A convenience store full of character and heart.There’s simply no other way to describe Jefferson Bodega, a neighborhood corner market in San Antonio,Texas offering imported, limited-edition beverages and snacks (Japanese Kit Kats, anyone?). Husband-and-wife team Luke and Lisa Horgan told Beyondish how their mutual love for ramen noodles, a couple of pandemic pivots and the support of their community inspired their unique and Instagrammable business venture.
First of all, how did the two of you meet?
We actually met over an argument about ramen noodles! Both of us were serving overseas in the U.S. Air Force and we found each other sharing the stove in the kitchen of the military dorm we lived in, cooking the same brand of noodles. The mutual respect for noodle choice quickly gave way to a disagreement about cooking methods and a lifelong friendship was born.
What about your backgrounds and careers prior to opening Jefferson Bodega?
Lisa is originally from Ireland and grew up on U.S. military bases in Germany. Luke was born and raised in Manhattan, but went to high school in San Antonio, Texas. Upon our honorable discharge from the military, we moved to New York and started a career in finance and media.
We lived the life of a New York power couple for a few years, but something always felt missing. We decided to move back to San Antonio, seeking a balance that had previously been missing. Around 2018, we began discussing small business ideas and the possibility of leaving the corporate world behind. A year later we bought the tiny corner store in Luke’s old high school neighborhood and tried to turn it into something special. We both had no prior experience in running convenience stores, but a TON of experience in designing digital consumer experiences.
How would you best describe Jefferson Bodega to those unfamiliar with your store?
We are a tiny neighborhood convenience store that specializes in weird, hard to find, and limited-edition snacks, drinks and craft beers.
When and how did you come up with the idea to open?
The idea was born more from a passion of providing great, memorable experiences for others. We used to throw the best parties! We initially started our small business as a means to become our own bosses after having worked over 20 years in corporate roles. We decided to bet on ourselves. Our vision was to create a convenience store that would not only stock the essentials, but also provide a place to recharge, be it an energy drink or a few words of encouragement.
How do you curate the products that you sell?
This is a big part of the “magic” of the store. We develop relationships with a wide variety of vendors that supply us. We do our best to work with local importers and keep a close ear to the ground to source the next cool thing. We often find that we’re ahead of our distributors in our demand chain, meaning that instead of waiting for a salesperson or representative to sell us on their inventory, we identify products that we want to carry, and then get our distributors to carry it.
What are some of your favorite items in the store? What are the most popular ones?
Some of our favorite recent items are the ramen noodles section, imported Kit Kats (we usually have about 30-40 varieties), and crazy flavors of potato chips from all around the world. The most popular products are always changing with people’s tastes, but over the years some of our biggest hits have been Arizona Tea Gummy Candy, Pokémon Oreos, Snoop Dogg Rap Snacks, eFrutti Gummy Candy from Germany, and Samyang Buldak Ramen from South Korea.
Are there any items on your bucket list to sell in the future?
Part of running a business that has the latest, coolest stuff is to stay fluid and flexible, ready to move whenever the opportunity strikes. So we’re not sure what will be the next great snack or drink item but you can be sure that when it comes out, you can find it here!
What challenges did you face having to stay open during the pandemic?
What challenges didn’t we have!? We opened in November 2019, literally the month the whole thing started. We like to say that this terribly poor timing is a big part of what formed us. We had just poured our entire life savings into buying the store, but almost immediately no one wanted to talk about ice cream or gummy bears because they were desperate to find milk, eggs and toilet paper. So we started reaching out to companies local and all around the world to find ways to get the people what they needed. We built direct-to-farm relationships with local farmers and even became an official government distribution center for the Farmers to Families Food Box program, handing out over 2,000 boxes of food during the pandemic. We were also the only place in town to not run out of toilet paper, so we shared it with neighboring businesses.
What kept you going despite the odds?
During the worst of times, the key thing we’ve always been able to count on is each other. When one of us is down, the other is there to prop up. The other thing that’s always helped is that in key moments, just when it seems all hope is lost, someone from the community (completely unprompted) does something that reminds us what this is all about and why we do it. There were days early on when we simply couldn’t afford decent meals and the Bodega Fam (what we lovingly call our customers) just happened to show up with a plate from their backyard barbecue. In short, what’s kept us going is love.
How has the response been from your local community?
Fantastic! We consider ourselves a small part of a bigger community and we’re proud to serve the people in it. Early in our planning and design stage we called the company Bodega, LLC, but we changed the name to Jefferson Bodega just before we opened to reflect that the store belongs as much to the neighborhood (the Jefferson District in San Antonio, TX) as it belongs to us. This is a shared experience. We are nothing without the wonderful Bodega Fam.
What’s coming up for Jefferson Bodega?
Ideally, the same exact thing. We’ve come to learn in life that the good times and great things are always fleeting. Working together is awesome and the people we meet every day are so wonderful. We really like where we are and what we’re doing. So we’re fighting expansion. We hope to keep it a tiny, focused, and a fantastic experience for all who stop by.
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