndstooth is drawing from its experience with its successful Dallas cocktail bar Jettison. “We want to borrow a little bit of what happens up there and bring it down here,” says Henry. Cocktails at the East Austin Houndstooth will include Jettison favorites such as the Red Headed Oaxacan, a smoky agave version of a Penicillin with reposado, mezcal, ginger honey, lemon, and a spray of Bowmore 12-year-old Scotch whisky, and the Earl’d Fashion’d, made with bonded bourbon, orange and Angostura bitters, and maple syrup smoked with Earl Grey tea.
But while there are alcoholic drinks on offer, the space feels more like a comfortable neighborhood hangout than a chic bar. Paul tells me the story of his grandfather, who was known for wearing a fedora (another nod that Houndstooth makes to family heritage). One day his grandfather was eating at a restaurant in Lubbock, Texas, where he was a regular, and accidentally left his fedora behind. The next day when his grandfather returned, the hat was waiting for him. Paul likens this to the feeling that they are trying to create in all the Houndstooth cafes, one that’s focused on hospitality and community, ensuring that everyone feels welcome. “I see you, I know you, you’re safe here,” says Paul.
Order the house blend at Houndstooth and you’ll be served Timepiece, another family nod, this time to the Henrys’s father, a watch collector. Besides passing along watches to his sons, their father has also passed along a business sense. “For years my dad would say, ‘Do the right thing,’” he says. “As long as you live within your means, you’ll be fine.” The company has never taken outside funding, and as Paul puts it, “We do things that make fiscal sense.”
But that doesn’t mean that they’re not willing to try new things. On the contrary, they are open to new ideas and challenges, but with a healthy dose of pragmatism. “We try and make our own mistakes but we try not to make the same mistake twice,” says Paul.
Despite a lot of growth over the past few years, “we’re still a personal company, a family company,” says Paul. That means putting a big focus on investing in their staff. Most of the Houndstooth staff is full-time and they all have company health insurance. “What I love is helping our staff become who they want to become,” says Henry. That focus on people, be they staff or customers, is ultimately what weaves all of the elements of Houndstooth together.
“If we can bring good people and good coffee together, we can create a pattern that will last a long time,” says Paul.
Anna Brones (@annabrones) is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in the American Pacific Northwest, the founder of Foodie Underground, and the co-author of Fika: The Art Of The Swedish Coffee Break. Read more Anna Brones on Sprudge.