Watching the world watch Texas.

September 29, 2021

In this issue of Branding Texas: how one San Antonio director is bringing Hollywood to Texas; a movie star’s bid for governor; how Texas has taken a top spot in winemaking; the final location for Samsung’s new microchip plant; artificial waves are making a splash; how two sisters reshaped Austin eating; and how one of our longtime friends is getting “Fancy-Like” and making it big.

Thomas Graham


How one director is bringing Hollywood to Texas

Texans have never struggled to achieve great things, and one San Antonio native may be adding another star to the Lone Star State’s claims to fame. Film director Robert Rodriguez is generating national headlines with the announcement of his new HBO and HBO Max deals, as reported by LA Times, Varietyand Hollywood Reporter

Rodriguez and HBO/Time Warner Media recently agreed on a two-year, first-look deal that will feature a production agreement with Austin-based Troublemaker Studios. Rodriguez, of Spy KidsAlita: Battle Angel and more recently, Star Wars: The Mandalorian fame, is known for adding “the Robert Rodriguez touch” to his projects. His signature flair incorporates pan-Mexican and Latinidad influences in the most far-out settings, and he makes it work. It’s no wonder then why the San Antonio native has risen to such popularity and acclaim.

According to Rodriguez in a recent interview, “it’s intriguing to be able to tap into the wealth of iconic IP available across the WarnerMedia portfolio and explore new stories to tell.” With so many more options now available to explore, it’s an exciting time to be a fan.

It seems we won’t have to wait long before seeing the San Antonio director’s latest film project, either. The California News Times follows actor Ben Affleck to Texas, where he will be working with Rodriguez. This new film, Hypnosis, features Affleck as a prolific detective who must navigate a string of dangerous crimes related to the disappearance of his daughter, all while unraveling an underground government conspiracy.

The pairing of Rodriguez and Affleck is certainly a fun proposition, and I expect Hypnosis, as well as all of Rodriguez’s future projects with HBO and Disney, to be equally as impressive. Rodriguez has done an incredible job of conveying meaningful Latin and Texan themes in his work over the course of his career. In an equally powerful display of talent, the filmmaking guru has brought Hollywood to Texas, and that deserves a star.

A popular actor leads the popular vote

Movie stars and politics have a closer relationship than might be realized at first glance. Though the history of movie-stars-turned-government-officials is relatively short, there certainly have been ups and downs. Our latest contender, detailed by Yahoo News, is none other than Matthew McConaughey.

I don’t believe it’s any small coincidence that his original suggestions about running for the state’s highest executive office came during the promotion of his book “Greenlights,” but McConaughey has now hinted multiple times at his candidacy, though has yet to make a formal statement or even declare which party he would represent. Even so, a hypothetical poll conducted by Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler shows McConaughey leading incumbent Governor Abbott by nine points. As a hypothetical candidate against a long-standing incumbent, that number is not insignificant.

McConaughey’s nine-point lead is even more interesting when you take into account other key poll players such as El Paso Democrat and former Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke, who may also have plans for the race, trails Abbott by only five points — a close tail for the Democrat forerunner.

One reason for McConaughey and O’Rourke’s polling popularity may be in part due to Abbott’s own recent dip in approval ratings. Abbott’s recent legislative actions, including mask mandate bans and the abortion bill, have stirred controversy in the media, which becomes doubly important with an election on the horizon.

Considering the success of other celebrity candidates in recent years, McConaughey also wields a unique advantage among Abbott’s stable of potential challengers: name recognition. The good news for Abbott may be that McConaughey’s alleged support reflects more of a flippant or trolling response from Democrats (65% of whom said they would vote for the Austin actor over the incumbent Governor), rather than a genuine political constituency.

It may turn out that McConaughey chooses not to run for election. If he does, however, then Austin’s favorite movie star would give us yet another entertaining show to watch. For my bet, Abbott would win. But the voters and the media will enjoy the show.


Texas takes top-three spot in national winemaking

Wine enthusiasts in the United States may point to California as the pinnacle of distinction, but 10best from USA Today reports otherwise. In fact, California doesn’t even make the top three. That honor is reserved for a little ol’ region called the Texas Hill Country.

The Texas Hill Country comprises Austin, Fredericksburg, Stonewall, Lampasas, and New Braunfels. The region is home to more than 50 wineries and is no sommelier slouch. In fact, it is the second-largest American Viticultural Area in the US.

Success in the region is so great that it inspired a Hill Country-themed Monopoly game. KSAT has the scoop on “Texas Hill Country Monopoly,” slated to hit the shelves sometime next year. Some board destinations include the New Braunfels railroad museum and the San Marcos Historic District. With the option for more destinations to be suggested by the community, it’s more than likely that we’ll see some popular wine properties as well. For now, though, it’s clear that when it comes to wine and games, Texas is winning both on and off the board.

The Texas Hill Country is home to many different and varied wine specialties, even among wineries within the same town. From Tempranillo to Merlot and Chenin Blanc, we truly do have it all.


The most impressive chip plant in the world could be coming to Texas

Semiconductor demand continues to surge as companies and governments work to establish microchip-production capabilities outside of Asia. Technology publication TechSpot reports the latest on Samsung, which plans to invest $205 billion in key industries, with $17 billion going toward building a new chip plant in the US. Two of these finalist locations, Austin and Taylor, are in Texas.

The first location, Austin, already houses a Samsung manufacturing facility. The other candidate is Taylor in Williamson County, home to the famed Texas bar-b-que monument Louie Mueller BBQ. Last week, Commissioners from Williamson County along with the Taylor City Council voted unanimously in favor of offering extensive tax breaks to the tech giant to help incentivize construction of the new chip production facility.

The Williamson County agreement calls for Samsung to construct a minimum of six million square feet of facilities before February 2026. They must also create 1,800 new jobs. If Samsung can meet these conditions, then the County will grant them reimbursement equal to 90% of ad valorem taxes paid in the plant’s first ten years. The rate will then be reduced to 85% in the second decade of the agreement.

Taylor city officials are gunning hard for the deal, and for good reason. The agreement is expected to create between 6,500 and 10,000 construction jobs in a massive 1,100-acre facility.

The Austin Business Journal spoke with Gary Farmer of Opportunity Austin, the economic development arm of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, about the Taylor offers. Farmer said the officials and staff in Taylor and Williamson County “should be applauded for putting their best foot forward, and for making what appears to be a very viable offer to attract one of the most important economic development deals in the history of the country.”

Farmer said he expects Austin and Travis County to put forward another compelling proposal so that Samsung has two great offers from Central Texas. “That will put us all in a very good position relative to this global competition,” he said.

Samsung has yet to make a final decision, but if they follow the trend of other big businesses recently, then Texas will be seeing a new $17 billion boom to its tech industry very shortly.


Surf’s up in Texas 200 miles from the ocean, Texans are hanging ten

NPR News explores a Waco, Texas development that can only be described as a modern-day mechanical marvel: “nearly 200 miles from the nearest ocean, nine surfers are bobbing beneath the Texas sun in what looks like a tropical lagoon.” Waco’s BSR Surf, which opened in 2018, has created an artificial wave machine so realistic that it attracts casual and pro surfers alike.

The waves are generated by a complex series of high-powered fans and computer algorithms designed to keep the action exciting and varied. Dave Likens, the resort’s COO, says “if it’s not changeable, and it’s not something that’s going to be a little bit different each time, you’re eventually going to get bored.” The resort’s algorithm can change the size, shape, and direction of each wave, and has settings attuned for beginners and experts alike.

Even though artificial waves aren’t anything new, the accessible nature of the BSR Surf Resort, as well as its leading technology and affordable prices, are more than enough to draw a crowd. The novelty of a surf resort 200 miles from shore doesn’t hurt either.

The hype surrounding BSR Surf Resort attracts a young generation of inland surfers who might not have the chance otherwise. 12-year-old Dane Grochowski recalls his experience getting caught in a barrel and wiping out and loving every second of it. Even pros like Hawaii-born Carissa Moore are using the facility. Before bringing home an Olympic gold medal from Tokyo this summer, Carissa trained at BSR Surf Resort and a similar wave pool in Japan.

Artificial waves are revolutionizing the sport of surfing in the United States. With precise control over the type of wave and its intensity, everyone can have a customizable and enjoyable experience. BSR Surf Resort is at the forefront of this new surfing craze, and they deliver a product like no other. As NPR News so aptly put it, “it’s now clear that if you build the right wave, even in central Texas, surfers will come — and shred.”


These Sisters are responsible for the best tacos in town

Armed with just $6,000, some family recipes, and a dream, sisters Reyna and Maritza built a taco truck empire that’s taken Austin by storm. The New York Times reports on the siblings, who opened their first truck, Antojitos Veracruz, in 2006. Before the national food truck craze really took off, Reyna was worried that “people weren’t used to buying from a food truck.” These doubts would soon be cast aside as their food truck gained popularity rapidly among Austinites.

Just six years after they first opened their doors, the sisters were invited as caterers on Sixth Street for Austin’s famed South by Southwest, a huge opportunity for any ambitious restaurateur. A mere three years after that milestone, the duo was featured publicly again, this time on the Food Network show “Top 5 restaurants.” For a duo known for their grace and humility, they sure do know how to make their way into the limelight.

Their rise to foodie stardom is no accident. Throughout their journey, Reyna and Maritza proved to be humble and hardworking owners with a passion for bringing traditional Mexican flavors to Austin. Their menus feature traditional recipes that their mother cooked for them in Veracruz, and if the lines are any indication, it’s very good. Veracruz now has over five locations (four food trucks and one permanent) and is looking to expand even further in the future.

Despite the overwhelming success of Veracruz All Natural Tacos, the owners have sometimes felt as though they’ve lost touch with their original community. The majority of their patrons are now non-Hispanic. According to Reyna, “I miss talking to people in Spanish.” The sisters have also felt disconnected from the primarily male-dominated circle of chefs in Austin.

To remedy these feelings, Veracruz now hosts salsa nights featuring Latin singers and themes. This has helped to liven the mood and reinvigorate the sense of community that appeared to have faded.

With a second brick-and-mortar location planned soon, Reyna and Maritza have proven their authentic style and desire for high-quality Mexican street food can be wildly popular in Austin. Their food truck pioneering has also been successful and has set the stage for many newcomers to flourish as well. If you’re downtown, at the park, maybe even on the road, and are craving some world-class tacos, I’ve got just the places in mind.

Walker sprints to stardom

About 10 years ago my son and Crosswind’s digital director JT Graham was pursuing a degree in Nashville as an audio engineer. While sitting in a small restaurant, we’re searching the web for apartments when a friendly guy offered to help. Walker Hayes suggested several places he knew that might be worth looking at and ultimately connected JT to a neighbor who had a studio apartment for lease.

We became fast friends, visiting him and his wife Laney several times at their chaotic, fun, and laughter-filled home where the kids would climb on a balance beam and hang from parallel bars in the living room using their sofa for a safe landing.

Walker is now a country music sensation after his hit-song “Fancy Like” caught fire on Tik Tok, detailed here in his interview with Chicago’s WGN TV, about a fancy date night with his wife of 17 years.

In the interview, he explains his longtime career, including a record deal in 2010, where his first music video was shot in Austin on a street corner where musicians performed for tips. The video, She Can Wear The Pants, also features his relationship with his wife, who reminds him at the end of the video, “You forgot to put the tip jar out, didn’t you?”

So what’s his secret to overnight success — after almost 20 years of trying to make it big? “You have to love what you’re doing.”

Congrats Walker Hayes, you deserve it. If you want to catch him when he’s back in Texas, he’ll be singing at the iHeart Music Festival in Austin on October 30th.


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