Leaf doesn’t fall far from the tree
Inspired by family, local son pursues Austin restaurant venture
By LPR Staff
At first glance, it might seem that an environmentally sensitive salad restaurant in the burgeoning “Second Street District” of downtown Austin might not have much to do with the Barbecue Capital of Texas. However, a second glance reveals tiny touches of fa
miliarity that bring the picture clearly into focus.
Jon Michelson, 36, never had a dream of owning a restaurant. Still, Michelson said the pieces for his business venture simply fell into place.
“I didn”t necessarily know that I wanted to operate a restaurant,” the son of Abbi and David “Buddy” Michelson said between phone calls and vendor visits. “And I haven”t really lived in Central Texas since high school. But was raised in a family of entrepreneurs – my grandfather ran his own business, my father ran his own business, and now my brother runs his business. I always knew that I wanted to do something on my own.”
Michelson said the concept for the business was born when he and his business partner found similar restaurants in Denver, Chicago and New York.
“Originally, we thought about starting up in Chicago,” he said. “But it didn”t take us long to realize that trying to open a restaurant in the third-largest city in the country was a little bit daunting. We did some research and found there was not any place like this in Austin, and thought it was the perfect location.”
Michelson added he was thrilled about the opportunity to come back to Central Texas.
“I have lived all over, in Boston, Atlanta, Chicago – but this is home, and it called me back,” he said.
The irony of being a native son of the Barbecue Capital of Texas and owning and operating a salad restaurant in a trendy Austin neighborhood does not escape Michelson”s attention.
“I told Rick [Schmidt] that I have the “Anti-Kreuz,” he laughed about a recent conversation with the longtime family friend.
Although amusing, Michelson”s statement could not be any more true.
Leaf, located at the corner of Second Street and San Antonio in downtown Austin, is everything the Lockhart barbecue icon is not. Its high windows, bright green walls and cheery décor make it clear from the start that Leaf is just a touch different.
Though the restaurant caters to the downtown Austin lunch crowd, key elements, such as deli sandwiches, greasy burgers and fried foods are conspicuously absent. Leaf is, in fact, a salad restaurant. What”s more, whenever possible, Leaf uses recycled, recyclable and biodegradable materials, including their take-out containers, napkins, drink cups and plasticware.
“It all goes in together,” Michelson said. “If we”re going to have a product that is healthy for the customer, we should extend that and be environmentally healthy, as well.”
Still, Leaf has a singularly “Texan” atmosphere, marked here and there with tributes to Michelson”s upbringing as the son of loyal Longhorns. For instance, the mainstay of Leaf”s menu is “The Big 12,” a selection of pre-designed salads with names such as the “West Campus,” the “Cesar Chavez,” and “Abbi”s Asian Chicken,” (which Michelson admits was inspired by a salad his mother is known for preparing).
The restaurant opened in mid-April and has drawn sparkling reviews from a number of local publications and websites. While he is excited about the success, Michelson said his greatest excitement is elsewhere.
“Really it”s not about the restaurant, even though it”s nice that I”m living my dream of doing something on my own,” he said. “The best part is that I get to do that, and it gave me an excuse to come home.”