Wholly Cow Burgers—recently named Best Eco-ambitious Burger Counter by the Austin Chronicle—all started with the sweet simplicity of a Texas peach. Owner Jeff Woodard peddled his uncle’s Fredericksburg peaches out of the former Star Grill Food Mart on South Lamar. Soon afterward, he began crafting and selling juicy burgers at the shop’s modest interior café, using all-natural beef, also from his uncle’s Rocky Hill Orchards, and the newly coined Wholly Cow burger took flight.
“This is beef that I grew up on,” says Woodard. “Most people recognize that this is what real beef should taste like. We use certified organic, chemical-free, hormone-free, grassfed beef from start to finish—all local produce, all local ingredients…except for the bun!” (Woodard uses a slightly sweet King’s Hawaiian roll instead, which he believes perfectly showcases the flavor of the burger.)
The success of Wholly Cow afforded Woodard the opportunity to buy the rest of the convenience store, now called Zen Food Mart. There, you can find yerba maté and kombucha next to Monster and Red Bull energy drinks, and commercial candy bars juxtaposed with handmade, local treats typically sold in farmers markets. “We give [customers] convenience, but it’s more of what you wouldn’t find at a typical convenience store,” says Woodard.
The selection of fresh produce—which multiplies as the weather gets warmer and tends to take over the entire front of the store—is a source of pride for Woodard. Huge heads of cauliflower and cabbage fill a cooler in the back, near the rack of local wines and an aisle of craft beers—many local, others organic, some gluten-free and all handpicked by Woodard. “People want choices,” he says. “And I think it’s a matter of listening to what they want, too. If you give them options for healthier choices, a lot of the time they’re making those choices.”
To balance the options, high-fructose corn syrup-free Hunt’s ketchup graces the tables in the café area, but old-fashioned Heinz is still available upon request. And while cane-sugar sodas flow from the fountain, regular Coke and Pepsi can be found in the cooler. Customers also have the option to enjoy made-to-order items from the menu, which includes several vegetarian options, or take home cuts of grassfed beef to cook at home.
Woodard proudly points out that their used oil is converted into biodiesel, all of their recyclable glass is taken to Ecology Action, and they’ve just begun working with Break It Down to begin composting. To keep things tidy, Woodard uses steam cleaning 90 percent of the time, and Eco-Smart cleaning products are used when needed. He’s also in the process of changing out the lighting with energy-saving LED fixtures, though eventually he’d like to see the store running on solar and wind power.
Expansion is definitely on Woodard’s mind. In mid-January, he opened a Wholly Cow location on 7th and Congress and he looks forward to opening more stores in neighborhoods that are far from grocery stores, farmers markets and opportunities for healthier choices. Until then, South Austinites are lucky enough to call Zen their local food mart.
“Something that I find unique about us is our organic, down-home, Southern-charm-type atmosphere,” Woodard says. “You won’t find many convenience-store settings that have a Cheers feel.” —Veronica Meewes
Wholly Cow Burgers
Zen Food Mart
3010 S. Lamar Blvd.