November 14, 2017
A handful of small, local businesses helped Siete from the start. These businesses are as much a part of the Siete story as we are, and their stories inform much of what has made our food resonate with you all! Because of this, we thought that we could shine some light on these businesses and share their stories with you all. First up: Cross Plants and Produce.
Nathan Cross can describe the experience of owning a business in just four words: “It never turns off.” He and his wife Jennifer own an eclectic store called Cross Plants and Produce in Kyle, Texas, a fast growing suburb just south of Austin.
They are slowly but steadily carving out a niche as a unique and hospitable source for local, healthy food. This may be their first stab at business ownership, but each of their family backgrounds prepared them for the long, occasionally difficult journey to self-employment.
Nathan grew up as part of a hardworking Missouri farm family and Jennifer was raised in Puerto Rico. Not longer after moving to the U.S. and learning English, her father taught her (and her sister) an important lesson in self-sufficiency and perseverance. “Before we could get a learner’s permit, my sister and I had to change--on our own--two tires,” Jennifer told us during a visit to the store.
This work ethic would come in handy many years later when she and Nathan decided to open a business modeled on a place where they had worked in Virginia. The Crosses had been charmed by their stint at Nalls Produce, a cozy store that sold fresh produce and plants for the garden. They eventually moved to Texas and not long after, with two children now a part of the family, began thinking a lot more about food and health. “We started reading labels and were astonished by what was on them,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer and Nathan Cross
The dream of self-employment was beginning to seem possible. The Crosses imagined a place that combined the format of Nalls Produce with their newfound commitment to local, healthy eating. They wrote a business plan and began applying for loans. After six or seven rejections, they finally connected with a bank and began the long process of clearing an oak-shaded property just north of downtown Kyle. “We had to really see it for what it could be,” Jennifer said, “not for what it was.”
The place was rather, shall we say, cluttered. Nathan lists some of the junk that they carried away, along with help from family, friends and volunteers from the community. “Car batteries, paint cans, hubcaps,” he said and paused to think. “The rear end of a car.”
Cross Plants and Produce opened in 2014 and has been steadily growing ever since. They sell local produce, meats and dairy, along with some locally prepared foods like yogurt and our tortillas and chips (yay!). They also sell plants and firewood. The store has become as much a community hub as a retail store. The busiest times are October, during the pumpkin patch, and Christmas, when trees (and Santa) are around in November and December. There is no better time to visit Cross Plants than a sunny Sunday afternoon during pumpkin season, when dozens of families from the surrounding community paint pumpkins, take pictures on the vintage farm tractor and eat turkey legs from a barbecue trailer.
“We try to fill a void,” Nathan said, in between sales of five-dollar pumpkins for the painting station. Jennifer paused to greet friends and described their efforts to support the Kyle community. They host sports team fundraisers and visit area schools for Career Days. They talk to students about plant life cycles and healthy eating. Jennifer’s favorite events of the year are the kids’ entrepreneur markets, when local children come to Cross Plants to sell handmade goodies (like brownies) or services (like babysitting). The Crosses charge a modest booth fee and make the kids apply directly so that they can learn about some of the hurdles that business owners must deal with. “I usually tear up because it’s just so cute and so cool,” Jennifer said.
Despite the steady growth and deepening ties with the surrounding community, running a small business is never easy, and doing so while managing a relationship is harder still. But, the Crosses are nothing if not doers and their approach to solving problems--in the business and the family--could be an example to married entrepreneurs everywhere.
”It’s all communication-based,” Nathan said. “If we don’t communicate then, well, it’s going to come back and bite us in the butt.”
“We have a lot of grace with each other,” Jennifer added. “When you want to be mad, you need to be loving, basically.”
After all, when an autumn flood surges through the property, a strong relationship helps relieve some of the stress that comes from watching your products float away. “Most of our pumpkins wound up in Lake Kyle,” Nathan said, remembering the October 2015 flood. The Crosses are committed to their cozy business under the oaks, even if it means taking an occasional side job during the slower seasons. Their children can often be found on the property, and they are buoyed by their year-round employee, Sydney Klinedinst.
The end of pumpkin season is a welcome breather for Sydney, but Nathan is already looking ahead to stocking Christmas trees and working through whatever challenges the busy tree season may bring.
“We tell people, ‘I make the wheels turn and she steers the car.” And if one of the wheels gets a flat, Jennifer knows how to fix it.
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