The Where I Work series explores San Antonio’s evolving workplaces. It takes readers behind the scenes to learn from the people who work at companies large and small, nonprofits, family-owned enterprises, and in other nontraditional workplaces. Get in touch to share your story.
My makeshift office sits inside a 40-foot shipping container, bathed in a soft glow of red and blue LEDs, with the water pump of my hydroponic farm humming in the background of my Zoom calls. Stepping outside the farm, you’re in the LocalSprout Food Hub, a 16,000-square-foot warehouse filled with more than 20 small food businesses sharing space.
The LocalSprout Food Hub contains peculiar sights, like CycloFiesta’s 15-person pedal pub or SA SiDeCaRs’ collection of pastel chrome Vespas. Peculiar smells, like Madge’s Fermented Foods’ kimchi or Lil’ Red’s newest boiled peanut dipping spread flavor (lemon dill), fill the air. They mingle together, much like the companies and their ideas.
I founded LocalSprout in 2013 right after I graduated from Trinity University in an effort to make the local food system more sustainable. I started with hydroponic farming and, while my farming has improved over the years, I also discovered how many different food companies shared the same limitation on growing their businesses – that they didn’t have affordable access to the right space to operate. So the Food Hub was created downtown, where food businesses can flourish and be influenced to source ingredients more sustainably as they grow.
As founder and CEO, my daily work runs the gamut from installing new gardens around the city to fixing sinks to planning new construction at the Food Hub and hydroponic farming. What makes me want to go to work, though, is checking up on the characters that abound at the Food Hub.
Self-styled modern Chili Queen Diana Anderson can usually be found at the Food Hub on weekday afternoons sipping a whisky and playfully catcalling her husband John in between phone calls with suppliers and customers. Her howling laughter often fills up the common space, as does the boisterous refrain she delivers to unsuspecting farmers market crowds: “CHILI, CHILI, CHILI!” The couple makes sauces that create a full-bodied chili and enchiladas, and now JD’s Chili Fixins can be found on H-E-B shelves across the state.
Pulp Coffee, run by James Mireles and his wife, Liza, was one of the first companies to join us at the Food Hub. Their roasted single-origin coffee beans are sent to coffee shops and offices and delivered directly to households. Often while I’m transplanting kale in the morning, James will float into my farm with a breezy California smile and offer me a fresh latte to catch up on our latest gossip and ideas.
Two regenerative ranching companies use the Hub as their second home to store and distribute their products. Peaceful Pork, run by third-generation rancher Loncito Cartwright, houses their pasture-raised pork chops, bacon, shoulder, and ham hocks before they’re delivered to restaurants. Wholesome Meats specializes in 100% grass-fed beef, with a focus on delivery direct to homes. Young disruptors from the tech industry, they mark a charming contrast to Loncito’s classic ranching wisdom.
Food truck entrepreneurs use the space as a commissary to house their trucks, develop their concepts, fill up power, clean dishes, and prepare everything before sales begin.
Wild Barley proofs their dough, making ready their creative wood-fired sourdough bagels to sell at Broadway News every Thursday through Sunday. Co-owners Holland Lawrence, former head brewer at Ranger Creek, and Marc Fogelsong, former operations specialist for a Pita Pit franchise, hand built their wood fired brick oven onto a beautiful trailer that sits at Broadway News.
Right next door, Vesuvio Pizzeria stockpiles their ingredients and bakes their homemade cheesecakes, preparing service for their acclaimed pizzas in a homey patio across from the Liberty Bar in Southtown. Owners Esteban Alvayero, Anthony Rodriguez, and Ana Martinez took years of experience working at Southtown Pizzeria into their own mobile concept that has become the darling of local food critics.
Not far from them, Holy Smoke gently smokes their briskets and jalepeño poppers all week to sell at their food truck patio bar locations, with owner Ricky Ortiz leaning into luscious barbecue excesses like their Big Papa, which is brisket mac & cheese on top of a loaded baked potato. His mom, Elena, runs a tight ship, organizing staff to prep and deliver supplies to their multiple locations with a watchful and jovial eye. Thanks to them, some light mesquite smoke greets me most mornings when I arrive on site.
Every food truck owner at the Food Hub knows one another, often lending propane when another needs it or splitting the cost of a bulk order of buns.
My favorite thing at the Food Hub is when companies discover new ways to collaborate. Cafecito, a delivery charcuterie company and newest member of the Food Hub, excitedly added pork rillette to their boards, created just feet away by in-house butcher Swine House. Swine House, run by the idealistic and constantly grinning Joe Saenz, processes and cooks whole animals sourced from regenerative ranches. They joined the Pearl Farmers Market in March, along with Health Nut, our cold-pressed juice company.
These are hearty folks, and they need to be. The food business is brutal. Despite low margins, lots of competition, and plenty of manual labor and late nights, the entrepreneurs persevere because food is what they think about in the morning and when they go to sleep.
For me, when not making my weekly kale delivery to Extra Fine for their salads or working on improving the Food Hub itself, the space comes in handy as a home base for my other sustainable agriculture projects like building a hydroponic mint wall at Maverick Brasserie or the irrigated raised beds at Little Death Wine Bar.
It’s also where I work on the Food Policy Council of San Antonio, a nonprofit that created the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, changed City code to reduce zoning restrictions on gardens, and increased the number of chickens that San Antonio backyards can house. Among other projects, we’re now trying to start a free food forest on public land.
Entrepreneurship and activism can feel a bit lonely, but it makes a big difference being surrounded by others in the same boat. When they drop in with a new idea or ask me to try something new, I always say yes.