Austin’s a friendly place. Friendly to transplants from out of town, family-friendly, dog-friendly – you name it. We also have a growing reputation for being start-up friendly. In fact, Forbes recently ranked Austin among the top 10 Best Cities for Young Entrepreneurs. Couple that with our consistent ranking among America’s fittest and healthiest places to live and you have the perfect recipe for “açai café” Blenders & Bowls.
What began as a plan for two friends from Santa Barbara, CA to move somewhere with a strong job market and a vibrant music scene has rapidly turned into a successful local business. Desperate to avoid office jobs and feeling the strong entrepreneurial vibe in Austin, founders Erin Downing, 26, and Kara Jordan, 27, launched Blenders & Bowls to bring a beloved, healthy food to a city they knew would embrace it.
They started with a truck and a dream, quickly expanded into a café connected to a downtown yoga studio and are working towards their goal of opening a store a year starting in 2015. We talked with these young entrepreneurs about their journey, discoveries, and why Austin is the perfect place to be.
Did you come to Austin with a plan to start this particular business?
No, we just came to see what happened. We were looking for office jobs and sprucing up our resumes. Then we experienced our first SXSW Festival, which really jazzed us up about Austin ¬– the spirit, all these young people doing new things, Why not do something ourselves?
We both love açai bowls and missed them in Austin. So we said, “let’s start with a truck and make it happen.“ No one else was doing it.
How did you raise the money to get started?
We called it our “friends, fools and family” effort. Our incredibly supportive families and friends believed in our idea and were willing to help with the capital. We came up with the name in April 2011, bought the truck in June and did our first event in July. It all happened really fast.
Austin is known for its food truck scene. Is that why you started out with one?
Opening a truck takes a lot less capital than opening a restaurant. Also, we saw it as a way to test the market to see if açai would catch on. We did tons of sporting events – triathalons, marathons,. Then we built a route that included schools, offices, even parks – we were the first truck permitted to set up in Zilker Park.
When did you know açai bowls had caught on?
Around March 2012, less than a year after we started. We did an event with Wahoo Fish Tacos during SXSW and that started things rolling. Shortly after the festival, the café opened and that’s when we really started to see some profitable margins.
Jo (Kutchey) and Ashley (Spence Clauer), the women who own the yoga studio, ordered açai bowls from our truck one day. Then they just leaned through the window, told us they wanted to include a cafe in their new studio and asked if we’d be interested. It’s been like a dream come true.
Where do you source your ingredients?
The açai comes from a company called Sambazon out of San Clemente, CA and we source as much as we can locally – hemp seed, honey and other ingredients.
Our goal has always been to have our own brick and mortar store. We are looking at space in Westlake, trying find a spot that fits for us.
We can’t imagine starting a business anywhere else. Everyone here welcomes you with open arms and is happy to offer advice. Also, it’s scary to launch a completely new concept, but people here are just so willing to try new things and support local businesses.
What’s your favorite thing about Austin? Do you miss California?
Kara: I love the vibrant music scene and how active it is – I’ve gotten involved in lots of new activities. Sure, I miss the ocean, but I’ve always joked that Austin is the perfect beach town without a beach.
Erin: I love the music scene too. Also, Austin’s culture is really unique – a lot of different people, a lot of transplants – yet if feels like one big community, which is something I’ve never really seen before.
Anything else you want to mention? Will we be seeing you on Shark Tank?
Funny that you mention that. At a business seminar led by Daymond John, we learned that millions of videos are submitted, about 150,000 move to the next step, and obviously only a few make the cut. For now we’re going to focus on growing our business here in Austin. We’ll see what happens from there…
To view the entire SXSW edition of LOCALE Austin click here.
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