Behind the Business
Salute the enterprising veterans behind 3 uniquely Austin businesses
With Memorial Day coming up, those who have bravely served our country are on our minds. But giving thought to our veterans deserves far more than just a couple of holidays scattered throughout the year. So what can you do? Consider supporting one of these veteran-owned businesses in and around the city.
Desert Door Texas Sotol
You may not have heard of sotol before, but its Texas roots run deep. A distilled spirit made from a desert plant of the same name, sotol was first fermented by Native Americans in the state over 7,000 years ago. Building on the tradition of West Texans making the spirit for the last 250 years or so, Desert Door officially opened in 2017.
The idea for the company first bloomed during an entrepreneurship course at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. Veterans Judson Kauffman (Navy SEAL), Ryan Campbell (U.S. Army), and Brent Looby (U.S. Marine Corps) came together for a group project and realized their business idea had real-world potential.
“The military spends a lot of resources teaching things like time management, stress tolerance, organization, and discipline — all of these are critical for any entrepreneur to be successful," says Kauffman. "We are certain that without our military experience Desert Door would not be what it is today."
At Desert Door, the sotol plants are harvested in West Texas and then trimmed, steamed, fermented, and distilled to create a complex, herbaceous spirit. Desert Door Texas Sotol can be found in select bars, restaurants, and retailers across Texas. Visitors are also welcome to visit the impeccably designed distillery in Driftwood, which is actually the first distillery outside of Mexico to make liquor from sotol since Prohibition.
“We've been very fortunate to be able to show our business and offer some guidance to aspiring veteran entrepreneurs,” Kauffman says. “We believe that we're resurrecting something that Texas history almost forgot.”
When you're a soldier living in the middle of dangerous conditions and you're not sure you're going to make it to the next day, what do you turn to for comfort? For Victory Coffees founder Cade Courtley and his Navy SEAL teammates it was coffee. Every day during their service, a warm cup of coffee became a little sanctuary, a form of meditation, a break from what was going on around them.
Courtley based his start-up on this very idea, manifesting as Victory Coffees, a subscription service that delivers award-winning coffee (ground, whole bean, and cup pods) to homes and businesses. The Austin-based company officially launched in May 2015 and since then has even made an appearance on Shark Tank.
Courtley admits that while getting through SEAL training was incredibly challenging, starting a business was just as challenging in its own way. "What I had to do as a former Navy SEAL really helps me as a business entrepreneur," he says. "The skills are identical, just in a different job. You need a no-quit attitude, and you have to think on your feet."
Operating under the mantra "Start your day with a victory," Victory Coffees delivers to all 50 states. They even offer different membership options, and even have a basic plan designed for a single person who drinks one cup a day, coming out to just a dollar a day.
Along with its delivery service, Courtley has plans to sell franchised coffee trailers to veterans. "One of the hardest parts for veterans is making that transition ... You went through the toughest military training in the world and were in life threatening situations on a daily basis," says Courtley. "Now you can go out and do it. You can do anything.”
Glow Spa & Wax House
When you’re feeling in the mood to pamper yourself, pay a visit to Glow Spa & Wax House in North Austin. The place is a joint venture between Army veteran Pete Berardi and his wife, Jessica Berardi. For years, Pete had been dreaming of starting his own business, so when his wife mentioned an interest in a spa, they teamed up to create Glow Spa & Wax House.
"Without all of the skills I learned through my time in the Army, I don't believe my business would be running nearly as efficiently," Pete explains. "The basics of organization, leadership, cleanliness, and teamwork come into play nearly every day."
This fun, modern spa offers an array of services on its menu, making it easy to find something right for your self-care needs. There's waxing, lash lifts, manscaping, facials, body treatments, airbrush tanning, micro-needling, and more. The different types of massages alone are wide ranging, and veterans and military get a special 20 percent discount on their massage services. Glow Spa & Wax House also makes it a habit to use high-quality natural and organic products for their treatments.
Having served for nearly 15 years, Pete is excited to be his own boss. "There is a ton of responsibility of course," says Pete," but the Army more than prepared me to handle responsibility and stress."