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Making Their Mark: 5 Impactful Austinites Who Led the Way in 2022

We talk to Lawson Craddock, Phillip Frankland Lee, Margarita Kallas-Lee, Evan Smith and Patricia Vonne about their careers and accomplishments

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Patricia Vonne | Evan Smith | Lawson Craddock | Phillip Frankland Lee & Margarita Kallas-Lee

Patricia Vonne

As a director, musician, actor and producer, Patricia knows no limits

Coined “The Renaissance Women of Austin” by “The New York Times,” Patricia Vonne truly juggles it all as a creative entity that never ends — from writing her own songs and performing worldwide, to now writing and directing her debut film “Cold Dark Hollow.” What started as taking classes at the Austin School of Film led to time in Paris at film festivals, writing courses and a vision. Taking notes from her brother Robert Rodriguez (well-known filmmaker), and with massive help from Erin Lee Lopez, she built up a skeleton crew and made her vision take a living breath and come to life on screen.

It’s truly incredible how she takes so much inspiration from her culture and surroundings.

She wanted this to be a simple suspense with a positive message. The film is based on women empowerment using real needles (acupuncture), showcasing “how a relationship can turn toxic quickly, and you’re essentially in a twilight zone,” described Vonne. It stars her sister Angela Lanza and is written, directed and edited by Patricia Vonne herself. The film has won the following accolades: Winner for Best Women Empowerment Short at Paris International Short Festival, Best Thriller at Cannes Shorts 2022, Best Actress at Cannes Independent Film Fest, Best Cinematography at Madrid Int. Film Fest, Best Drama and Best Actress at NY Int. Film Awards, Official Selection at Nice International Film Festival, Florence Movie Awards, Rome Doc Film Fest, Barcelona Planet Film Festival and NYC Film Fest.

When asked why the title “Cold Dark Hollow,” Vonne says there is a San Antonio rock band called The Infidels, and in their song “Down Here,” there is a lyric featuring “cold dark hollow” — which inspired her in more ways than one. Often in new projects, Vonne finds herself sourcing her heritage. She takes a little bit of her past and ensures it’s in her future, inspiring her.

For example, when asked how her Texas roots inspire her, Vonne says, “Tremendously, without even knowing it.” One of the most important cities for Latin music, San Antonio is home to a long list of musical icons including Steve Earl and Rosie Flores. Vonne is an Austin resident currently and has been for about a decade, but she travels between the two to see family and work. She gushed about the modernness and edge of Austin and the heritage and history of San Antonio, making Texas an inspirational place to call home. It’s truly incredible how she takes so much inspiration from her culture and surroundings.

As an actress, musician, director, etc. you wouldn’t think she was a shy kid, but Vonne swears it and says she didn’t speak until she was four. Growing up watching MGM films and attending live shows sure pushed her to go the creative route and made her love the scenery. Her parents, she says, were huge influences on her and her siblings, always having mariachis over for special occasions and singing together.

One thing about Vonne, she’ll go big before she goes home. This is true about everything she does. She’s currently wrapping up a tour in Germany, making her fans happy and always working on the next thing. During the pandemic, she worried about low-income families and how they would be taken care of. She rallied her fans and ended up feeding 70,000 people at the food bank.

“Thank god I learned how to go live,” she says about live streaming. She entertained her fans in exchange for their donations. Vonne sometimes dresses up as her “Sin City” character sings live to raise money for her local food bank. Renaissance woman indeed.

Vonne has eight diverse and unique albums on her label Bandolera Records. She frequently tours, keeping her inspired and meeting fans from the Netherlands to Hamburg and everywhere in between — allowing her to work with other artists such as Chris Isaak, Los Lobos, The Mavericks, Alejandro Escovedo and Joe King Carrasco. Acting-wise, she played Dallas in “Sin City” and “Sin City 2,” amongst other roles, and she’s acted with some of the best and most well-known names in Hollywood — including Bruce Willis, Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo and Antonio Banderas. However, she’s nowhere near done despite her impressive career. With “CDH” doing as well as it did for her first directed film, Vonne no doubt has more to show us in the future. You’ll see her in “Spy Kids Armageddon” on Netflix here soon! Patty and Tony are actually named after her and her brother Robert. Whether it’s more albums, roles in films or directing her own, she will undoubtedly continue making a name for herself.

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Evan Smith

After 13 years of service as “Texas Tribune” CEO, he’s passing the torch to successor Sonal Shah

By Liz Harroun
Photos by Weston Carls

Evan Smith is no Texas native. He grew up around New York City and attended college in upstate New York. He then got his graduate degree in Chicago, where he somehow learned about “Texas Monthly” magazine. Even though he had only passed through Texas once, as soon as he read “Texas Monthly,” he knew he wanted to work there and started writing to the editor as soon as he left graduate school — and for three years thereafter, until he got a job there in 1991.

He spent 18 years at “Texas Monthly,” eventually becoming the top editor, before leaving in 2009 to co-found the “Texas Tribune.” And to him, dedicating the past three decades to these two incredible organizations has been nothing short of amazing.

“I had the opportunity to inherit a place that was already in business, and has been so successful and iconic. And then I had a chance to build a place that didn’t exist from scratch, and became iconic.”

The transition to the “Texas Tribune” was as natural as it gets, and he still has tremendous respect for “Texas Monthly” and those he worked with there, many of whom were his best friends. At a certain point, he just knew it was time to move on and try something different. “I didn’t so much leave there as go here,” he says.

In 2009, when Evan knew his career at “Texas Monthly” was coming to a close, he was simultaneously coming to the realization of how news organizations and field reporters had declined over the past two decades — and that news was just not being reported as much overall.

We hoped it would work. We believed in the need for it.

The goal in founding the “Texas Tribune” was to create a free, nonpartisan news outlet that covers policy, politics and social issues. The founders set out to empower people to participate civically and vote.

“I and the other people associated with the start of the ‘Texas Tribune’ believed it needed to be done,” says Evan. “We had a state that was woefully under-engaged. People were not getting the kind of information that allows them to be the best versions of themselves. The kind of information that allows them to be more thoughtful and productive citizens.”

But starting their own publication was no small feat. Initially, there was a lot of uncertainty around if the “Texas Tribune” would be sustainable. As a nonprofit, fundraising has always been a challenge, and for Evan, is the most harrowing part of the job to this day.

“We hoped it would work. We believed in the need for it. We were not wrong to start it. But also there’s a lot about the starting of business that you don’t control. And so we’re very lucky that we were able to make this thing work and to have had the impact that we’ve had.”

The “Texas Tribune” has raised $100 million, won several awards and made an impact on countless readers’ lives since it was founded. Unfortunately, even as the population grows, voter turnout and civic engagement in Texas have continued to decline.

“We knew things were bad, and we worried they would get worse. Turned out, we didn’t know how right we were. They’ve only gotten worse over the 13 years.”

Obviously, the “Texas Tribune” is not the only solution. We need more well-funded news organizations working with integrity and independence. We need more people who care enough to inform themselves, who then take that information to the ballots.Even though Evan recognizes the need for the “Texas Tribune” is greater than ever, he also knows it’s time for him personally to move on as its leader. He feels his motivation waning, while the Tribune is running better than ever. It has raised the most money and has the most members in its history — and Evan knows he’s handing off a well-running organization.

“This organization deserves somebody who has the focus and the energy to make this thing the very best that it can be. I’m lagging a little bit after 13 years, and that tells me that it’s time to hand this off to somebody else with a lot of love and humility and gratitude and confidence.”

Sonal Shah will be his successor and, while Evan had nothing to do with the selection process, he says they are aligned about the mission and future of the Tribune. Sonal is coming from her role as an executive vice president at United Way, one of the world’s leading nonprofits. Her career has also included time at Google, the White House and Georgetown University — but she has always maintained roots in Texas, where she grew up.

In 2023, Evan will serve as advisor to Sonal and the Tribune as well as start his new venture as Senior Advisor to Emerson Collective, where he will help them to revamp the local news ecosystem in communities around the country. Emerson is a large funder of independent journalism and has been a supporter of the Tribune over the years. Evan is thrilled to take on this opportunity to help other organizations — much like “Texas Monthly” and the Tribune to which he’s contributed so much of his life too — to get funding and get off their feet.

“At this point, I’d much rather let somebody else do the running of the organization and instead be the person responsible for helping the people in leadership to succeed,” says Evan as he looks forward to his next chapter. “I have no ego in that. I simply want everybody else to succeed, and I want to do everything I can to help.”

Lawson Craddock

The tour de force has been a professional cyclist for almost a decade while calling Austin home

By Liz Harroun
Photos courtesy of Getty Sport

The sport of professional cycling doesn’t get a whole lot of love here in the U.S., despite being a sports-crazed country. The National Football League, for example, is supported by 55% of Americans. Basketball is the runner-up, with 36% of Americans calling themselves fans of the National Basketball Association. However, only about 400,000 Americans (about 0.1% of the population) watch the annual Tour de France, the most prestigious cycling race in the world.

I remember watching the Tour de France with my grandfather growing up. I was still traumatized from my first bike ride without training wheels when I ended up in the hospital for stitches, but he’d turn up the TV and tell us all to watch when they cut to Lance Armstrong. I didn’t understand the sport and (admittedly) thought it paled in comparison to football, which I’d watch with my dad. Where were the tackles and tactics and cheerleaders? And why was everyone so skinny?

Everyone is training and racing toward the same goal, and that’s one of the best things.

Well, as it turns out, cycling has plenty of excitement and team tactics. While my early years might have been all about football, my adult years slowly became more and more about cycling. Thanks to my boyfriend, I started riding bikes and attending local races — and eventually found myself watching the big Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) races on TV, this time with a newfound appreciation and understanding. And those of us who still tune into the Grand Tours from Texas, the man to watch is now Lawson Craddock.

Originally from Houston, Lawson knew he enjoyed riding bikes from a very young age. His dad, Tom Craddock, was a professional downhill mountain bike racer, and was very supportive when Lawson started racing at the Alkek Velodrome at 10 years old.

“The pathway to become a professional cyclist felt like the natural path laid in front of me,” Lawson says. “It felt like every step I took was leading to racing at the highest level.”

Lawson moved to Austin after high school to attend Austin Community College, thinking he’d attend the University of Texas. However, at the same time, he was getting opportunities to race on some of the best teams in the country, including the USA Cycling National Team. Eventually, competing at the highest level and attending classes became too demanding, and he quit school to train and race full time. After his junior years, he raced for a team called Livestrong that was founded by Lance Armstrong, who was a big supporter of Lawson in his early days. Eventually, Lawson started to split time between Austin and Europe and grew accustomed to this lifestyle where so much time was spent training and racing across the globe.

In 2018, Lawson made history finishing the Tour de France after suffering a bad crash in the first of 21 stages. He raced over 2,000 miles across three weeks with a busted eye and fractured scapula that caused severe pain and lack of sleep. Meanwhile, he used the opportunity to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Alkek Velodrome, which had been recently damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

The support and admiration he received is a testament to how winning isn’t the only way to inspire. That the suffering and persistence that come with losing — in showing up day after day when you know you are going to lose — demonstrate something innate that we can all relate to in some way. He also became the first rider in the 115-year history of the Tour to finish last in each of 21 stages, dutifully and undoubtedly earning the distinction of “lanterne rouge,” or the rider who finishes in last place of the Tour.

While the Tour de France is the most well-known, there are two other Grand Tours — the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España — both of which Lawson has also raced. He has also seen huge success in time trials and is currently the two-time defending National Time Trial Champion. In 2019, he got sixth in the Time Trial at the UCI World Championship in Yorkshire, and competed in the Tokyo Olympics time trial in 2020.

During his 20s, all while leading this incredible cycling career, Lawson also got married and had two children with his wife, Chelsie. They all split time between Austin and Gerona, Spain, so that Lawson can train and race year-round. He and his wife enjoy living in Europe part-time and allowing their kids to grow up around different cultures and ways of life, with the hope that this experience will have lifelong positive impacts. When they’re in Gerona, they miss Austin — and vice versa.

“They are both really incredible cities, and experiencing both is one of the things that we feel really lucky that this lifestyle has given us.” Having two young kids at home has made being on the road over 100 days each year more mentally difficult for Lawson because he misses spending time with them and watching them grow up. “Juggling the professional and personal side of the sport is difficult,” he says. “The biggest motivator for racing now is to give my kids and family the best life that I can.”

Both his two-year-old son and four-year-old daughter enjoy going to some of their dad’s races and have both already started riding themselves.

“Our daughter just learned how to ride a pedal bike, and then our son loves ripping around on the Strider , flying down stairs and hills,” Lawson laughs. “I feel like they’re just always beat up. But that’s a sign of a good childhood.”

As far as what’s next for Lawson, who turned 30 earlier this year and is coming up on a decade of professional racing, next year will be the second of a two-year contract with Australian-based Team BikeExchange. While many of us don’t think of cycling as a team sport, it’s critical to work together during high-level races.

“Everyone is training and racing toward the same goal, and that’s one of the best things: to go into these races as one unit, with seven or eight guys trying to get the best out of each other.” And, if you were wondering, Lawson still loves riding and training when he’s back in Austin.

“Being here in Austin is actually my favorite place to train,” he says. “You could make the argument that there are quieter and better roads in Gerona, but for me, there’s just something about being home that allows me to relax and enjoy the training. I also really love the cycling community in Austin. I can go rip around at the Driveway or local group rides on the weekend. It brings me back to why I got started in this sport, and that’s just for the love of riding your bike.”

Phillip Frankland Lee
& Margarita Kallas-Lee

In the last year, these top chefs have celebrated Michelin stars, the opening of Pasta|Bar in Austin and the birth of their first child

By Darcie Duttweiler
Photos by Weston Carls

At an age when most kids would be playing with toy fire trucks or building LEGO towers, Phillip Frankland Lee was overjoyed when his dad gifted him a professional chef’s knife on his third birthday.

“I know that sounds unbelievable, except there’s a video of it. So, it did happen!” Lee explains. “I’ve loved cooking my whole life. I was thirteen when I bought my first book on how to make sushi and decided that when I grow up, I want to be a sushi chef.”

But it didn’t happen overnight. While the skateboarding, drumming punk rocker would get into fights at school and tour with his band Alpha & Omega during the summer, he always loved coming home and baking bread. He started working as a dishwasher at 18 and, after quitting culinary school, worked his way up the ranks through the kitchens of Quinn Hatfield and Stefan Richter, as well as Alinea and L2O.

During a party in the Valley, Lee reconnected with a former middle school friend named Margarita Kallas, who had loved cooking with her grandparents back in Latvia and asked him if she should go to culinary school. He said no. Since Lee was a sous chef at a busy Santa Monica restaurant and worked seven days a week, he invited her into the restaurant after hours, where he had been secretly preparing a meal for her all week. It went well — the chef and pastry chef have been married for 10 years. When asked what it’s like being in a relationship with another chef, they both laugh.

“At first it was definitely very interesting to navigate, to say it lightly,” Kallas-Lee says. “But over the years we’ve really grown together and have learned to communicate in an amazing way. I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else.”

Our goal has always been that we wanted to change the way that people eat in America.

With his wife, Lee does indeed run a sushi restaurant these days, but there’s way more to their Scratch Restaurants empire. In addition to the 10-year- old flagship Scratch Bar & Kitchen in Los Angeles, there are five Sushi by Scratch and two Pasta|Bar locations serving tasting-menu meals in Austin, L.A., Montecito, Seattle and Miami — with two Michelin stars won in the past year. There’s also the new NADC Burger on Rainey Street that opened in October slinging smashburgers made with Texas ranch Iron Table Wagyu. In addition to another Sushi by Scratch slated to open in Montreal next year, the couple is working on an upcoming steakhouse on Sixth Street that they haven’t even decided on the name of yet, and they’re hard at work on a ranch in Cedar Creek, a project that is still very much hush-hush. On top of all that, they welcomed their first child, a daughter, this year.

“I’ve always thought you can’t make a difference with one restaurant, no matter how big it is,” Lee says. “You have to get out there and you have to sort of canvas to be able to actually make a difference. You have to get in everywhere. So our goal has always been that we wanted to change the way that people eat in America. But now it’s morphed a little bit more into that we want to change the way the industry works.”

This notion of transforming the restaurant industry is apparent in every restaurant Lee and Kallas-Lee open. They aim to give their staff above living wages because they think everyone should be able to own their own home, as well as offer robust health insurance and 401(K)s, which is rare in kitchens. The sole reason the team opened its original Sushi|Bar pop-up in 2020 was because L.A. closed indoor dining, and the couple wanted to keep all of their staff employed during the pandemic, so they moved everyone to Austin. Once Joe Rogan tasted their sushi at their omakase speakeasy, they sold out their initial run and decided to stay for good — and the rest, they say, is history.

Now, the duo focuses on Sushi by Scratch out at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, the new NADC Burger and Pasta|Bar — which Lee says he would not have opened if they hadn’t set up Austin as their home base because of how complicated the plating and dishes are.

“It just felt so nice to be here,” Kallas-Lee says. “It was fulfilling to come here and have so much support because in L.A, it was never like that. Austin is so special. All the chefs are just so supportive. I just felt so at home. So, yeah, we’re staying.”

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