Origin Studio House Gives Underrepresented Austinites a Place to Gather
Dante Clemons, Moyo Oyelola and Brittney Williams’s coffee house will feature event spaces, galleries, studios and more
By Bryan C. Parker
Photos courtesy of Isaac Rowry
Founder portraits courtesy of Moyo Oyelola
Years before they met, Dante Clemons, Moyo Oyelola and Brittney Williams wrestled with the same persistent feeling of not seeing themselves reflected in the city where they lived. They could feel a void that needed to be filled, and that sense worked as a force that pulled them together. Now, they’re aiming for their new project — a multifaceted coffee shop and creative space called Origin Studio House — to provide that same magnetism for the wider network of Austin’s Black community.
“For me, the idea of a coffee shop came when I was standing 9,000 miles away in Johannesburg, in a city that’s, like, 90 percent Black, and conceptualizing how this defines social needs,” Oyelola says. He explains that physical spaces define and unite a community, giving them “a frequency, an orientation, a cadence.”
In Johannesburg, he saw businesses with Black owners, with Black art on the walls, where Black patrons were busy working — a hub of activity that served both economic and interpersonal needs. Oyelola, who was born in Nigeria and moved to Austin at age seven, wanted that same energy back in the city where he was living.
He ran the idea by Williams, who saw his vision at once. When Origin Studio House opens later this year it will serve coffee, of course, but it will also feature a private event space, a dedicated room for producing podcasts, galleries of work by local artists, and a spacious lawn for outdoor film screenings. She says that the coffee shop is just a vehicle for the real mission, which is creating a space where an underrepresented part of Austin’s population can both feel seen as well as connect to share ideas.
Black Austinites made up only about 6.9 percent of the city’s total population according to data collected in 2020. That was down from about 7.7 percent a decade ago and falls considerably below the total percentage of Black Americans, which is around 12.4 percent. Clemons describes being a Black Austinite with a metaphor: “It’s like going into Whole Foods and there’s only bread and eggs,” she says. “You’re like, where are the radishes? Where is the kale? Where is the ham? If you have a dish, you just need other flavors.”
Clemons, who was born in New Orleans and lived in New York before moving to Austin in 2015, worked previously with a non-profit organization that programmed events for young professionals — a job that illuminated a couple of specific struggles. First, finding space that wasn’t expensive to rent was always next to impossible. And secondly, she saw Austin drawing a crowd of young Black professionals who’d gotten great jobs here, but frequently shared a similar story: “I can’t find community in Austin,” they’d tell her. They planned to ride the good job for a while before making a move to Houston or Dallas.
The trio didn’t want to wait until they secured a physical space to start addressing such a clear need in their community, so they planned a series of pop-up events. Their first, the Come Thru, was hosted in East Austin at Distribution Hall last November and featured cocktails, portraits sessions, food and a DJ. In March, they hosted the Come Up at Laguna Gloria, which again featured food, drink and music, as well as some panel conversations with talented professionals such as Emmer & Rye chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph.
Origin Studio House’s pop-up events acted as a proof of concept for the space they dreamed of creating, allowing investors and community members to see their vision in action. Clemons speaks with conviction and a deep understanding of the problem Origin Studio House aims to reconcile.
“The Black experience in Austin is ephemeral,” she says. “Origin is about the physical space — it’s a cornerstone. You should have a place to come Sunday to Sunday where you can feel like you have a home.” In her experience, she’s found that some clubs might host certain nights or one-off events that cater to Austin’s Black community, but if you return to those same establishments the next day, you’d find an entirely different experience.
In creating Origin Studio House, Clemons, Oyelola and Williams interrogated themselves relentlessly, considering a variety of layouts and arrangements, even examining specific heights of stools and seating. They kept accessibility and comfort in mind to make the space as welcoming and communal as possible. It’s fitting that Origin Studio House will occupy an actual house on Austin’s East Side. In many ways, it aims to be a homecoming for its patrons, even if they’re arriving for the first time.
Clemons says, “We want folks to feel anchored and that they can stay here and take part in the growth of Austin, because it’s a wonderful place to be.”