Opinion: Selling coffee in Austin should not require a law degree

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Starting a business, creating something from nothing, requires passion and commitment. I had both when I decided to open a bar in Austin. What I didn’t have was a law degree, a valuable resource for navigating city regulations — a lesson I learned in 2015.

One day, while pushing my daughter in her stroller, I saw a rental house that was perfect for the community meeting place I had been thinking about for so long. I developed a business plan, secured financing, and signed a lease. What followed was not a grand opening but months of red tape.

On one occasion when I went to the city permit office, I took a completed form with me only to find out that the document required notarization. I had to go offline and start over. Sometimes I navigate the bureaucratic hurdles correctly, but in the wrong order. And other times I didn’t know I had to submit, only to find out I wasn’t in compliance after moving forward without submitting documents.

Such mistakes are easy to make. Austin does not offer a master checklist for entrepreneurs and has no central information center. Instead, the city exercises its regulatory powers over multiple sites from multiple agencies. Food waste and paper recycling go to the Resource Recovery Office. The grease trap paper goes to the industrial waste section. The alarm system paper goes to the police department.

Few if any city workers see the big picture. They can only seem rational in isolation, they only understand what is happening in their own silos. However, the cumulative effect can be overwhelming for business applicants who are blindly looking for the finish line. Lack of clarity can make anyone feel lost.

Cities workThe Institute of Justice, a non-partisan consulting initiative of the public interest law firm, measures the pain. Data A sample of 20 cities showed that interested restaurant owners had to fill out up to 22 forms, interact with 14 agencies, complete up to 17 in-person tasks and pay up to 20 fees totaling $22,648. .

All of this must happen before restaurant owners serve their first customers.

The total process ranges from 35 steps in St. Louis to 92 steps in Boston. Austin was not included in the study. But according to my experience, the city falls within this range. Regardless of the actual number of steps, the control burden is very high.

Restaurant owners need a break. And they are not alone. The Cities Jobs initiative looks at the startup process for other types of businesses and finds similar results across the board. Starting an enterprise is complex, time-consuming and expensive regardless of the industry and location.

I opened my business, Brentwood Social House, in 2016. Since then, I’ve created 15 jobs, paid tens of thousands of dollars in taxes, and supported the community in other ways. The business gives local artists a platform to showcase their work. It gives musicians a platform to perform on. Purchases goods from local suppliers. and needy neighbors in An ATX free fridge on site.

After all, the business brings people together with great coffee. Everyone wins.

Austin can easily promote entrepreneurship by getting out of the way and letting people create. If regulations are important to public health and safety, the city can ease the burden by putting step-by-step instructions for each type of business online in one central portal.

Small businesses drive the economy, and Austin should do everything it can to help them. Creating unnecessary barriers to market entry does the opposite.

Starting a venture does not require a law degree.

Daniel is the owner of Brentwood Social House in Austin.

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