When Paula Angerstein and her partner of 20 years, Paul Grosso, returned to Austin 16 years ago, she was itching for a new adventure. Although she had many years of experience in the tech industry with electronic document processing and technical writing, Angerstein was always a foodie at heart.
Therefore, attending many of Austin’s nonprofit galas and events provided a three-for-one opportunity: It allowed her to rub shoulders with the culinary community she hoped to join; she could make a number of new friends; and she could also support such worthy causes as Project Transitions’ Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and AIDS Services of Austin’s Red Ribbon Dinners.
“I wanted to be a part of that crowd,” said Angerstein, discussing her unique journey in Austin and her experience in launching Paula’s Texas Spirits (one of only two woman-led distilleries in Texas) over a cocktail flavored with—you guessed it, her delicious concoction, Paula’s Texas Orange—at the W Hotel lounge.
The couple had spent a year in England and Europe, and that was where Angerstein enjoyed limoncello, a traditional Italian liqueur. She never came across a comparable product that she liked in the states, however.
Using a recipe from Saveur magazine, she made her first batch for Grosso on Valentine’s Day in 2003. From that moment, her professional destiny was sealed.
Angerstein, ever analytical and still savvy in her fields of study at UT, journalism (she faithfully reads the Sunday New York Times every week) and computer science, said that she sometimes misses the tech world. She was the managing editor of The Daily Texan back in the days of Louis Black, Nick Barbaro and other Texas legends of the journalism world.
“Several people said to me at the outset, ‘you know,this is a relationship business.’ Now I have learned what that means. You need to be the bar manager’s friend; you need to know their family, when their baby is being baptized—you need to remember all that stuff,” she said.
“It’s your product, you have to make the connections, and you have to make it work.”
And make it work is exactly what she’s done—by forging partnerships and relationships with vendors and working with many of the city’s nonprofits, including the Human Rights Campaign, Literacy Austin, and the Austin Museum of Art. Her easygoing personality and deep commitment to improving the community has won her many plaudits, according to others in the industry. Giving back is part of her DNA. In the small town of Meyersville, Texas (pop. 300) where she grew up, the Lutheran church was the center of social activity, and it was also where the values of community caretaking were instilled in her.
“It seemed fairly obvious to sponsor these galas and parties that are vehicles for all of these charities,” said Angerstein, who frequently hosts friends at her light-filled beautiful home in Westlake Hills. “We only do events of things we believe in.”
The summer she was 17, Angerstein had gone to visit her brother, Daniel. She had a blast hanging out with him and his friends, most of whom were men. “After I came home, I think I mentioned my brother’s friends and started a conversation in which my brother had to reveal his sexuality to my parents,” she said. “I thought there were just a lot of nice men who liked to spend time with my brother.”
The family didn’t react negatively. In fact, Angerstein also has a gay nephew, now 32, who would stay at her place during visits to Austin when he was in his twenties. She added that many of her and Grosso’s good friends are gay.
On the seventh anniversary of the release of Paula’s Texas Orange (Paula’s Texas Lemon came out a year and a half later), Angerstein wants Paula’s Texas Spirits to continue to succeed so that she can do philanthropy on a larger, more impactful scale in the city and “kick it up a notch.”
What’s her favorite way to enjoy her product?
“So, I guess in the hot tub is not the right answer?” she said, laughing. “I love it with brown liquors— Manhattan-type drinks. In the summer, it just goes with everything. Every drink is better with Paula’s in it, as far as we’re concerned.”