AUSTIN, Texas — Last December, the University of Texas at Austin bought the property at 2001 Guadalupe St. in Downtown Austin.
Earlier this year, UT notified the business owners there their leases would be ending a year earlier than originally listed in their leases. A clause written in the agreement allows UT to notify the owners 60 days ahead of when they need to move out. In this case, the university told the business owners their leases would expire in October.
"I know they're legally in the right, but it just feels morally just wrong the way they treated all of us," said Matt Gong, franchise owner of Kung Fu Tea.
Gong showed KVUE a letter received from attorneys representing the university dated April 8, 2022. The letter cites the clause in the lease agreement allowing UT to end the lease early. In email exchanges and phone calls back and forth with Gong and Paul Song, the owner of Poke Bay next door, UT said the owners could close up shop in May or October of this year.
"We were told that the lease is being terminated," Song said. "The slowest time on The Drag is June, July, August. Obviously, in the summertime when the kids aren't here, a lot of people take vacations, so we say, 'Can we terminate early?' Because it doesn't make any economic sense for us to endure slower times just to be here for September and October."
Song and his wife opened Poke Bay in 2017. Song's daughter posted a video on TikTok Monday calling on UT to provide some sort of assistance to Song and his wife to help relocate their business.
However, Song said he doesn't know what the future holds.
"My wife and I are tired," Song said. "The adrenaline, work motivation, it just drained out of us. You know, when we had few customers during the pandemic, it was tiring just sitting here, just weathering time. Now we're even worse. We're pretty devastated. What are we going to do? I don't know. I want to rest for now, so we'll see what happens."
While Song respects, and does not envy, the position UT is in, Gong believes the university could have handled the situation with more grace and tact.
"I'm like, 'Hey, guys, I'm here seven days a week. If you guys want to come talk, come on down,'" Gong said. "They don't want to talk to me. Yeah, the [less] they know, the better. It's like, the easier it is for them to just step us out."
Gong, who graduated from UT in 2006, isn't quite sure what his next steps will be once he has to close in October. In the meantime, he launched a petition last week urging the university to allow Kung Fu Tea to stay.
"When I went back [to school at University of Houston] for my petroleum engineering degree, all that people would talk about is how loyal [Texas A&M] Aggies are to other Aggies. And I would always vehemently try to stand up for UT, like, 'Nah, that's not the case. Like we always take care of our own!'" Gong added. "Just after this whole situation, I'm like, maybe there is some truth to that, you know? And that's an industrywide thing that people mentioned all the time is Aggies will take care of the other Aggies, but I don't know if I can say the same for Longhorns."
The University of Texas responded with a statement Wednesday:
"As the university continues to find ways to serve our students, provide additional housing options, and advance our educational mission, we acknowledge the challenges created by our growth – especially combined with Austin’s growth. We appreciate the role local businesses have in our campus community, and we will engage them in conversations about other university options for relocation."
Gong asked UT for assistance too, either in the form of reduced rent for the remainder of the lease or to help relocate his business. According to Gong, UT responded by saying it would not do that.
Gong plans to close Kung Fu Tea at the end of October. Song plans to close Poke Bay on May 28.
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