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As TxDOT gears up for the largest expansion of I-35 in Austin's history, we're taking a closer look at the homes and businesses facing the wrecking ball.

Progress Coffee's fresh start in Austin cut short by I-35 expansion

An exterior view of Progress Coffee. The building is gray with green word "progress" in lowercased letters on top. The building, a former gas station, has a garage door and a canopy that used to cover the gas pumps.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Progress Coffee at I-35 and Concordia Avenue is housed inside a former Texaco. The building was gutted and converted into a cafe, but the new owners kept parts of the gas station, like its garage door and the canopy over where the gas tanks used to be.

A locally owned coffee shop that opened in 2023 after grinding through three years of pandemic-related construction delays will soon be forced to move so the building can be razed for I-35's expansion.

Progress Coffee is one of more than 100 homes and businesses in the path of the state's plan to add at least four lanes from Ben White Boulevard to U.S. 290 East. The estimated $4.5 billion project will lower the main lanes through downtown, rebuild east-west bridges and sprinkle in 20 miles of sidewalks.

The decade-long construction project, set to begin this year, will also demolish the highway's upper decks — built in 1975 — and widen the road, pushing out more than two dozen structures next to the elevated lanes, including the one housing Progress Coffee at Concordia Avenue.

An aerial view of Progress Coffee, showing a gray building with a sign with the green lettering "Progress." In the foreground is an upper deck of I-35 with a white car driving past.
Nathan Bernier
KUT News
Progress Coffee is at the corner of the I-35 frontage road and Concordia Avenue, right next to the upper decks slated to be torn down.

"I hate to see these businesses go," college student Avery Strait said, taking a break from school work to gaze out the window at the coffee shop. "Dreamers is here. La Rouge is here. I grew up with people who manage those places now. That's Austin through and through."

"Progress is one of the only coffee shops I've seen open since the pandemic that is trying to stay true to the Austin that it's next to," the native Austinite said.

A woman in glasses sits at a table with a stylus and tablet computer. She has a glass of espresso and milk on a saucer in front of her.
Nathan Bernier
KUT News
College student Avery Strait says she started coming to Progress Coffee because she can get work done, "ironically on the side of a really busy highway."

Why did Progress Coffee open along a highway slated for widening? The answer lies in the business's long history at the location, past experience with I-35 projects and the blindsiding blow of the pandemic.

Company founder Joshua Bingaman opened the first Progress Coffee 20 years ago inside a warehouse on East Fifth Street, a couple blocks from the highway. After a few frustrating years of trying to find a reliable source of coffee beans, Progress decided to start roasting its own.

In 2009, with help from a Whole Foods loan for local food producers, Progress Coffee bought a 1,500-pound handmade coffee-roasting machine. But the company needed a spot to put it, so it rented a former Texaco at I-35 and Concordia Avenue.

Since then, proposals for expanding the interstate had come and gone. The owners were told one of the plans would have only claimed a sliver of the tract, allowing the business to stay.

"Every other time, it would be fought and it would never happen," Progress Coffee co-owner James Benson said, referencing previous I-35 expansion plans. "We never really knew whether to take it seriously, how much legs it would get and what it would look like."

Plans to widen I-35 have been percolating at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) since at least 1989, when the state agency launched a study leading to 11 concepts for the highway — the first in a series of stop-and-go plans that took decades to solidify.

A black-and-white illustration showing the upper decks of I-35 with an extra deck that would add more lanes.
TxDOT has been working on expanding I-35 since at least the late 1980s. This 1994 illustration shows a proposal to add more elevated lanes to the upper decks of the highway.

In 2013, Progress Coffee sold the cafe on East Fifth and went all-in on the roasting business, distributing as far away as Oklahoma City and New Orleans. The company would also make individually branded coffee for tech companies like Dropbox and Retail Me Not.

But as the years ground on, Benson missed having a cafe. While toiling in the roasting room, he dreamed of how to transform the gas station into a community hub centered around a love for coffee.

"I would sit here and roast and just kind of think of things that would work well in the space," he said.

A man in a t-shirt is standing over a coffee roaster and turning a handle to stir the beans.
Nathan Bernier
KUT News
Co-owner James Benson has been roasting beans in the former Texaco since Progress Coffee bought a 1,500-pound roaster in 2009.

In 2019, Progress Coffee bought the old Texaco, planning a cafe, bar and patio in the back with food trucks.

The timing could not have been worse.

Construction started in January 2020, weeks before a global pandemic would paralyze supply chains, disrupt construction work and slow down the city's notoriously sluggish permitting process.

A newspaper print ad for San Napier Texaco at 3421 East Avenue, which is now 3421 N Interstate Hwy 35, the address for Progress Coffee.
Austin American-Statesman
A 1966 ad in the Austin American-Statesman for San Napier Texaco at 3421 East Avenue. The building is now home to Progress Coffee at 3421 N Interstate Hwy 35.

"All of that ended up taking a lot longer than expected," Benson said, adding that the project cost twice as much and took twice as long as it would have under normal circumstances.

Finally in February 2023, more than three years after construction began, Progress Coffee opened its doors to the public.

Around the same time, the owners realized their bigger problem: The I-35 expansion was definitely happening — and soon.

"So then it was like, 'OK, now we need to file for whatever extensions we can get,'" Benson said. "Stories are coming out about people having to move out of their places."

Benson and co-owner Scott Withers were forced to sell the property to TxDOT almost a year after it opened, reaping just enough to cover the real estate cost and the hefty renovation expenses. They expect to be able to stay in the building at least until September.

"There's definitely some disappointment there, but we just don't have time for it," Benson said.

Progress Coffee has 10 employees who have been assured a job at the new location — wherever that may be.

"It was definitely weird at first and a little bit uncertain," said Mo Fluger, a barista with ambitions to learn roasting. "But they were pretty quick about making sure that we knew they had a plan and that we had job security and stability."

The state agency will cover relocation expenses, but as of now, no properties in Austin's commercial real estate market have fit the bill.

Progress Coffee estimates it will still suffer financial loses from having to close for relocation, attract a new customer base, navigate legal expenses and deal with other unforeseen costs.

Along with the financial strain, Benson said he must also cope with the emotional toll of seeing his dream of a cafe in an old gas station torn down.

"It's a rollercoaster. Some of it's just like — it is what it is — I have to figure out a place to go," he said. "Coupled with a little bit of, 'Aw man, it's just a bummer that we didn't get to like really get going in the space.'"

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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