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Satchel's: Putting the Art in Pizza
By Samantha Cohen
Where It All Started
I had the opportunity to interview Satchel “Satch” Raye, artist and owner of Satchel’s Pizza, located on 1800 NE 23rd Ave. Also affectionately referred to as “Satchel’s” by Gainesville locals, this pizza joint holds a special place as a quaint Gainesville staple. These days, Satch’s role in running Satchel’s is largely overseeing the big picture — what can he do to motivate employees, inspire customers, and transform his establishment into a unique experience?
Satch began working at a local Italian restaurant in Jacksonville, FL, where he grew up. The owners of this restaurant were Italian immigrants whom he described as “wonderful people who inspired me.” There, he learned how to spin pizzas, and before he turned 20 years old, he knew that he wanted to open a pizza joint of his own.
What Makes Satchel’s Different From Other Pizza Establishments
With mosaic windows, art decorating the walls, and a teal Ford Falcon van as a seating option, it’s clear this isn’t your mom and pop’s pizza shop. On Satchel’s website, Satch invites you to “Eat in a van, under a plane, or in a greenhouse. Enjoy Satch-made stained windows, local art, homemade sodas, and live music. There’s a playground for the kids and a friendly smile to all around.” When I asked Satch what makes Satchel’s different from other pizza establishments, he emphasized how much of the Satchel’s experience is garnered by his own artwork. He described himself as, “an artist first and a business owner second”, a blatant testament to the time dedicated to his unique art projects. “All the pizza shop owners I know … we all care deeply about our restaurants and what we serve and how we put forward our brand and our product. Mine is unique because of the amount of artwork you'll see [here], but I also have a unique skill or talent that I have been honing for a long time. I think if people really start to notice the details in a place, they will find that every place is unique in its own way, and Satchel's just has a flair for the bright, colorful, and often repurposed decor," he said.
Another unique aspect of Satchel’s is the menu. No matter your taste or dietary restrictions, Satchel’s caters to everyone. Still, the menu is classic with pizza, calzones, and salad being at the core of what they serve. With homemade sodas (the best ginger ale on the planet in my most humble opinion) and an adorable dessert menu to top it off, Satchel’s has something for every kind of craving. The beauty of this menu is how simple it is, which Satch explained was intentional because he wanted to maintain the quality and consistency of the food. As a result of this, the core of the menu hasn’t changed much. A pan pizza was introduced along with additional pizza toppings such as tempeh (a traditional soy product that originated in Indonesia and is known to taste chewier and nuttier than tofu) and feta cheese, among others.
Satchel’s Community Outreach and Engagement
Satchel’s Pizza has additionally partnered with First Magnitude Brewing Company a few years back to build homes with Habitat for Humanity, and employees from both businesses have continued to volunteer their Saturdays to continue to build and repair homes. Beyond community outreach, Satchel’s has additionally engaged with the Gainesville arts community by inviting artists to showcase their work in the dining room, hiring them for special projects, and providing a space for musicians to play live music in their bar that doubles as their music venue, Lightnin Salvage Enterprises (LSE). Satch remains humble on his work for the Gainesville arts community, simply stating that “the musicians and artists come to us looking for a venue, and we provide that."
Finding Comfort in Satchel’s
When I asked Satch how his establishment is a source of comfort for the Gainesville community, he noted that pizza, among other things on the menu, is a comfort food. (I should also emphasize that the homemade soda is an absolute game-changer. I can count on one hand the number of restaurants that make their own soda, and, if that doesn’t embody comfort, then nothing does.)
Satchel’s dining environment also provides a sense of comfort for those who crave a warm, hearty ambiance that may or may not be inside of a van. When asked how he would describe Satchel’s ambiance, however, Satch surprised me by saying that other people describing Satchel’s as “hippie” and “eclectic” always sounded strange to him. “ I don't have the intention of creating a hippie retro vibe. I get that the van makes people think ‘hippie,’ and it's usually referred to as a VW bus, but it's actually a Ford Falcon van and that alone seems to speak of a more working-class vibe than hippie, but I get the thought process people have," he said.
For Satch, words like “warm”, “friendly”, “colorful”, and “cozy” were more accurate for him. His love for painting and color largely inspired this ambiance; “I like that there are so many different kinds of spaces from the greenhouse to the front garden to the stained glass porch, each area has a warm glow. I am drawn to yellows and oranges and browns and greens, and so, for me, the inspiration is my art using that color scheme and in different mediums," he said.
Satch is an artist first; he’s incorporated much of his own artistic vision into Satchel’s atmosphere. He likes to create mobiles and sculptures out of junk and has since gotten into stained glass, tile making, and mosaics. “I like to think of the whole property as one big performance art piece or one giant sculpture, so I am always trying to take a bird’s-eye view and see where I need to focus my energy to enhance each area. Then, I just go with my gut. It's not so much premeditated as it is a one-day-at-a-time sort of approach. What project do I really want to get done today? And then I work on that until it's done or until it leads to the next thing," he said.
The Impact of COVID-19
Despite their legendary ginger ale, even Satchel’s wasn’t immune to the impacts of COVID-19. In March 2020, Satchel’s quickly shut down everything except for takeout. Their business dropped by over 60%, and they had to lay off 26 people. “That was crazy and seemed to happen fast. We've always been a place for people to gather and enjoy in groups so going to a takeout model was sad mostly. Sad because we lost some of the pulse we had before and all the faces covered in masks," Satch said.
In light of COVID-19, Satchel’s has had to adapt in many ways. They’ve moved order pickups to the bar and they had to modify their Point of Sale system in order to keep track of sales more efficiently. “We sell a lot more puzzles now, we sell beer to go. We have only one or two singers on stage instead of whole bands, and we open windows in weather a little hotter or colder than we previously did. We've got plexiglass everywhere and sanitizer everywhere," Satch said. "You know the deal. Everything is just different."
Despite COVID-19, Satch said that the future looks pretty much the same as always. “I have projects planned for every space and I have improvements planned as well. I don't know if I could ever go [to Satchel’s] and not see a hundred things I want to do," he said. "I sort of always imagine this happening but never in a straight line, always with the dips that come with life and reality. It's been fires before and it's a pandemic now. But because there's so much more to do, I think it will just get more and more exciting”.
Reflecting on Satchel's
“We have really great employees who make it happen. They are amazing folks and they really care about the food they make and serve. I am just one guy, but the staff is how the place keeps going," Satchel said. "I could die tomorrow and the place will keep going. I really respect and admire the work they do, from the dishwasher all the way to the office manager."
When asked what the most meaningful lesson he’s learned from Satchel’s, he said, “I have learned to accept change and embrace change. I can't give you specifics on what that looks like, but we've had to face big changes so many times in my business and in life in general. I have found that many people are scared of change and it sort of drives me crazy. I've come to know change as always having good results and lessons."
When asked what advice he would give to his younger self and other young aspiring business owners, he said, “Start as simple as you can and grow. Don't try to get to a fully realized vision overnight but realize that big things only happen over time."
When asked about his favorite thing about opening Satchel’s, Satch said that it was being able to make art for a living. “The restaurant makes my living but the art makes the restaurant and I get to spend a lot of time making art. That's my dream come true right there.”
Tempeh is a traditional soy product that originated in Indonesia and is known to taste chewier and nuttier than tofu.
A Habitat home is a home built by the organization Habitat for Humanity, an international, non-governmental, and nonprofit organization that helps provide decent and affordable housing for those in need.
Seeking Comfort? SweetBerries Eatery and Frozen Custard Will Not Disappoint!
By Amanda Friedman
Home to many in the Gainesville area, SweetBerries, located on 13th Street, lives not only as a restaurant but also as a family-owned establishment that extends its arms out to every customer.
I sat down over Zoom with co-owner Jane Osmond, where we chatted about the magic behind SweetBerries and how they are overcoming the impacts of COVID-19.
SweetBerries was first started in Bradenton by Jane’s family. Her brother, sister-in-law, father, and grandmother, seeing the success of their shop, opened a second location in Sarasota, which is now run by Jane’s nephew. When Jane and her sister started discussing how they were “tired of their jobs and wanted to do something different,” the third location in Gainesville was born.
Jane feels that SweetBerries being a family-owned business in every corner that it reaches makes it “mean more to us, have more value for us, we work harder to make it successful, and can enjoy the successes and work through the challenges together.” She smiled. “I don’t think any of us would have done it without our family members.”
SweetBerries has a wide range of delectable food items including housemade frozen custard and classic American-inspired sandwiches. “We take the ideas for our sandwiches from sandwiches all over the United States, but make them our own. You won’t find the exact sandwiches we have at any other restaurant. And then we have frozen custard, which until recently you couldn't really find in Florida,” she said. I ask her what her favorite menu items are and she replied “I like our Kansas city roast reef and black and bleu salad. I also love our tuna melt. For the frozen custard, I love anything with Heath bar pieces in it.”
If you don’t know, SweetBerries has a new frozen custard flavor daily, known as the “flavor of the day.” A calendar is made every month listing each new flavor, which is available on their website. DayDream Magazine’s Co-Founder, Hannah, even has the calendar bookmarked on her computer to check in on the unique flavors that often pull her into the shop.
To provide excellent customer service, Jane explained, “We try to hire friendly staff and look for people with positive personalities. We have a lot of regulars allowing our staff to get closer with our customers, which I think makes a difference.”
I ask about how SweetBerries’s operation has progressed over time, and Jane answered, “We hold on to a core group of staff. If you are constantly training new people it is hard to keep your product consistent.”
Another characteristic that makes SweetBerries special is its ambiance. When walking through the doors, gorgeous colors and striking art pieces immediately stand out. “Our walls and windows are covered in art from the Gainesville Fine Art Association, so it’s a beautiful interior. "Our tables inside have been redone by artists, and the napkin holder on the table has the bios of the artists, who are all local. We enjoy working with the local community,” Jane said proudly. She also expresses how they wanted to keep the building’s old-fashioned look and original architecture to stay true to its history.
Surrounding the idea of being a source of comfort in the Gainesville community, Jane said, “We are open seven days a week. We have lunch, dinner, and dessert available for anyone who wants to grab a bite or treat. We have respected social distancing, to keep people safe. People love to come to our deck with their pets. We feel like a neighborhood place that is established in the Gainesville community. Occasionally we have people get cozy and work on their computer for a bit….We are always there.”
Anyone who lives in the Gainesville area has heard of and probably been to SweetBerries, making it a stronghold in the community. When asking Jane about how her restaurant’s popularity makes her feel, she smiled and said, “It has been amazing to watch it happen. We’ve been here eight years now, and our revenue grows each year. It is nice to be sort of established in Gainesville. I am really happy to hear, as you pointed out, that people know who we are.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, most restaurants took a financial hit, especially small and family-owned businesses. Jane discussed how the pandemic has hurt her business: “Our catering has really dropped off. It went from being 10% of our business to a very small percentage of our revenue. Because we relied so heavily on catering we actually lost money last year. We were lucky enough to get a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program, which was established to financially assist businesses in response to COVID-19) loan, and, without that loan, we could very well be closed now. It has been very difficult for restaurants in Gainesville. We are very blessed; our customers have been great with coming in to keep us afloat,” Jane said.
During these stressful and uncertain times, it is important to give back to your community in any way possible. SweetBerries has been an establishment dedicated to helping the Gainesville community. “We have had the Bloodmobile out several times for blood drives. We have given quarts of frozen custard to those who donate blood. Also, we were fortunate enough to have businesses buy our food to donate to other people. I have to shout out the Florida Credit Union for placing large orders throughout last year which were donated to teachers in schools all over Gainesville. There have also been several organizations that have placed orders to feed COVID patients. There was even a nursing group called Helping the Helpers that did a fundraiser with SweetBerries, which let us provide lunch to nurses at Shands. A lot of things like that went on to help the community during COVID-19,” Jane said.
Every time I visit SweetBerries, I cannot help but feel comforted by the delicious food, welcoming staff, and cozy environment. I will undoubtedly be back for a cup of my favorite frozen custard and that homey feeling.
Swamp Boil at its Heart
By Rayaan Ali
Swamp Boil, at its heart, is a restaurant dedicated to the comforts of Gainesville.
The bar is crafted from 300 year old Gainesvillian oak. Along the wooden dining tables, a brilliant mural painted by a local art company, VisionaryFam, depicts a shadowy blue gator; its bright orange eyes peek out above the royal blue swamp.
According to owner Son Vo, Swamp Boil’s cuisine is perfect for breaking down walls. “People are just eating with their hands, and it gets really messy,” he said.
What is Swamp Boil’s Origin Story?
Owner Son Vo and his family moved from Vietnam to California in the late nineties, then moved to Gainesville in the early aughts. Their restaurant fuses Cajun seafood, Vietnamese cuisine, and Gainesville pride to create a community hub for Gators and non-Gators alike.
Vo grinned as he recounts his countless journeys to King Cajun, the closest Viet-Cajun restaurant to Gainesville.
“It was a pain” he explained, driving to Orlando often to satiate his cravings for Viet-Cajun cuisine. Eventually, Vo and his family began cooking Viet-Cajun food at home.
And so, Swamp Boil was born.
Vo describes his “why” for starting Swamp Boil as an intent to break down cultural barriers and to create a space where people can come together, connect, and bond over good food.
Menu Recommendations for First-Timers?
Vo’s eyes gleamed through the Zoom video screen as he described the creation of the Classic Pho–Vietnamese noodle soup under the experienced eyes of his mother and co-owner, Loan Bui.
“Definitely the best pho in town - we got mom’s approval,” Vo said with a laugh.
At Swamp Boil, customers also have the option to build their own boil, pairing their choice of seafood with special sauces and a custom spice level. Rest assured, though the menu gives the customer agency, a list of suggested pairings equip customers for selection amongst the many tasty combinations Swamp Boil has to offer. Vo recommends the “Shabang Sauce,” a combination of garlic, ginger, lemon, butter, and cajun spice.
How Does Swamp Boil Stay Involved with the Community?
Community is one of Swamp Boil’s core values, alongside hospitality, integrity, and growth. As Vo opened Swamp Boil in the midst of the pandemic, he emphasized the importance of entrepreneurs supporting local businesses.
Vo is able to practice this value as part of an entrepreneurship group called the One Six One group. According to Vo, the group “supports startups and helps get them to stages where they can get funding from investors.”
The group also advises local business owners on ways to adapt their establishment through the pandemic. They are currently working on creating an outdoor event to help fund COVID aid for local businesses.
Vo also mentioned the role local businesses have played in his own success. Before opening Swamp Boil, he described how he shadowed local restaurants like Dragonfly and Piesanos to observe their business model. “Gainesville raised me for most of my life; I love the city and watching its growth, so I want to give back as much as possible," Vo said.
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