The Austin Chronicle

Land Ho

After a rocky few months, the Vegan Yacht finds smooth sailing at Spider House

Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, May 30, 2014, Food

It started off as a whim: Mike Wood and his wife Danielle spotted an empty Airstream trailer in the late spring of 2010. With a $300 cash loan for groceries, the Woods embarked on a surprisingly successful endeavor as one of the first vegan food trucks in Austin. Within a few days the couple were able to repay that initial loan and had the trailer paid off inside of a year. The Vegan Yacht was full steam ahead.

That doesn't mean the seas weren't rocky. It's been hard for the trailer to find a stable location, especially over the past year. In its four years of operation, the Vegan Yacht has spread the gospel of the vegan Freeto Burrito from two different locations on East Sixth, a bucolic lot on East 12th, and a stint at hip Eastside bar the Grackle. That relationship was short-lived, ending abruptly after this year's South by Southwest festival. A few weeks later, the Vegan Yacht found an unlikely new harbor in the garden of Spider House, the longstanding North University coffee shop.

"I don't think we're ever gonna leave here," gushes Mike Wood, who is running the Yacht singlehandedly while Danielle cares for their son Otis and prepares to deliver their second child later this year. "This is the evolution we've been looking for."

The Vegan Yacht joins a handful of other trailers that have operated on the grounds of the protean renovated house frequented by generations of college students in its 20 years of operation. "No one worries about stepping on anyone's toes," says Wood. Despite the fact that Spider House is ostensibly a coffee shop, patrons walk past Beware Coffee as they enter through the parking lot, where they can also grab a brownie or $4 toast from adjacent pastry trailer Fresh Baked. While the Vegan Yacht occupies a cozy corner on the west side of the outsider-art-themed garden space, another nook reveals the Love Balls takoyaki trailer, while the Greek Original Gyros trailer stands sentry outside the Spider House Ballroom.

It may seem like a strange business model to undercut your own kitchen sales with other food operations, but for Spider House owner Conrad Bejarano, it's about building community through helping out the little guy. "I love the trailer culture, it gives the small business owner with a small budget an opportunity in a very challenging business world," he explains in an email. "For Spider House, it's also an opportunity to bring in unique foods and culture. Trailers add another layer of enjoyment to our surroundings and culture [...] it's even more of a carnival wonderland of creative souls and personalities."

This phase of the Vegan Yacht's evolution has borne itself out in the menu, which once sprawled with vegan sandwiches like the T.L.T. (tempeh, lettuce, and tomato) and Leftovers (field roast, cranberry sauce, and veggies on toasted olive ciabatta), the Freeto Burrito (tempeh chili and fritos rolled into a grilled burrito), as well as housemade smoothies and lemonades. These days, the menu reflects Wood's commitment to a high-quality, earth-friendly diet while also accommodating his limitations (he transports everything by bike and is a one-man operation).

"When we started out, we were more into meat substitutes as new vegans, but we've evolved in a way that we'd like to provide really awesome dishes that are part of eating a good diet. I see it now as I become what I eat, and that's the direction I want to take with my business."

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