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If asked to describe Jefferson Bodega, I would say it’s a cross between an Instagram snack account, an art gallery and a nightclub — though I would argue it defies description. This place is really about the people and the moment. It’s meant to be experienced.

What my wife, Lisa, and I (also known as Bodega Ma and Bodega Man) have worked to do since we opened in 2019 is provide a unique experience for our customers. Our merchandise is constantly changing so that no two visits are the same. We don’t announce events, food trucks, or vendor pop-ups because we want those experiences to be spontaneous. We don’t even have a website because we don’t want a virtual version of the store to interfere with the physical, in-person experience of shopping here.

Each day at the bodega brings new adventures and challenges and the question is not really about what happens, but how we respond.

We open at noon each day, and I spend most mornings either shopping at a store or at our warehouse planning what new items we can bring into the bodega that day. Then the hustle begins as we race to open the store. This means, ice down, lights on coolers glowing and the place clean and presentable.

Once the staff arrive and get going, I will usually leave to go to a meeting and then head out shopping. Each day I try to meet with someone to progress the business. This can be lawyers or accountants or other business owners, but also it’s potential new vendors, which can be a lot of fun.

We source our products from over 100 vendors and 90% of them are in Texas. This is a great source of pride for us because we’re known for our international snacks but we keep it local by importing through small, San Antonio businesses. This creates a win-win because it allows our vendors, who are already importing, to place larger orders which drops their costs and enables us to get cool new stuff without having to import. Usually, I will visit three stores per day on the hunt for new and exciting items.

While I’m out I will monitor our in-store foot traffic via an app on my phone. I can also monitor our sales and I can remotely log in to our in-store cameras. I will usually spend a half-hour to an hour looking over this information in real time, especially if there are any sort of abnormalities (lower than average sales, high foot traffic, etc.). The idea is that we are constantly studying our throughput and seeking opportunities to optimize. There’s also a level of service that we try to maintain so it’s important that we study our own performance regularly.

After a quick break looking at the numbers, it’s back to shopping to see what’s new. Some of the places I visit don’t have any employees who speak English (or Spanish) but we get by. Just recently I was in a Middle Eastern market one day negotiating on the price of imported chocolates and at a Russian store that features all sorts of interesting products from the Eastern bloc the next day. The day I went to the Russian store, I was specifically on the hunt for imported potato chips in unique flavors. Chips are a great way to experience new regional flavors because it is both familiar (it’s a potato chip) and foreign (what is that flavor?).

  • Luke Horgan purchases many of the limited edition domestic snacks offered at Jefferson Bodgea from a large wholesale store in San Antonio Saturday.

After I’ve loaded up the car with a bunch of new stuff, I will drop it either at our warehouse or at the store. This is probably my favorite part of the day, when I get to bring new things in and share them with the employees and customers.

We have a policy that we try the new stuff, and it’s a blast trying all the new flavors of chips, candy and soda that come through the door. There are, of course, some polarizing items, like the roasted fish chips we once brought in. Bodega Ma was all for it, and I just had to open the bag to know it wasn’t for me. So we asked our customers to try them the day we brought them and also asked for our followers to weigh in on Instagram. It’s all part of the experience at Jefferson Bodega.

Talking to our customers is one of the best parts of the job. These interactions often lead to us adding new items to our shopping lists or serve as reminders of why we do what we do. We call them Bodega Moments and I keep a log of the most memorable ones.

There was one instance of a family visiting the bodega that I’ll never forget. It was a family of four kids, their mother and their grandfather. The kids were excited because they had seen us on TikTok and the mom was browsing happily, but the grandfather was totally nonplussed. It wasn’t his thing, which is fine. But then he saw the Dagashi candy section and he started tearing up. He called his family over to show them that the candy we had was the same candy he had always told them about eating when he was in the military. Now, instead of just boring them with his stories, he could actually have them try the candy and share in his youth with him.

We want everyone who comes into the bodega to feel special, safe and welcomed. The entire point of the bodega was to create a store that recharges you instead of leaving you feeling drained. What I never expected was that it works that way for me, too. I get charged up and excited by talking to the Bodega Fam (which is what we call our customers) and introducing them to new items. Bringing joy and happiness to families, even if it’s just for a few moments, is what it’s all about for us.