Juicebox & Soup Peddler: Story of a Collaboration
Grassroots foodies team up, form tasty Voltron
What happens when two self-made local culinary icons expand their horizons and join forces? If you're David Ansel and Matt Shook, you create a vision, a new food venue, and a South Austin-style vortex of positive vibrational energy. That's what.
Just over a year ago, Ansel, of the Soup Peddler, and Shook, owner of Daily Juice, happened to be grabbing lunch simultaneously at Phoenicia Bakery on South Lamar. They swapped stories about the seasonal ebbs and flows of their respective food businesses (hot soups and cold smoothies) while gazing across the street at a forlorn shed perched on the weedy triangle where South Lamar Boulevard and Manchaca Road converge. Suddenly, the universe tilted, synapses snapped, and they realized that an opportunity for growth and mutual benefit was staring back at them. "We should go into business together," said Shook, and a collaboration was born.
Fast-forward a year. Instead of that dilapidated shed, the triangle now boasts a dazzling white, impossibly stylish little structure named Juicebox & Soup Peddler, adjacent to the newly developed hip strip Austinville 78704 that houses Amy's Ice Cream, Phil's Ice House, and Papalote Taco House. Designed by Michael Hsu (Uchiko, La Condesa, Olivia) and landscaped by Jackie Nadler, Juicebox & Soup Peddler is a vaguely Bauhaus walk-up kiosk purveying daily selections from the Soup Peddler's vast archive of soup recipes alongside the fruit and herb concoctions made famous by Daily Juice: one structure, two complementary menus, happy customers, and a couple of independent partners excited and pleased by their joint (ad)venture.
Ansel and Shook make for an interesting pair of collaborators. They've both been deeply involved in the 78704 culture since the 1990s, each is adamant about community and bedrock customer service, and each began his bootstrap food business at about the same time (2002 and 2003, respectively). "They both were gritty little South Austin operations that were long on inspiration and perspiration, probably a little short of polish and planning. Each in our own way, we turned our businesses into institutions of a sort," says Ansel.
Successful institutions, we might add – Daily Juice has three thriving locations, and Ansel, who began by delivering soups to friends by bicycle, now oversees regular home-delivery routes all over town. His passion and unconventional approach has attracted national attention from the likes of Food & Wine magazine and Berkeley's Ten Speed Press, which published his book, The Soup Peddler's Slow and Difficult Soups.
As the two got inspired by the potential of the Lamar/Manchaca location, they realized they were significantly ratcheting things up a level and would have to approach this new venture in a more structured, conventional kind of way. In the Soup Peddler's blog (www.souppeddler.com/blog), Ansel has written a series of thoughtful and beautifully executed essays documenting how their year of development unfolded and what they learned about working with business plans, banks, lawyers, architects, city inspections, and permits. It's not only an entertaining read, it's a useful primer for anyone thinking of gearing up a food business.
Shook and Ansel did have the advantage of bringing grassroots experience and business history to the process. "A new business is like a newborn baby," says Shook (father of two daughters). "You have no idea what you're doing the first time. The second time around, it's better – you know what's happening, and you can enjoy it more."
Like the best parents, each of these guys brings different and complementary talents and skills to rearing their baby/business. Ansel, something of a Renaissance man, has an engineering education, programming abilities, and an artistic, philosophical bent. Shook is a fast-talking, quick-thinking ball of fire. Ansel says, "I'm the sit-and-think person, and Matt is the immediate, reactive, kinetic one." Shook agrees: "From experience, I give a lot of confidence and trust to my instincts. But David's sit-and-think is the backbone of the business. However, we're both very plugged in to our customers and employees, and we're both the representatives and embodiments of our businesses."
These distinct talents manifest on a daily basis. Shook runs the Juicebox & Soup Peddler location and Ansel juggles the spreadsheets and crunches the numbers. (He also built the picnic tables and designed the fence.) And they're happy with it all. Shook says: "My motive is serving my community something I can be proud of. I don't want to take over the world. I just want to live and work with vitality."
Admirable motive. Admirable results. And to think it all came about serendipitously via an unplanned conversation over falafel.