Austin’s first ‘democratized’ grocer carts out hyperlocal shopping

A tasty — and revolutionary — new grocery biz with a very Austin-y model

A tasty — and revolutionary — new grocery biz with a very Austin-y model is opening up shop in the SoCo District, aiming to empower food producers and give shoppers the chance to bag goods from hundreds of local vendors.

Tàstès (pronounced “Tasty’s”) is billing itself as “the first democratized grocery store” in Austin, and features a soil-to-store hyperlocal model in which the entirety of a customer’s spending amount goes back to the farmer and food supplier.

Located at 3208 S. Congress Ave. near St. Edward’s University, Tàstès is planning to open in late spring 2022. 

At the heart of the market is the ambitious and inspiring goal to solve two deeply rooted issues within the supply chain: food deserts and prioritizing profits over people.

Here’s how Tàstès works: The grocer leases shelf space to vendors at “affordable” monthly rates, eliminating the pay-to-play model. Consumers save on costs and have access to small-batch, freshly harvested food. Tàstès plans to feature goods from hundreds of local vendors, including Mother Culture; Dos Lunas; Shirttail Creek Farm; and Austin’s beloved Quality Seafood Market, which will supply the Tàstès seafood department.

Digital kiosks, along with in-person tastings, will be set up with the aim of allowing shoppers to discover local brands, who makes them, and the stories behind the products. Shoppers can even choose what products they want to see on Tàstès’ shelves by participating in a quarterly voting system.

The grocery store is the brainchild of chef and restaurateur (and former actress) Cheryl Chin Cunningham of popular Austin food truck DFG Noodles, in partnership with former executives from Dell, Macy’s, Hershey’s and Taco Cabana, Tàstès will also house Cunningham’s next iteration of DFG Noodles, Noodle Street Café.

The onsite Noodle Street Café will showcase “Singapore high-tea-inspired fare,” bringing together the oddly intriguing combo of freshly made dumpling and noodle flights with a British high-tea experience. The cafe will also offer beers and sipping bone broths on tap, including a signature chicken broth from Austin’s Sazan Ramen. In line with the overall Tàstès mission, ingredients at Noodle Street Cafe will be locally sourced whenever possible.

Though Austin will house the flagship location for the brand, Cunningham says there are plans to scale the concept globally.

“We have created a value-driven culture that has decreased food-producer profits and in turn has also depleted the nutritional level in our food and soil,” Cunningham says. “We need to empower food producers to reverse the damages we have done unto ourselves by financially enabling them to increase the nutritional value of our food and engage in more sustainable practices.”

The innovative market seemingly couldn’t come at a better time, as supply-chain issues worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic are causing consumer headaches worldwide. Cunningham argues the current climate offers the ideal opportunity to source goods from local business and producers.

“Tàstès is a new breed of grocery store that is founded on kindness, paying it forward, and uniting the community in a single mission to reverse the damages from an unsustainable food model,” a release about the new store says.

Further drawing on the idea of democracy and its community-driven focus, Tàstès has launched a campaign on crowdfunding platform Wefunder, already amassing more than $55,000 for the project.

“Everything you spend is actually going back to the farmer or vendor, who really benefits from what you spend in the store,” Cunningham says of the Austin location, “so that they can actually do what’s right for the world and for the nutritional level in our food and soil.”