Picnik's growth tells a larger story of how small restaurant entrepreneurs are growing enterprise businesses leveraging community-based wellness trends and social media.
— Samantha Shankman
Picnik is a poster child for a food brand that grew from local trailer to national enterprise.
Naomi Seifter opened her first storefront in 2013 in a repurposed shipping container. Her company, Picnik, has since grown to include a second Austin trailer, a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Austin, a cafe inside Whole Foods 365 in Upland, California, and a bottled coffee line available at Whole Foods groceries countrywide.
The brand built a loyal customer base by creating a menu stacked with items for anyone following popular food philosophies from paleo to ketogenic and eager for access to once elusive elixirs such as butter coffee and bone broth. Seifter then went one step further by eliminating most major allergens and sourcing the majority of meat from local farms around Texas. Local produce is also used when it aligns with the menu.
“There was something I felt to be fundamentally missing around the experience of eating healing food. I had learned to cook at home out of necessity, and I knew healthy food didn’t have to be boring. I wanted to share my food philosophy with the local community, and that was ultimately the catalyst for opening my business.”
The business plan evolved following Seifter’s own health journey, driving her to create a brand and menu that provides options to everyone regardless of their food philosophy.
Picnik’s growth captures the story of a new generation of restaurants that has emerged, designed to meet the needs and desires of customers following specific food plans.
An inclusive brand, dedicated to high-quality produce and storytelling, drives that growth as much as the actual meal.
Building Community With Content
Content and location play a huge role in communicating the inclusivity and personality of a brand to fuel growth.
Social media was the only marketing platform that Picnik used for the first four years and Instagram was particularly effective in sharing visually appealing as well as informative content. The strategy allowed the brand to speak directly to their customers, so Seifter knew what they loved and wanted to see more of.
Location also plays a critical role in the new brand’s growth.
Before opening Picnik, Seifter sat outside of Austin’s most popular juice bar where she watched customers happy to pay $13 for a large smoothie — with a line out the door.
“It was the validation I needed to be certain that people in Austin make health and wellness a priority when it comes to their food choices. I’ve lived in lots of places all over the world, but none compare to the community that Austin has,” explain Seifter.
“From the innovation in the food space, to the energy from entrepreneurs, to progressive nature of the city, to the positivity of the people—it’s a very supportive and nurturing place to grow a business.”
From Trailer to Whole Food’s Shelves
A desire to better serve Austin’s community required more space and flexibility than Picnik’s first trailer allowed.
“We had been selling grab-and-go food out of the trailer location, and although the food was high quality, it didn’t exactly lend itself to any modifications. Modifications are very important in the healthy food space, as customers have many different allergies, preferences or sensitivities, and its important to be able to cater to those individuals. If I truly wanted to be inclusive and serve good food, I would have to make it happen in a restaurant setting,” explains Seifter.
Finding the right space took three years and Picnik’s customers had grown tenfold in that time.
As customers became regulars at the shipping containers, Seifter starting receiving requests for a way to access butter coffee when traveling outside of Austin, as well as interest for a ready-to-drink beverage from local retailers. She first experimented with ‘buttercups’ that could be dropped into hot coffee but faced stability issues.
Then a customer who worked as a Whole Foods Market buyer suggested that the wellness powerhouse would also be interested in a Picnik ready-to-drink beverage.
The differences between launching a restaurant and retail line was greater than Seifter could have imagined.
“It was humbling getting started on the retail side of our business, as I learned very quickly that I had to be willing to start from the bottom all over again,” explains Seifter.
“As a restaurant girl, I’m used to the short-game. It is easy to make changes that can be implemented immediately. You can easily replate food that was wrong and run a special without much planning at all, for example. In retail, however, everything is long-game. You are often presenting product to grocery buyers a year before it hits shelves. You are making much larger quantities of product, so one mistake can be devastating.”
The way employees work in both environments is very different as well.
“In restaurants, you’ve got employees running around, hustling, in the weeds, trying to keep up, curating the customer experience. With retail, most strategic decisions are made in a conference room. There are obviously boots on the ground in retail as well, but in the end, the product itself is the voice for the brand.”
Building on Trends
Building a brand and enterprise on the back of what some see as health trends would make some restaurant entrepreneurs cautious, however, Seifter believes that inclusivity and flexibility will prevail in building a long-term sustainable brand.
In addition to our regular menu that is 100% gluten, peanut, corn, and soy free, we also offer a *Special Diet Menu that offers even more options (*only available at our brick-and-mortar restaurant on Burnet Road. ⠀ ⠀ Everything on the menu is free of maple, honey, grains, dairy, soy, legumes, corn and peanuts with additional notes on which items are also egg, nut, and nightshade free. For those of you following AIP, modified-AIP, or a cleanse program, this one is for you!⠀ ⠀⠀ You can enjoy all of your favorites while still sticking to the foods that will make you feel your very best. ⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ Next time you visit, ask the host for the “Special Diet Menu” and a new world of culinary opportunities awaits you. 🙌⠀ ⠀ Pictured: Brussels Sprouts with himalayan sea salt and crispy bacon.
“Whenever people ask me for advice about entrepreneurship, I always tell them to be open to change. It’s important to listen to customer feedback and adjust. It is inevitable that your original business plan will change; don’t be too resistant. As we continue to develop more products, we will stick to our values that are rooted in inclusivity. Ultimately, we would love to have drinks that appeal to people who adhere to the ketogenic diet, paleo diet, vegans, and everyone in between.”