They would be, however, first-time restaurant owners, so they looked to Keith for help in finding a prime location that would offer them the expanded real estate for customer service they so desperately craved, plus room to bottle and distribute their products — fresh juices and raw foods among them. After scouring several Austin properties, some with asking prices well within their $350,000 budget as well as some that were over budget, the husband-and-wife clients opted to pursue a space that was once home to a music store. Although this location had not previously been set up as a restaurant, it promised a whopping 3,300 square feet of space and came with what Keith called a “monument sign” out front, which would go a long way in helping Joanie and Cary promote their restaurant.
FN Dish caught up with Joanie a few months after filming the show to find out how their business is progressing, and to learn more about her and Cary’s plans for Skinny Limits. Read on below for an exclusive first interview with Joanie and to get the latest details on the restaurant.
How is the renovation process? Has it taken the full six months to open?
Joanie: It is going great. Of course it’s slower than we want, but as the building is taking shape, we are getting more and more excited. It’s going to take the full six months to get it open. With design review, permits, construction bids, etc., it’s a long process. Having our temporary kitchen has been a great way for us to keep up with the growth of our shipping business without getting too stressed out.
What was the most-influential factor in you choosing the corner location over the East Sixth Street space and the Thai restaurant?
Joanie: This is our one big shot at creating a space that is ours. We need it to be exactly what we want. Even though the other spaces could have worked, we made a list of each compromise we would need to make moving into the spot. At the end of the day, the corner location may have been the most amount of work to get into, but it had the fewest compromises. We are in this for the long-term, so the choice became clear.
In terms of construction, what have been your greatest struggles and successes as you work to open Skinny Limits?
Joanie: Taking on this construction project is a lot of work. Cary and I are constantly going by to check the building progress or meet with the designer to pick finishes or make adjustments to keep us in line with the budget. It is a lot to keep up with. Our greatest success is that we have such great people working on our team that they are stepping up and handling things while we are spread thin. We are grateful for our team.
What’s the greatest difference in working out of a full-size restaurant compared to a food truck? Have you run into any experience or obstacle that you weren’t expecting?
Joanie: Space, space, space! We love having all of the extra space in our temporary kitchen. We can only dream about how great it will be working in our custom space.
What advantages has the blank-slate setup of the corner location offered so far?
Joanie: When we took the concepts to the architect and the builder, they had no problem working the ideas into a workable plan that met all of our criteria. Had we chosen another location, there would have been things we wanted that we would have had to cross off our list.
So far, have you run into any trouble converting a non-restaurant space into a working restaurant kitchen?
Joanie: The only trouble so far has been a few time delays for permits. Converting a non-restaurant space to a restaurant requires a change of use from the city. This means our plans had to be reviewed by the health department, zoning department and water/wastewater department. It’s a complicated process.
Are you sticking with Keith’s original design concept for Skinny Limits? Tell us about your design ideas for the new space.
Joanie: We are, with a few minor adjustments. To keep on budget, a few changes needed to be made. Our architect and builder worked hard to get us as much of our dream worked into the plan that would meet our budget. Our favorite part of the new space is the larger production area. We are shipping out more and more product across the country, and having the bigger production area means we can fulfill more orders.
What do you think will be the most-important design aspect of the space in order to achieve the multiple purposes — juice bar, grab-and-go meals and bottling — within Skinny Limits?
Joanie: Designing the space to provide a flow of product is critical. Fresh produce needs to be able to come in, get prepped, batched, juiced and bottled in a manner that doesn’t have us stepping all over each other. Station design to accomplish this is critical. Both our architect and builder have a lot of restaurant experience and have designed a space with workstations that will make the flow fast and efficient.
What was the best-selling juice from your food truck operation?
Joanie: Our best-selling bottled juice is called Balance — it is cold-pressed kale, cucumber, spinach, lemon, parsley, apple, celery and ginger. The ginger is so great for inflammation and digestion; it also tastes delicious.
Who do you envision to be your typical customers — families, business people, wholesale operations?
Joanie: Our typical customers are everyday people from all walks of life; they care about their health. Most of our customers have or want to have a healthy-eating lifestyle.
What advice do you have for others considering transitioning from a food truck business to a brick-and-mortar restaurant?
Joanie: Listen to your customers! If they are asking you for more and telling their friends to try you out, that is a great signal to move forward. When we first opened, not everything was working out. We had items on the menu that were slower movers and others that seemed to be a hit. We talked to our customers, got feedback and then made changes. Over time, our sales improved and word of mouth about our products spread.
What are you most looking forward to for your new restaurant?
Joanie: We both have this great vision of being in the new space — most looking forward to having ample space to be able to provide the full-service menu that a healthy lifestyle demands. Our older children, Alec and Emma, will be working side by side with us, making juice, bottling, labeling, helping customers. The juice will be flowing!
- Chopped Star Power: Exclusive Interview with the Part 4, Screen Stars Winner
- Exclusive: Chatting with the First Iron Chef Gauntlet Challenger to Go Home
- What to Watch: Lots of Chicken on The Kitchen and the Premieres of Iron Chef Gauntlet and Iron Chef Eats
- Chatting with Iron Chef Gauntlet Judges Geoffrey Zakarian and Donatella Arpaia