My husband and I moved to the tiny town of Schulenburg, Texas in 1994. At the time, I was working in sales for a showroom out of the Dallas Trade Mart. My husband was working as a sales manager for a lawn and garden distributor with a branch at this central Texas location. When we first arrived, I told Jeff I didn’t think I could live there. The grocery store closed at 7:00 pm on weekdays and 5:00 pm on Sundays! There were only a handful of places to eat with two of them being fast food because Schulenburg sits on a major highway. Because Jeff’s job was a great opportunity and mine was so flexible, we decided to stick it out. Thank goodness we did!
Previously, I had studied interior design at The University of Texas in Austin, but as life would have it, my path changed, and I found myself looking for a career in another direction. I decided to pursue a career in design within the landscape/nursery industry because I loved being outside; I have always been drawn to all things nature. After I worked my way up to managing a couple of nurseries, I knew this was my true calling. I fell in love with not only the retail nursery business, but also landscape design. Of course, I dreamt of having my own place someday.
Once we decided to stay in “The Burg,” as we call it, my dream of owning my own place soon became a reality. I decided to create my own oasis in this small town. Jeff and I purchased an existing nursery, changed the name to The Garden Company and off we went. From there, we bought a two-acre property across the street. It had an old farmhouse built in 1907, a barn and a small shed where the farm workers previously slept. The “mother ship” was born, and I embarked on my long and winding business journey.
In Texas, we only have about four to five great gardening months because of the extreme heat limiting the planting season. Because of this, I have always felt like a small cafe would be a smart addition to our business, prolonging our business seasons. Also, I forever had a romantic idea about having a relaxed, hip place for people to come eat fresh, farm-to-table style food in a beautiful space. I envisioned it in my head a thousand times over the years. I just knew it would complete our business.
So, after several attempts at coaxing and convincing my husband/business partner, The Garden Company Marketplace and Cafe was born. We moved the nursery, home decor and landscape office to the back in the barn. We had already purchased a silo for $200 years earlier in order to have more retail space. Finally, the cafe took over the original 1907 farmhouse, and my dream of creating a space for foodies took shape.
Twenty years later, my husband and I now have two restaurants, one in Schulenburg with three shops on site, the other in Round Top, Texas (population of 80) where we also have a retail shop called Garco Goods, plus an additional nursery located downtown. Round Top has always been a place I was attracted to, as my love of design has regularly drawn me to the seasonal antique fairs. The quaint little town was the perfect place for the next Garden Company business venture. It is hard to resist the call of this tiny Texas antique haven. It attracts people from all over the world with its eclectic mix of southern charm and budding creativity! In a similar chain of events, my family roots originated in this areas—my great, great grandfather migrated from Germany and my grandfather was born in the small town of Carmine located adjacent to Round Top.
I think I learned my appreciation for antiques and “good junk” from my mother. Growing up, my mom and I would venture out together searching for the perfect treasures to drag back to our modest home. In those days for a real treat, we would strike out for Fredericksburg for some serious shopping. At the time, we were both mesmerized by Carol Hicks-Boulton and her amazing array of shops. She, in my estimation, was one of the first I had ever seen take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. She brought over worn and weathered objects from Europe, and effortlessly composed various vignettes throughout her shops; forming magic in my eyes. Her tiny garden shop called, Idle Hours, filled our heads with outdoor space euphoria. We would drive home with our pumpernickel bread and Fredericksburg peaches in tow dreaming of all we had seen at Homestead, Idle Hours and Room #5 to name a few.
For me, simple, natural and vintage reminds me of my home. It takes me back to my roots. I’m comfortable and relaxed there. It is a feeling that stays in my mind when I merchandise my shops or when I work in the restaurants. I try to convey that feeling to my customers.
My appreciation for natural elements is deeply rooted in my design aesthetic and is threaded throughout my businesses. I’m drawn to nature in its simplest forms and find it essential to include something raw and natural in everything I do. Whether it be a landscape design, a retail shop, a restaurant, florals for a wedding or simply for the cafe tables, I am compelled to emulate what I see in nature. I feel as though it is essential to add a spark of unexpected natural drama to my designs.
Along with my love of simplistic natural design, I am also drawn to all things vintage. For me, it’s comforting. I try to emulate this sense of comfort and ease in my businesses.
I want customers to feel at home in my spaces as if they have travelled to a familiar place of comfort and calm. In the restaurants, this translates to eating, relaxing and staying awhile.
I think customers like our places because they do feel at home. My husband and I enjoy the many people we get to meet and get to know. We try to listen and make a connection with each of them. I would not have been doing this my whole life if not for the love of creativity and people. It’s really all I’ve ever known and all I’ve wanted to pursue. Being privileged enough to design landscapes, merchandise retail shops and run the restaurants has been an opportunity of a lifetime. Sometimes the daily challenges and pitfalls make me wonder if it has all been worth it. So far, the answer is a resounding yes.
CREATE CONNECTIONS WITH IMAGINATIVE DISPLAY
Being in business for ourselves for the last twenty years has definitely taught my husband and me a thing or two about what works, and also what doesn’t work at all! So many aspects of our company have morphed and changed throughout these past years. Trying to be successful in a couple of tiny towns can be challenging and not for the faint at heart, to say the least.
One thing that has always remained consistent for me, has been the importance of believing in my product mix and trusting my eye for merchandising it. I have learned how important it is to show people how to display and use our products, along with keeping it all fresh and continually evolving. People want to come into our shops and restaurants for ideas. Whether it’s to shop or eat, people like to see unique ideas that are constantly changing.
I have found that while I may see an item has many uses, my customers may not. Showing them through my displays helps spark their imagination for their own home. We are known for our simplistic modern style while using natural elements in sometimes, unexpected ways.
It is important to keep up with current trends. We keep a continuous pulse on home & garden and food trends for our restaurants.
For me, it all ties back to making connections with people. Not only with my customers, but also my suppliers. In recent years, I have tried to cultivate an eclectic mix of products from around the world, which has allowed me to meet many amazing people. I have found that creating displays and merchandising product is so much easier when I care about the people I bought it from. It is easier to create a design story that people can connect with if I can first personally connect with the product.