Ben's Long Branch BBQ
900 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702
In 1927 the Austin City Council engaged the services of Dallas/Fort Worth-area urban planning and consulting firm, Koch and Fowler, to produce the city’s first municipal plan and zoning map. The work of Koch and Fowler resulted in the City Plan of 1928 and is the legal basis for the establishment of East Austin as a Negro District. Blacks, and later Hispanics, were moved to East Austin because it was the only area in which they could receive city services, such as water and electricity.
The federal government launched a New Deal program that would reinforce segregationist boundaries in Austin and throughout the country. The program was designed to restore household wealth during the Great Depression, but it excluded most minority communities through redlining — the practice of denying or charging more for goods and services in certain neighborhoods, usually determined by race. The City Plan, sometimes referred to as the ‘negro plan,’ specified development of parks, schools and other facilities within roughly a six-mile area and incentivized the displacement with city-funded programs. The area designated was across East Avenue, later named Interstate 35.
In 1995, city Council member Eric Mitchell’s Austin Redevelopment Authority initiative to bring investment and commerce to the nearly inert economy along East 11th and 12th Streets helped to jump start the 14-member private corporation charged with implementation of the plan, called the Austin Revitalization Authority. Particularly considering the lack of neighborhood representation; Austin Revitalization Authority’s membership included bankers, developers, Chamber representatives, and area business owners. Fast-forward to today, and East 11th has seen a boom of new businesses and housing.
Ben Wash opened his original Ben's Long Branch BBQ in the Montopolis neighborhood. In 1981, he moved it to a prime location, one block east of I-35, just past the entrance to the newly renovated East 11th street. For more than 36 years Ben Wash kept his doors open during times of great transition on East Austin’s 11th street, an area known as the heart of the city’s African-American life. Although Wash’s restaurant is no longer open for business, many of Austin’s East Side residents remember it as one of the last remaining links to the African-American history of the neighborhood.
Ben’s Long Branch BBQ was open for more than 25 years until its closing for good in 2009. Ben Wash was well known as an expert pit boss, specializing in the traditional meats of African American barbecue, namely mutton and pool butt, although brisket. The space was taken over by Aaron Franklin, who brought the long lines with him, and whose barbecue caters to a predominately white audience, which reflects the changes taking place on the outskirts of Austin’s downtown just east of I-35. What was once a primary African American community per the 1928 city plan has gentrified steadily since 2007, with condos, boutiques, and hip bars and restaurants cropping up where long-standing black churches, shoes and cafés once were.
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