Two new vegan-friendly grocery-esque businesses opened recently. Both break out of the traditional mold for grocery or convenience stores. It’s not really fair to review brand new businesses, so instead, here’s a preview of what you can find at each and what you might expect to find in the future. If either of these places don’t wow you now, come back in a few months and see how they’ve changed.
Wet Whistle is a small convenience store run by Jenn Daly and Jon Lawrence in East Austin near Bennu Coffee. Though convenience store isn’t quite the right term. They have a modest but curated selection of beers and wines, prepared foods, baked goods, and fresh (mostly local) produce as well as a daily selection of agua frescas. Daly is former manager of Bouldin Creek, so she has the vegan thing down. And that’s apparent in every part of the store. During my visit, Daly walked me around the tiny shop pointing out vegan sandwiches, desserts (from Sugar Circus/Sugar Tooth Bakery and Red Rabbit Coop), and other prepared foods. Daly and Lawrence have a list of requested items that includes many more vegan and gluten-free products. In the future they plan to have a freezer case with vegan ice cream and a larger selection of prepared foods.
In.gredients is a bit more complicated. This store is also located in East Austin, and East Austin residents certainly need more grocery options.
In.gredients suffers from two things. The first, I like to call the Grand Canyon Effect. When I was a kid, my family visited the Grand Canyon. And I was underwhelmed. I had seen so many photos and videos of the Grand Canyon, not to mention a Brady Bunch special, that the actual canyon didn’t have that wow effect. Oh, yeah, looks like the photos.
In.gredients is a little bit like that. In case you missed it, In.gredients bills itself as the first ever package-free, zero waste grocery. They had a long build-up process and lots and lots of media coverage. In my head, this place was going to be a-maz-ing. Like the general store from the Laura Ingallas Wilder books where you could scoop crackers from the cracker barrel. Like a giant pantry filled with everything you need to make great vegan meals. In reality, In.gredients is a whole lot like the bulk section of Wheatsville.
And it’s hard not to compare it to Wheatsville in general. Because unfortunately the second thing that In.gredients suffers from is a lack of interest in vegans, something Wheatsville excels at. This isn’t a fault really, but from the perspective of a vegan blogger, In.gredients wasn’t that exciting. We’re just not on their radar yet.
They don’t have tofu. Or vital wheat gluten. Or TVP. Or soy curls. Or tempeh. Or nutritional yeast. Or egg replacer/soy flour/flax. Or vegetable broth powder. None of these items alone are essential for a vegan diet, but they’re awfully nice to have around. And it’s really hard to imagine a bulk bin section without nutritional yeast.
So what do they have? Beans, grains, cereal, pasta, nuts, dried fruit, flours, candy, tea, coffee, spices, a bit of produce, soy milk, soy creamer, beer, kombucha, bread, vegan donuts, and a couple cases of cheese, dairy, eggs, and meat. See how I snuck vegan donuts in there? They also carry the only brand of local soy milk, Banyon Foods. Vegan items are appropriately marked, and In.gredients responded well when someone reported a mismarked bin. And for the gluten-free, I thought they did a pretty good job of separating gluten-full flours from gluten-free flours to minimize contamination.
All that said, they just, just opened. They have a lot of empty bins and shelf space for additional products. They’re already working on getting tofu. And they take requests for products on their website. So they very well might be more vegan-friendly in the future. But for now, it’s hard not to compare it to Wheatsville, where you can already buy everything they have and so much more with a similar amount of packaging.