All-woman construction company changing the game in Central Texas

Krysta Lopez can’t really point to a moment in her life when she knew she could own a construction company. A fifth-generation Austinite, she laughs when I ask her if she was handy growing up.

“I was a total weird nerd that sat on the computer as a kid,” she says. “Like, I wrote HTML for my MySpace kind of kid.”

Today though, when we meet at Quack’s in Hyde Park, she’s fresh off a construction job she’s been working on for a couple weeks: the build-out of a recording studio in Lakeway. As the owner of PonyBoy Construction, a woman-owned construction company based in nearby Lockhart, this is her life now: building screened-in porches, putting up drywall, installing wood cabinets, anything handy that needs fixing.

And as a woman in a male-dominated field, she’s evangelizing for her new-ish career, one that began just a few years ago. Like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, she’s trying to convert other women into learning a trade, or even just getting onto job sites and learning as they go. She gets messages all the time from women now that want to get involved in construction after seeing her posts on Instagram where she’s smiling while sawing wood or up on a ladder. Lopez is showing them not to be intimidated; that you can jump into the fire without much formal training or know-how.

“I know, like, three other women that do construction. And that’s it,” she says. “And I’m trying to like beef that up, to be like, come on, bitch!”

A work-in-progress for PonyBoy Construction.

A work-in-progress for PonyBoy Construction.

Josh Randolph

Lopez studied sculpture in college in San Francisco, during which she ran a sex toy factory in the city. After dropping out to work full-time, she started to get burnt out from being stuck inside under fluorescent lighting. She decided it was time to move home, and that she was going to be a woodworker. She enrolled in woodworking classes at Austin Community College, but shortly after, she was told that she didn’t need time in the classroom; she needed to be on job sites.

She got a job at Hewn, a shop on the East Side that had some big clients, bougie houses and Whole Foods alike. Feeling a bit of wanderlust once again, though, she bolted for Los Angeles to work for a wood shop that made high-end furniture. In L.A., though, she started to see why it wasn’t so fun for a woman in her industry.

“We would go out to lunch, and they would crack some weird sex joke and then they’d be like, ‘Is that cool? Are you OK?,'” she says. “And I’d be like, ‘Goddamn, dude. Y’all always make it weird.'”

After another sojourn in San Francisco, where she worked on commercials and photoshoots, she circled back to Austin. There, she met a woman named Amanda Jones who goes by the moniker Handy Mandy. 

“Amanda taught me how to do like run-of-the-mill handyman work like plumbing, electrical, crawling under a house and replacing a little latch door,” Lopez says.

Equipped with some new skills, she got onto a construction crew in Lockhart while living in nearby Martindale.

One day about a year ago, though, fed up with the inherent machismo that comes with working for contractors, she decided she wasn’t going to work for anyone anymore. Especially not dishonest builders who didn’t value her time. If you’ve ever been ghosted by a contractor, you know the type.

Good Things Grocery before its opening on December 5, 2021.

Good Things Grocery before its opening on December 5, 2021.

Taylor Burge

“It’s almost like a joke, because contractors are always drunks and party guys and they can never get their shit together,” Lopez says. “I just got sick of waiting in the truck for three hours to get a text back.”

So she printed out business cards and started handing them out around Lockhart, where she had recently moved. According to the Austin Business Journal, 70% of homeowners in America were considering renovation projects before the end of 2021. It was fortuitous timing for Lopez to strike out on her own amid a real estate boom that is seeing Austinites flee for nearby towns.

“I just really wanted to step it up, and I couldn’t seem to find anyone that was really on the same page as me,” Lopez says. “I just jumped off the deep end.”

So far, it’s working. Her phone is ringing off the hook, as everyone needs a contractor right now in the Austin area. Lopez says that more and more, people are coming around to the idea of women contractors, and some — especially her broker clients who have single women moving into apartments — request them. Beyond just having a different type of energy than your typical male contractor, it also makes some people feel safer having a woman rather than a man roaming around your home.

“I literally get that constantly from clients,” Lopez says. “That’s one of the biggest things: that they feel more comfortable with a woman.”

PonyBoy Construction's Krysta Lopez during the buildout of Good Things Grocery in downtown Lockhart.

PonyBoy Construction’s Krysta Lopez during the buildout of Good Things Grocery in downtown Lockhart.

Taylor Burge

In September, Lopez was grabbing a coffee at Chaparral Coffee on Market Street in Lockhart, when one of its owners asked if she had time to take on another project. Taylor Burge had found an old toy store on South Commerce Street and wanted to transform it into a second location of Good Things, a small grocery store started in nearby Martindale. 

“Krysta was available and willing to take the project on,” Burge says. “This is a very much women-empowered business model, and so I loved the idea of having a woman in charge of getting us off the ground.”

Lopez soon got in there and started smashing. She theorizes that before it was a toy store it was a salon or barbershop, because there were 20-foot-long concrete countertops in there that Burge needed gone.

After that, Lopez helped Burge figure out which walls to knock down and which to keep, put in a window for a prep kitchen, moved a door to another side of a wall, helped make a design decision on re-purposed shelving, and connected sub-contractors to the project to get it done for a December 5 opening.

The current Good Things Grocery space when it was still a toy store.

The current Good Things Grocery space when it was still a toy store.

Taylor Burge

“Krysta is very direct and she captured the concepts immediately,” Burge says. “The energy and the spirit that she brought was great, and then, bonus, being a woman on top of that.”

Burge says she would enlist PonyBoy for a future project down the road, should there be one, for a few reasons, particularly that her experience working with a woman-owned company was refreshing. Good Things, Burge says, “very much has that strong feminine energy behind it,” which is why she appreciated working with Lopez and company.

“I can talk to a man all day, and we will walk away from that conversation thinking that we had two different conversations,” she says. “When you’re talking with a woman, there’s some words that you don’t even have to use, and they know what I’m trying to say.”

PonyBoy Construction recently hired its first employee, Bailey Cromwell.

PonyBoy Construction recently hired its first employee, Bailey Cromwell.

Krysta Lopez

Recently, Lopez hired PonyBoy’s first employee: friend and former Hotel Vegas bartender Bailey Cromwell. Looking for a change post-pandemic, Cromwell had almost zero experience when Lopez took her on.

When I ask Cromwell what she likes about construction, she doesn’t even let me finish the question.

“Power tools,” she says, bluntly. “They’re so much fun. It’s very therapeutic. We haven’t done any demo together, but I’m sure I’ll love smashing walls out when it happens.”

Though Cromwell has known Lopez for many years, first serving her at Hotel Vegas during shows and now as a close pal, she is still amazed to see her in action on a job site. 

“She’s a magician. Krysta has this presence about her. People listen to her and they get shit done,” Cromwell says. “She commands the room. And it’s pretty impressive to see, because I’ve never seen one single woman be able to get things going as fast as she does.”

But even as commanding as she is, and although Lopez is no longer beholden to male contractors, she still sees regular sexism as a female contractor.

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