From trailer to brick and mortar, we have been loyal fans of Picnik from the beginning. The bullet coffees may have hooked us, but it was the shops loyalty to providing healthy options without sacrificing the flavor that kept us coming back. Truly delicious food without the guilt. We sat down with owner Naomi Seifter who shared her journey to opening Picnik, how she handles critics of paleo lifestyles, her predictions for the next big food craze and of course, why she choose Austin
What was the journey like to open Picnik?
I am always the first person to say that my journey has definitely been one of divine intervention. Never in a million years would I have imagined this is where I would’ve ended up, but Picnik’s creation and growth was definitely a result of me being led on a very special journey.
I went to school for Musical Theatre at Syracuse University. As I got close to finishing my degree, I realized I didn’t want to be a performer professionally. As a result of that discovery, I went on a pilgrimage to discover what I was passionate about in my life. I ended up traveling to India and I lived in yoga ashrams for a few years. I became infatuated with the yoga lifestyle and fell in love with the mind-body-spirit connection. Eventually, I decided I wanted to live out in the world again rather than in the secluded ashram environment, so I left and relocated to Miami Beach to teach yoga.
While I was in Miami, I made friends with a young woman who owned her own juice bar near the studio I taught at. I spent many afternoons at her shop and fell in love with the work she had created for herself. I was so impressed and inspired that she built a business around the things she believed in. It planted a seed in me to someday open my own food business. I loved the restaurant industry, and had held jobs in restaurants since I was sixteen, regardless of what else I was pursuing on my career path. As a result of my journey with yoga, I’d built a new relationship with my food and only ate those things that made me feel and perform my very best. I had struggled my whole life with my health due to food sensitivities and it was during this time that I learned to naturally combat my allergies through my dietary choices. I felt so passionately about these food principles that they became the backbone of Picnik’s food philosophy. It was truly a combination of all of the above pieces of my journey that became the foundation for Picnik.
I felt a need to share the backstory, because I think it’s important to note that we can’t ever connect the dots moving forward. We can only connect the dots when we look back to really truly understand why we’ve been where we’ve been on our path. As I mentioned, I was truly led to open this place. Everything I experienced in my life prior to moving to Austin gave me the experience needed to build my business successfully. It wasn’t just professional business experience, but it was a combination of my health journey, personal experiences and personal struggles that shaped who I am. Who I am ultimately shaped the business and my journey as an entrepreneur.
When I was living in Miami, I fell in love with my now husband, Kevin, who was living in Washington State at the time. I decided to move back to Washington to be with him, but unfortunately, the economy was very depressed at the time. I struggled to find work, even with years of experience in the hospitality industry and a college degree. I remember applying to Starbucks, but I wasn’t even called in for an interview. Kevin was running his own construction company and was also experiencing a lull in business due to the collapsed economy in our area. We both felt stuck and decided we should look at moving to a new city to build the life we dreamed of. Kevin picked Austin off a map because he had heard wonderful things about the city and about its growth. I’d never been to Texas, but I was willing to give it a shot. My Mom told me “you can live anywhere for a little while,” so I was willing to explore the new city. We came on a three day trip here to check it out, and by the end of the third day, we had signed a lease on an apartment. We felt like it was the perfect city for us, and I knew it would be the perfect place for the business someday. Within a week of arriving in Austin, we both had full-time jobs. It was clear this city had everything we needed to support our dreams. Fast forward, it is now five years later and Austin has blessed us with a world of support and opportunity. It is truly my favorite city on earth.
First the bullet coffee craze and now the bone broth craze. What do you think is the next big trend in food?
I think ‘whole animal’ commitments are going to be popping up over the next few years. There is a BBQ place in Asheville, NC called Buxton Hall which focuses on whole hog BBQ and I find them super inspirational. They BBQ whole pigs, then use the leaf lard in their pie crusts and use the offal and other animal bits in their SC Hash. They make stock with their bones. I think the next focus in the grass-fed, pasture-raised meats movement is utilizing one animal to its full potential. As someone who was vegetarian for many years, I much prefer the idea of consuming all of my meat from one cow rather than purchasing ground beef that comes from multiple animals, for example. Each animal has a consciousness, so it is important for us to respect and honor their lives. There are many of us doing this by utilizing local, farm-fresh, grass-fed and well-loved animals for our plates, but I really see the further full animal commitment popping up around the country.
In addition, I see ‘vegan + paleo’ focus as being a needed movement. From what I’ve experienced, the majority of vegetarian and vegan restaurants build their plates on grains, soy-meat replacements and beans. There are so many vegan + paleo options such as fruits, vegetables and nuts and seeds. People say there isn’t crossover opportunity between the two, but there is. I’m sure we will start seeing juice bars and vegan cafes with more grain-free/paleo-friendly offerings.
Was there an aha moment when you realized that Austin was ready for a fully gluten-free restaurant?
Yes! I was working at the Bistro at Nordstrom and I remembered waiting on customers every day with similar dietary preferences. They would come in and say “I’m gluten-free” or “I can’t have canola oil” or “I’m dairy-free” and we had limited options available. I knew at that moment that there was a need for our product. Later that week, I was sitting outside of Juiceland on Barton Springs and there was a line wrapped around the building and I recognized then that there is definitely the economy to support the price point of our premium product in Austin. Later that day, I got on Craigslist and started searching for a food truck.
What do you say to people who are critics of the paleo lifestyle?
I think it is only a matter of time before the majority of people in this country recognize that food is the biggest saving grace in our journey towards health. I’ve seen any and every illness and chronic condition be reversed through the power of food. Whether it is through a raw diet, high alkaline diet, GAPS diet, vegan diet or paleo diet, I’ve seen food heal people. The common ground between all diets, really, is clean, real food. Part of why we changed our branding from “paleo” to “real food” was because we understand paleo isn’t for everyone. However, it is for a lot of people, so we want to make our food easy for them to eat. In addition, we have many items which are vegan friendly, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, etc. We are fully soy-free, peanut and gluten-free. We just like to be the place where everyone can come, regardless of their food philosophy.
What are some benefits to eating clean?
What isn’t the benefit to eating clean? I mean, really!
Eating clean can transform every piece of your life. Eating clean helps your mood, your demeanor, your willpower, your attitude, your physique, your skin, your hair, your nails, your energy, your outlook on life, your motivation and your consciousness. It can alleviate pain, inflammation, chronic illness, ailments, ills, disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune conditions. I’ve witnessed, as mentioned above, truly miraculous reversal of and recovery from of all of the above. It’s absolutely magical what can happen when you improve your diet.
Many of our readers are on the brink of starting a business…What is the most rewarding part of the process? Most challenging? Something you wish you knew?
The most rewarding part of owning a business is truly working from your passion. I love building a business that I believe in, and that I help create and shape every day. It truly is an unbelievable gift. My husband has always said “if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” This is so true. Four years have gone by, and regardless of the struggles, I cannot imagine doing work that is more fulfilling to my spirit. In addition, I get to spend time everyday with co-workers that I love. I have developed a tribe of people who see the world through the same lens as me, and each and every one of them have had a hand in shaping the business. I have amazing employees who offer insight and ideas, and the business would never be what it is today without them.
The most challenging part is the struggle. As I said earlier, we can only connect the dots when we look back to really truly understand why we’ve been where we’ve been on our path. When you are in the middle of a storm, it’s sometimes impossible to see your way out. Truly, you just have to have faith that if you stay the course, you will make it to blue skies. Life has an amazing way of making sure you are always in balance with yin and yang. If things get too good, you are hit with something to bring you back down. If you are down and out, you are often gifted a glimmer of hope that brings you back into balance. You truly need people around you who have faith as strong as your own in your business to keep you going through the roughest patches. My husband never let me give up. No doubt I tried to give up many times in the beginning because I fell on my face a thousand times. However, every day he told me to keep going. He kept telling me failure wasn’t an option. My Mom was the same. Those two people offered me unconditional love and support and they encouraged me to hold onto faith.
For something I wish I knew, I decided to share what I’m glad I knew instead. My Mom was a business owner and she told me to always pay my people well. She said “if you take good care of your employees, they will take good care of you.” I have so much pride that I have employees who have stuck by my side for years. Obviously, these people are very passionate about our culture, but also, they feel valued for their time. We honor employees with pay increases and position advancement opportunities and I think this piece of our culture is huge. Do not ever underestimate what your employees can provide for your company. You can penny pinch, but if you invest in good people, their return will be tenfold.
Your instagram is full of drool-worthy photos. Is Instagram your favorite marketing/social media tool?
Instagram has really been our favorite social media tool. We post occasionally to Facebook as well, but Instagram is our favorite and most active platform. One of my employees, Randi, taught me the value of Instagram three years ago. I used to post pictures of our lunch specials after they were sold out joking “Sorry you missed it! We were so busy I didn’t have time to post a picture.” When we put attention and focus towards growing our Instagram, our business boomed. We didn’t see as active of a response from Facebook, so to this day we still put the majority of our social media attention there.
Both spaces are airy, light, and refreshing, similar to the food! Was this an intentional? Tell us about the design inspiration for the spaces.
One thing I didn’t want in the creation of the space was the color green. Green to me is very overdone in the healthy food space. Many health-conscious restaurants are full of different shades of green to reflect the health benefits of the food. I wanted us to be polished and professional while still communicating the same thing. Our price point isn’t the cheapest, and that is because we use premium products. As a result, we wanted the space to reflect that we were a high-end establishment that really spoke our brand and culture.
Many years ago, I remember Chris McCray from McCray and Co. stopping by our food truck on South Lamar. He handed me his business card and said “if you ever go brick and mortar, give me a call.” His business card was beautiful, so I went home and looked him up. Chris and his wife Grace run an amazing Austin-based design company and their name was stamped on many wonderful restaurant projects. When the time came for us to build the restaurant, I contacted him and no one else. Chris and Grace took my ideas and amplified them times 1000. We have a beautiful new space and an elevated look, and I very much thank them for their contribution. We also couldn’t have done it without AR Lucas Construction. Adam was our General Contractor and his team executed the fabulous remodel on the space. It was truly a dream team. I became very close with all three entrepreneurs during the nine month process.
Any tips on managing your personal life and running a business?
If you were to talk to me six months ago, I wouldn’t have had an answer. I was the queen of self-sacrifice. I was constantly putting my business first before my own personal health and my personal well-being. In December of this year, I decided this had to change after burning out and becoming pretty miserable, to be honest.
I went on a trip with my friend Alexa to Mexico, and things pretty much flipped upside down for me while I was there. She invited me to collaborate on a cookbook, so I went (thinking I was going for work) but in reality, I had an opportunity to enjoy a week-long yoga retreat. I did yoga every day, and as a result, I remembered how important movement and balance is to my life. I took the next several weeks to get my mind right by going to my favorite yoga ashram in Quebec. I woke up early every morning, did yoga, meditated and focused on developing a solid routine for 2017. It was the best possible thing I could’ve done for myself. Sometimes, the answer isn’t continuing to push, but it’s allowing yourself to take a step back to gain new and clear perspective.
Ever since I got home, I’ve been focusing on me. I created a solid schedule and routine that fuels my body and my spirit. I get up at 5:00am every day and get in the right space before going to work. I have a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice. I spend time in the morning having coffee with my husband and I try to keep my work at the office. I work realistic hours for a sustainable life and take two days off a week. I feel like I’m accomplishing more as a result of my dedication to do less. I’m able to have a clear head when its time for work and I have more efficient working hours than I did before. I’m loving this new version of me for 2017.
Can you share your recipe for the blondie brownie? Asking for a friend…
This is hands down our most requested recipe! Unfortunately, we can’t share it at the moment, but hopefully someday we will have a cookbook to share it with our followers!
What’s next for Picnik?
Oh man! There is so much happening. We are partnering with Wanderlust Festival this year at events. We are looking at expansion opportunities for the restaurant and cafe. We are launching our first three products into grocery stores and truthfully, we are all just really loving life. We are so proud of this great company, and we can’t wait to share the future with you.