IndieAustin: Freestyle Language

Freestyle Languages, founded by former French instructor Elizabeth Mack, has a mission to connect people through language. Being an incurable Francophile has its challenges in the middle of Texas, but as a UT alum she insists: everything is possible in Austin! However, the dynamics driving the Freestyle mission go well beyond France. Elizabeth considers the most extraordinary example of the potential for human connection and social change through language learning to be the one set by Nelson Mandela: he had learned Afrikaans during his 27-year imprisonment to successfully negotiate an end to Apartheid.  “Speak to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head… speak to him in his own language, it goes to his heart,” said Mandela. Happily, Elizabeth reminds us, the human brain is designed specifically for language (yes, at any age!) and for connection. 

At Texas State University, Elizabeth had grown increasingly disenchanted with the academic model, and before long she found herself ‘in trouble’ for using her own strategies over the mandated curriculum. Digging deeper, she discovered that language learning science is solid, yet nobody seems to use it. Armed with little more than a love for learning languages—no curriculum, instructors or financial backing—she left her position to start Freestyle in 2012.  

During the span of eight years, Freestyle developed a methodology, curriculum and team while enjoying a growing community of adult Spanish, French and Italian learners. Success stories multiplied as learners enjoyed the stress-free and science-backed model: in the end, it’s all about having fun! (Bilingual wine tasting, anybody?) They had a good thing going. Then, COVID-19. 

It is said that success can be found at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. While it’s hard to love any opportunity associated with this pandemic, here it was. In 2017, Freestyle had started working on an online model, ready to reach the world. With learning outcomes as a ‘North Star’, the team worked for two years on just one course to get it right, insisting on only using what results in success. For language learning online, it’s all about the ‘flipped’ model (recorded video in conjunction with live face-to-face virtual interaction.) Success and fun are not mutually exclusive online!  With synchronous and asynchronous options, Freestyle now loves being 100% online. The pandemic has spared few small businesses, but despite the challenges, having learners and instructors across the country and globe, in both a B2C and now a thriving B2B program, is a potential dream (out of a nightmare?)  

Freestyle’s corporate ‘Language at Work’ program offers specialized language training ranging from fields such as construction (now with ESL for Spanish speakers) to UX design, as more firms incorporate a language strategy for the many competitive and team benefits. This program is very useful and really speaks to the spirit of Austin! Yes, beloved Austin… Freestyle considers itself a devout Austin local! Developing meaningful partnerships with local organizations who share a global vision (Whole Planet Foundation, Well Aware, Austin Vida, and Austin Opera to name a few) multiplies our ability to connect through language and enhance our cultural capital. Find more information about Freestyle Languages here or call them at 888-982-HOLA. C’est magnifique! #GoLocal #ThinkGlobal #WineTheGreatFluencyBuilder 

IndieAustin: Restart CBD

You might be wondering how Austin born and raised sisters Shayda, Sydney, and Nika Torabi got into the cannabis industry in Texas. It all started when Shayda was in an auto-pedestrian accident in Downtown Austin. “In 2015, as a pedestrian, I was hit by a car, leaving me with a fractured sacrum, pelvis and fractured nose. For months I went through a series of PT treatments. I was taking steroid injections on a weekly basis, but the pain lingered. When my doctor recommended surgery, my mother suggested I try CBD first. My mother had already been researching CBD as a natural remedy for pain relief. And when she discovered that it also promoted bone growth and could help with the healing process, she started giving me CBD lotions, tinctures, and vapes to consume this ‘fairly new to market’ natural herb. After taking CBD for a few months, I began to notice the pain was gone from my pelvis. Since that time, the Torabi family has used CBD to help provide healing and recovery, and to promote overall wellness day-to-day through constant, low dosage consumption.”

In 2018, the sisters launched RESTART CBD, Austin’s #1 CBD brand. They operate a retail location in North Austin at 2521 Rutland Drive #150A as well as offer their products to ship nationwide from their eCommerce website When you shop at RESTART CBD with the Torabi sisters (aka the #CBDSISTERS), you can expect high quality CBD products with a variety of options to choose from. They really care about not only the quality of the products they carry, but about educating you on the therapeutic benefits of this medicinal plant. RESTART CBD is an education-first brand, and their team always welcomes any and all questions from those who are curious. They love sharing their knowledge and resources in an effort to help their customers feel confident when purchasing CBD products. CBD is available in sublingual tinctures, topicals, vape products, edibles and pet products. But RESTART CBD also offers a wide selection of hemp flower, also known as CBD flower sold in prerolls and grams to ounces. Nothing beats the rapid delivery of cannabinoids into the bloodstream than smoking flower. They have over 15 strains Ii their shop and you can view more information on their website. CBD Products are made with industrial hemp, not marijuana. And contain <.3% THC. Hemp flower is non-psychoactive but does provide a wide range of medicinal and therapeutic effects.

As born and raised Austinites, the Torabi sisters couldn’t be more grateful to be building their brand in their hometown. RESTART CBD aims to be a resource for their community, and to  champion a healthy relationship with cannabis- and plant-based medicine. Visit RESTART CBD at 2521 Rutland Drive #150A (corner of Burnet Rd.), 512-843-7223, Follow them on instagram @restartcbd, and on youtube for more resources

IndieAustin: Tito’s Handmade Vodka

Tito’s Handmade Vodka is the creation of former geophysicist, Tito Beveridge (yes, that is his real name). After earning his degree at UT Austin, Tito’s career path took him from running heli-portable dynamite seismic crews in South America to mortgage brokering back here in Texas. Somewhere along the way, he started infusing vodka with ingredients like habaneros to give to friends. One night, at a party, a stranger approached him, “Hey, you’re the vodka guy!” Still selling mortgages, he quickly corrected the man with, “No, I’m the mortgage guy,” but that got him thinking…

Inspired, and during a time of self-reflection, Tito drew a line down a sheet of paper, listed his skills and passions, and looked for overlap. Soon enough, he set out to distill vodka. On a plot of land outside Austin, he built a one-room shack and started building stills based on photos of old moonshiners and prohibition-era busts. He toyed with the still and the recipe until the result was “a vodka so smooth you could drink it straight.”

Then he hit a wall.

Tito tried to get some financing, but investors turned him down, convinced he would fail. The State of Texas had never been home to a legal distillery, after all. So, with a mix of savings and 19 credit cards (on which he racked up about $88,000), he funded himself.

Hunched over books of code, he soon discovered nothing in the law prevented him from starting a vodka operation. He convinced the state to let him incorporate and obtained the first legal distilling permit in Texas, selling his first case in 1997. For years, he spent most days alone in the shack, distilling, hand-filling, and labeling every bottle.

During those early days, Tito started donating product to local nonprofit fundraising events. He would show up with a case, pour drinks, and serve them with a simple request: “If you like it, tell 20 of your closest friends.” Over the years, this small, localized gesture evolved into a nationwide movement as the company grew, empowering employees, customers, and fans to make a difference in their communities through the Love, Tito’s and Vodka for Dog People programs.

With a goal to turn spirits into love and goodness by joining forces with nonprofits across the country, Tito’s works to give back in meaningful ways. One of their latest projects is a new Love, Tito’s retail space downtown at 215 Lavaca Street. 100% of net proceeds of whatever you purchase – a new collar for your four-legged friend, a Tito’s tee, some branded barware — go to the nonprofits they support.

While you can’t enjoy a Tito’s there due to Texas liquor laws, the store has a bar finder listing local spots that serve up Tito’s cocktails, brand new merchandise, a doggy photo booth, and more.

IndieAustin: Tapestry Dance

Tapestry Dance is both 30 years old and brand new in their new home at 2015 East Riverside Drive – behind Taco More.  Founded in 1989, Tapestry leapt onto the international stage and instantly became a highly regarded multi-dance form company and academy.  The professional company actually exists as the only full-time professional dance company specializing in rhythm tap dance in the world and the organization hosts one of the oldest international tap festivals worldwide every June. But Tapestry’s reach extended far beyond the performing dance world with its multiform dance academy that makes dance accessible to everyone of all ages and levels.

Co-Founding Artistic Directors Acia Gray and Deirdre Strand created Tapestry to bring together the diverse worlds of tap dance, contemporary, ballet, modern, and jazz.  Over the decades, Tapestry’s reputation and expertise in tap and tap fusion has earned a global reputation. As well, the company’s Annual Soul to Sole International Tap Festival brings together dancers from all parts of the world in a multi-day celebration of dance technique and history every June and exists as one of the oldest tap festivals in existence.

Tapestry Dance Company is a resident company of the Long Center and presents a full season of performances as well as touring many productions across the US and abroad. Tapestry Dance Company concerts are known for telling profound stories and looking at compelling issues through a fusion of dance, music, poetry, and percussion as well as celebratory tributes to this indigenous American art form.

On the educational front, Tapestry Dance Academy has taught dancers of all levels and from all walks of life with astonishing results.  Students of the company’s training programs have gone on to professional dance careers not only with Tapestry itself but with STOMP, Michelle Dorrance Dance, Momix, Doug Varone & Dancers, The Rhythmic Arts, and Sound Movement in New York City to name a few.  In a non-competition atmosphere, youth and adult students looking for anything from professional honing to a great workout have found themselves in Tapestry dance classes. The academy’s focus is on increasing self-confidence and self-expression while celebrating the history and technique of each style of dance –  allowing students to become dancers in the truest sense: through their art, they share themselves with their families and their communities whether for recreation or professional training.

Tapestry celebrates more than dance, more than rhythm, more than art–it celebrates life itself.  Tapestry’s dances, concerts, classes, and faculty all embrace the art form of dance and the rhythm that connects us all.

Now that Tapestry Dance has found its new home in the Riverside neighborhood, this long-standing, nonprofit organization stands ready to welcome dancers of all ages and from all parts of Austin and beyond.  Who is the ideal person to take a class at Tapestry Dance or go see a show?  You and your family! If you are alive then your heart has a beat; come celebrate that beat and the rhythm of your life with a dance class at Tapestry!

You can find out more about Tapestry Dance, the professional company, the academy and our various AISD outreach programS and scholarships at

Sharing the Power of Dance Since 1989

UPCOMING EVENTS at The Long Center/The Rollins Theatre ( for tickets)

Of Mice & Music – A Jazz Tap Nutcracker (December 12th – 22nd)

Looking Forward/Looking Back (March 26th-29th 2020) – premiere

IndieAustin: Think Big! Program

The Think Big! Program and its creators, Sandy Stewart (Founder) and Natalie Rodgers (Program Designer), are based right in the heart of the South First IBIZ District. They support small business growth here at home in Austin, as well as across the United States.

The Think Big! Program is a training program that was initially designed in 2007 as a spin-off product of Swiss Avenue Partners, its parent company. Swiss Avenue Partners’ proprietary training tools and methodologies were redesigned to fit the small- and micro-business needs and became the Think Big! Program. At the heart of all of their tools is the objective to support companies in understanding their business value and how to grow it.

From day one of starting the company in Sacramento, Sandy had her sights set on moving the company to Austin where she had already been living previously for 6+ years. As she says ‘Once an Austinite, always an Austinite’. She was sure to tell anyone in California who called her a Californian, ‘oh no, I’m a Texan who just happens to be living in California’. She moved the company’s headquarters to Austin in 2010 and never looked back.

When it’s time to put their strategic hats on for their own business, they get out of the office and head to some of their favorite Austin spots like Barton Springs Pool or the Austin Public Library. They can also be seen out and about checking out the local coffee shops and restaurants when they want to get into a creative thinking mode.

The curriculum teaches business skills, from the basic to the complex. Some have even referred to it as their own customized MBA program, specifically tailored to their company’s needs. Business owners and key (or upcoming) managers learn skills, know-how, and shortcuts for how to run a better business.

It includes topics that range from Direct and Indirect Sales, Strategic Planning modules, Financial Modeling lessons to modules dedicated to hiring and managing staff and developing high-functioning managers.

Because the program services a multitude of industries, they have fun playing in all different types of companies; bakeries, accounting firms, IT consulting firms, confectioners, manufacturing, construction, auto transportation, and senior care services to name a few. In all, they’ve helped over 67 different industries.

There are some areas that the program does not focus on, and in those areas the team at Think Big! Program becomes a referral source for a multitude of B2B service providers. They often uncover business needs that are best served by other experts, such as Marketing consulting, CPA and accounting services, bookkeeping services, IT consulting, legal services to just about anything that a small business might ever need.

Because the Think Big! Program team lives and breathes a value of community, they are keen to know well any B2B professional service neighbors so that their clients have a matchmaking experience that provides the best fit referral tailored to their need and personality style.   

Sandy and Natalie were excited to join AIBA because they felt such a strong match of values between the Think Big! Program and the AIBA community. Both care deeply about small businesses and believe that strong, healthy, small business growth is what fuels a healthy economy and feeds a local community with flavor and style.

You never know when you might see them around town teaching at luncheons, breakfasts, webinars, or other events. Please introduce yourself. They are eager to get to know their fellow AIBA members and fans.

Contact the team at Think Big! Program via email at, by phone at (512) 686-3600 or visit their online academy at Check out the parent company at

IndieAustin: Hoover’s Cooking

It’s 2pm on a bright Friday afternoon and the lunch rush at Hoover’s Cooking is still simmering with laughter and conversation. The welcoming scent of smoked meat drifts through the open dining room where new and longtime customers enjoy generous plates of the city’s finest comfort food. Hoover’s Cooking is twenty-one years old and still going strong, thanks to the inspired efforts of owner Hoover Alexander and his mission to promote, maintain, and protect Austin’s culinary traditions.

“I’m a guardian of Austin restaurant history,” he says. “I maintain that honest, straightforward niche, help bridge the old and the new, and celebrate and honor the unsung heroes of the past and present. At some point, pride becomes a brand of its own.”

To understand where he’s coming from, you have to go all the way back to 1932, the year the Night Hawk restaurant opened. The chain, whose last Night Hawk Frisco Shop closed its doors last year after a 65-year run, employed women and minorities before such things were politically correct, and was Austin’s first fully integrated restaurant. Its owner, Harry Akins, was an innovator, entrepreneur, and food quality evangelist. (He raised his own beef to ensure the quality of Night Hawk’s steaks and hamburgers.) The Night Hawk and Frisco Shop were legendary, and Hoover Alexander started working there when he was in college and went on to learn every thing there is to know about running a successful restaurant business.

“I worked every single position there. I started as a busboy and ended up doing everything, he says.” One of the unsung heroes he honor to this day—he thinks a lot about life’s unsung heroes—is Mr. Leon, a longtime Night Hawk friend who showed Hoover how much love, effort, and labor it took to make the food that made the Night Hawk so special. “Mr. Leon worked there forever. He had a third- or fourth-grade education, could read bible verses and recipes, and was a real inspiration to me. He mentored me. He taught me how to make gumbo, pie shells, the whole from-scratch thing.”

Fast-forward to now, an era of lightning-fast growth and a super competitive restaurant market. Where does that leave Hoover’s Cooking, an Austin institution of the highest degree? “ We have to constantly reinvent ourselves, keep giving the customer what they like, “ he says. “ You have to keep marketing to the new population when you aren’t the new kid on the block. You just have to keep your name out there.”

Adapting to change and staying relevant is right up there with being “honestly, sincerely grateful” for the twenty-plus years as the captain of his own ship. Hoover says, “after this long, you have the perspective of a business owner, and you start to really appreciate the core group of employees who don’t get the credit, but do get the blame.” Several members of this core group have been with Hoover since the beginning, back to when he owned
GoodEats. “I get up every day and set the dial for ‘G,’ for grateful,” he says. I have a lot to be grateful for.

Visit Hoover’s cooking at 2002 Manor Road, 512-479-5006,

—Story and photo by Ann Guidry