Austin Business Journal : Major expansion for Easy Tiger starts with new South Austin location

Easy Tiger is growing again.

The well-regarded bakery and beer garden is planning to open a new location — this one in South Austin. But it doesn’t plan to stop there.

Mike Stitt, formerly of Invisible Ink Tattoo Removers and Travelzoo Inc., was hired as CEO last month with the task of scaling the business. His first 18 months on the job will be devoted to opening the brand’s third large-scale location by the end of 2020 on South Lamar Boulevard, expanding the use of technology and getting more Easy Tiger products in stores.

Scaling up the business right — eventually even nationwide — isn’t something that can be done fast, and Stitt doesn’t have a timeline for expansion beyond those 18 months. He said care will be taken to preserve what people have grown to love about Easy Tiger, including its concept of creating a place where people can slow down and stay awhile.

Easy Tiger also has relatively new owners who are are investing substantially to expand operations, Stitt said, which was one of the reasons he was enticed to join the team.

Pixiu Investments and Prophet Capital Asset Management bought Easy Tiger in 2018 from ELM Restaurant Group. Pixiu is the investment group of Eddie Margain, the lead local investor in pro soccer team Austin FC, and Chris Loughlin, a serial tech entrepreneur and executive chairman of Digital Pharmacist Inc., while Prophet is the investment group of Bobby Epstein, chairman of Formula One racing venue Circuit of The Americas.

And, Stitt was excited about the people involved and the product. Stitt previously worked with Loughlin before at Traveloo. When he first met Easy Tiger’s founder and head baker, David Norman, Stitt said they talked over coffee for two hours.

Stitt formerly served as CEO of Invisible Ink Tattoo Removers, where he oversaw a merger and growth of the company’s national retail brand. Before that, he was president of North America for Travelzoo (Nasdaq: TZOO) where he launched and scaled the company’s restaurant, spa and activity business to more than 10,000 merchants.

Coming over to Easy Tiger was another challenge, and one where Stitt liked the people involved and, of course, the food. In his first weeks on the job, he said he’s worked every shift from baking bread to mopping the floors in order to better learn how the bake shops operate.

New location details

Opening the third large-scale location is a big undertaking on its own, Stitt said.

Easy Tiger has signed a lease to open a 15,000-square-foot bake shop and beer garden in the former Red’s Porch overlooking the Barton Creek Greenbelt at 3508 S. Lamar Blvd.

Michael Hsu Office of Architecture is designing the new space. Renderings of the space weren’t available.

The new location is expected to open before the end of 2020, Stitt said.

The new bake shop and beer garden will be similar to Easy Tiger’s original East Sixth Street location along Waller Creek with its strings of white lights, awning and mix of indoor and outdoor space. South Lamar, though, will be the model that will be replicated in other markets.

It’s being designed as a working bakery, where the person who greets you at the door may be sprinkled with flour, Stitt said.

The massive restaurant will have about 378 seats, according to initial plans. It will have a large beer garden with family and dog-friendly areas and another for live music and watching live television events. This shop will have a curated selection of prepared foods for curbside pickup. Also noteworthy, this location will offer an expansive view of the Barton Creek Greenbelt and the Hill Country from a second-floor enclosed deck.

And this new location will give Norman an opportunity to offer more breadmaking workshops.

“It’s going to be a classic Austin neighborhood joint that’s for everyone,” Hsu said, adding the space will be fun and eclectic. It’s an updated take on South Austin watering holes.

Other plans

Besides getting South Lamar open, Stitt said there’s room to make Easy Tiger more tech-enabled, from making it easier for customers to order and get freshly baked bread delivered to their door to giving customers more information on how Easy Tiger’s breads are made.

Norman said he thinks about that a lot. He wants that shopper who picks up a loaf of Easy Tiger bread at Whole Foods to see and understand that the item they are about to buy was made by hand.

Easy Tiger already has a booming wholesale operation, supplying fresh bread and pastries to 108 customers including Epicere, Second Bar and Kitchen, North Italia, Four Seasons Austin and Whole Foods Markets.

But Stitt said there are opportunities to expand the wholesale business and launch more consumer package goods such as mustard and sausages in grocery stores.

Outgrowing the bakery at the original Easy Tiger caused the company to begin looking for another bake shop site, Norman said. The company opened its North Austin location at The Linc shopping center in late 2018. There’s also a small Easy Tiger within a Whole Foods Market 365 grocery store in Cedar Park.

While Norman can envision a need for a standalone commercial bakery at some point, he said he wants to keep bakeries in each of the beer gardens. He wants to show customers that real people are baking the breads and pastries they are buying.

“It’s not mechanized,” he said.

Easy Tiger’s 25 bakers work nearly around the clock fulfilling the company’s daily orders.

“Our bakers go home at 4 in the morning and the next ones come in at 7 [a.m.],” Norman said, “So technically, we have a little down time.”

Stitt noted, though, that during that three-hour window, employees are packing up breads, delivering and cleaning. “We don’t ever turn off the light in there,” he said of the bake shop.

The bake shop smells the best at around 2:30 a.m. when the pastries are coming out of the ovens, Stitt said.

Norman anticipates that three-hour gap in baking will soon be filled as the wholesale operation continues to grow.

At the heart of the business is Norman’s bread that he’s perfected over 34 years of baking. When asked his ultimate dream for the business, Norman’s face lights up.

“I love the idea of getting our bread on more people’s tables,” he said.