Blindsiding business: Like all, Clint Underwood didn’t see a pandemic coming that would wreck a prospering economy.

Out of a crisis emerges resiliency. The Westchase District Farmers Market vendors were a proven source of food and example of endurance.

During the COVID-19 crisis, grocery stores were deemed essential businesses and remained open. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also placed farmers markets in an essential category. Pre-COVID, the Farmers Market was the spot for people casually buying local produce and authentic items. By March, it began augmenting the food supply chain and never closed to the public.

Vendors quickly adopted CDC safety guidelines and served the community for more than 16 Thursdays since March. Not only was it a place to shop but an alternative to restaurants who shifted to carry out, curbside and delivery service. That’s when Avila Flavors & Experiences joined the scene.

Avila Flavors & Experiences’ Nelson Padron began selling his empanadas at the market after events shut down and catering orders stopped.

The caterer desperately needed to make up for lost business after its wedding, social gatherings, and corporate events were suddenly cancelled. Avila began offering its to-go empanadas filled with beef or chicken to hungry market goers using mobile thermo heating ovens to keep the ready-to-eat meals warm. “Going from zero, to a few orders here, is better than nothing,” said owner Nelson Padron.

Starting Up in a Crisis

In mid-January self-described coffee fanatic Clint Underwood was getting ready to enter the coffee roasting arena. Normally brewing is a good thing in the coffee world. Except when it means something more ominous like an unsuspecting pandemic bubbling under the surface of everyday life set to unleash unforeseen trouble to lives and economies.

“Friends tell us we’re brave for opening Inconceivable Coffee Roasters when we did,” said Underwood. “We had no idea when launching that we were up against with COVID-19. But as with other fellow small businesses, we are survivors. We cannot give up. We were able to pivot quickly to serve online customers with our coffee, make use of effective personal protective equipment, and do what is needed to stay safe and keep thriving. The pandemic has brought numerous challenges to businesses, but we feel lucky. This farmers market allows an outdoor space for new customers to try our coffee and see what’s in our ‘magic beans.’”

Crowds have steadily increased because market goers know they can find healthy, fresh food options like this bottle of organic juice from The Juice Freaks.

Finding the Right Fit at the Westchase District Farmers Market  

Researching several markets, Underwood wanted to join a well-established farmers market with a strong local community following with a location on or near Westheimer. One held on Thursday met his other criteria since those are slower days for his product. “Westchase presented the ideal scenario and I feel blessed to join with a fine group of folks,” said Underwood.

Before entering the coffee roaster world, Underwood worked as a chef in numerous restaurants. He has always relished the joy of cooking, especially grilling food. He had a brief stint in New York and credits his Texas roots for giving him a unique understanding of what makes an excellent cup of coffee.

Entrepreneurial Resilience

Underwood says coffee can bring comfort.

“All of this experience led me to become a coffee roaster,” explained Underwood. “What really kicked me into gear with Inconceivable Coffee was that in 2019, I received an unexpected fresh start when my former company – where I worked in the corporate environment for ten years – sold my division to a competitor. I knew it was time to embark on my dream of coffee roasting and that’s when Inconceivable Coffee was created.”

After learning all he could about coffee roasting through extensive classes and formal education, Underwood knew his leap was the right move.  “Now, there’s no turning back. Every day, I get to do what I love.”

Underwood sees a silver lining in what’s happened. “During a pandemic, coffee can keep you going or give you that little sense of comfort, whether you’re a parent at home trying to work while teaching your kids, or a frontline medical worker, or an essential worker, coffee is the constant. The pandemic has brought a new appreciation to roasting coffee. It offers simple comforts to those who need it, and we’re grateful for that,” said Underwood.

Read more in the Houston Chronicle and Houstonia about how the Farmers Market responded to the pandemic.