Come March, the excitement of South by Southwest Conference & Festivals will take over Austin. Behind all our fun is a team of specialists and volunteers who make everything come together. This happens at the new SXSW Center on Lavaca Street, where the general public can enjoy SouthBites year-round.
What Is SouthBites?
Step into the lobby of SXSW Center and you’ll find yourself in a chic, open space with trendy seating areas and changing LED lights. With free WiFi, it’s a great place for co-working or just hanging out during your lunch break.
To the right of the entrance is the cafe and coffee bar, SouthBites. Since there’s no kitchen, all food items are easy to grab and go. You’ll find sandwiches, salads, weekly soup, breakfast tacos, pastries, and more.
SouthBites offers vegan, vegetarian, and protein options, too. Additionally, there is a full coffee menu, including espresso and matcha lattes (my new favorite coffee choice).
SouthBites is operated by a trio of champions:
- Brent Schumacher, founder and executive chief of Pink Avocado Catering
- Quirino Silva, previously the culinary operations director of Flyrite Chicken
- Denise Caballero, previously with Alabama-based coffee chain Revelator in New Orleans
The cafe’s name used to belong to the food truck park that operated during SXSW. When the founding team learned the name SouthBites was available, they knew it was the perfect choice for their project.
Introducing Denise Caballero
Schumacher had been friends with Caballero for about 20 years when he started working on SouthBites. It didn’t take him long to realize his friend would be the perfect person to head the beverage program at the cafe.
Caballero’s love for coffee began as a child. Her grandparents used to give her coffee milk, and she loved the taste and smell of it. As she grew older, she became more interested in coffee and cafes. Internet cafes were big in cities like Seattle and Portland, but she didn’t often see them back home.
She moved from Austin to New Orleans in 2007, where she took a series of odd jobs before landing a position at a small cafe. She loved the fast pace and high volume of work in the cafe, and was overjoyed when she was taught how to work with coffee. Through a variety of positions, Caballero learned how to roast, package, and eventually make coffee for customers.
From Crafting to Teaching
One of Caballero’s most memorable moments in her coffee career happened when she was first learning to make coffee. A lawyer who came into the cafe every day for his morning coffee always asked her to make his drink. The man’s daughter, who worked in the building, told Caballero her father looked forward to having her coffee every morning. This experience helped Caballero gain confidence in what she was doing.
As she grew in the field, she realized she wanted to share her passion with others, training baristas to make delicious coffee drinks. When she got the call to join the SouthBites team as general manager and head barista, it was the perfect transition into that type of role.
Caballero moved back to Austin and started with SouthBites at the end of June 2019. Only one of the baristas had worked in coffee before, so Caballero has helped open the eyes of those just learning the art of coffee-making.
“What I wanted to do–it’s happening right now,” Caballero told me with gratitude.
Everyone learns differently, so Caballero gives each team member time to hone their craft. If they need daily one-on-ones, then she’s there for them. She encourages everyone to take notes and make their own cheat sheets to help them learn.
I’m excited to see what Caballero develops on the beverage menu for SouthBites. She crafted a delicious drink for me, made of lemonade, hibiscus tea, and sparkling water. With her quick thinking, willingness to try new things, and experience in coffee, I’m sure only good things are on the way.
SouthBites is currently open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
1400 Lavaca St. #130 — Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
What drink do you want to order first at SouthBites?