In February 2017, I received an interesting phone call that ended up changing our business for the better. The man on the other end, Paul Oveisi, said that he was putting together a brand new coffee and beer garden near Downtown Austin and wanted a pond to be the centerpiece of the outdoor area.
Oveisi’s vision was to create an environmentally friendly, sustainable business model as an example to other local businesses. He wanted to show them how they could help reduce their carbon footprint while running a profitable business. The picture he described to me was beautiful and well thought out.
On-site composting would turn food waste, leaves and coffee grounds into organic nutrients that would be returned to the garden and used on the rest of the property. The bar would carry locally made beers and locally roasted coffee to promote our local craftsmen. Paul had spent the last couple of years studying and working in sustainability and permaculture and wanted to incorporate those ideas into his new business. “You had me at beer,” I laughingly told him.
Working with Nature
I took a few minutes to explain to him that the ponds we create are built not only to look natural, but also to function as balanced aquatic ecosystems. They require no chemicals to stay clear, clean and healthy environments for the fish and plants that live within them. The fish waste, which is broken down by the bacteria, becomes the plant fertilizer, and the fish are content to graze on the biofilm, algae and other organic things that end up in the pond. We don’t need to feed the fish or fertilize the plants in these ponds. Our ponds work with nature — not against her.
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For years, Austin has had to battle with algae blooms in our natural creeks and streams that are caused by fertilizer runoff from nearby neighborhoods. So the concept of the balanced organic ecosystem pond really struck a chord with me when I first learned of this philosophy nearly 20 years ago. And it’s the only kind of pond I’ve ever built. In fact, I think of them more as water gardens because of the variety of beautiful plants and creatures that make their home in and around them. I ended up inviting Paul over to see the pond in my backyard. As soon as he saw it, he said, “Oh yeah. This is what I want.” We made a deal right there. I gave him a discounted price with the expectation that having one of our ponds in a public location would help us sell more work.
An Initial Success
The water garden was the first improvement that was made to the property. It was soon followed by a large rainwater-harvesting tank and a chicken coop. The chickens help with the composting process, and their droppings help provide a rich, fertile product that’s used in the garden and landscaping on the property.
When the Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden finally opened in January 2018, it was an immediate success. Very soon there was a need for more seating, because it was packed all the time! Moving the food trucks farther back would open up the needed space, but this would also expose an unsightly hillside that was experiencing some erosion problems at the time.
Earlier, Paul had asked me what I would do with that area if I had the chance. “I would put waterfalls all the way down the hillside using large boulders to act as a sort of retaining wall,” I said. I was envisioning a 50-foot-wide wall of boulders and water crashing every which way down the hillside. We got the call in February and were building before March even started. However, Paul didn’t share my vision for a giant wall of boulders. He wanted it to look like something more characteristic of the Austin area — essentially, springs appearing out of the ground and running down the hill.
We settled on an idea that included three separate pondless waterfalls that left lots of room in between for the existing Palo Verde trees and some landscaping that would be installed after we were finished.
There was one small catch, though. He didn’t want to move the Leroy and Lewis Barbecue truck until we were finished, because he didn’t want the customers wandering onto our construction site. So that left us just barely enough room to squeeze the excavator between the barbecue truck and the pond-free basin. It was very tight and very smoky, as we were working within feet of the smoker trailer they were using to cook the food.
Once again, we gave them a great price, because we wanted the public to see that we can work effectively with large boulders and create large, natural-looking waterfalls. A week after we began, the new water feature was complete, and it was time to move the food trucks around for the big reveal. The new dining area was now open with three stunning waterfalls along one wall of this outdoor area!
Additional landscaping was added, along with a dripline system to irrigate the plants on the hillside with captured rainwater. Both the water garden and the pondless waterfalls are topped off using the rainwater. The vegetable and herb gardens are also watered with the same rainwater. The property is always changing as Paul gets new ideas, and there’s still room to expand in the future by moving the food trucks farther back. Hopefully the next expansion will also include some new water features!
A Texas-sized Showcase
The water features that we built have become a big hit with the guests. Almost every time I go there, I see people standing and watching the waterfall or the colorful koi swimming in the pond. I see parents using our water garden as a tool to teach their kids about nature. People use the pondless waterfalls as a backdrop to take pictures of their friends to commemorate their visit to Austin. Every television report or video blog that’s been done on the property has shown our work — and there have been many.
This has led to so much good exposure for us. And as expected, we sold several new water feature installations just because people saw our work in a public setting. As with most pond builders, the majority of our work is done in private backyards and is never seen by anyone except the homeowners and their immediate families and friends. I can’t stress enough to other water feature artists the benefits of doing something that’s in the public eye. It’s now constant advertising for our company.
Cosmic is also now a place where we can meet potential clients or just send them to look at our work without feeling like there’s a salesperson pressuring them to buy something. This single venture is responsible for more than 50 percent of the new construction we did in 2018. And it’s just the beginning. They’re already scouting out locations for Cosmic II!
Austin City Limits
This being Austin, Texas, Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden now hosts live music on the deck (and inside when the weather’s too cold). There are fire pits burning in the cooler weather, and you can purchase S’mores kits inside at the bar to roast over the fires. The venue is totally dog friendly, and most days, there are dogs enjoying the place with their owners in tow. The wooden pole that supports the shade sails also sports a sculpture of Willie Nelson by a local chainsaw artist. This place really captures the Austin vibe! It’s like a big backyard for people who live in the area to hang out in, drink some coffee or beer and eat some tacos, barbecue or chicken wings. I’ve never seen someone’s vision come together so quickly and thoroughly as what has happened with Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden these past couple of years, and I’m so glad our company was able to play a small part in making it happen.