When Nicole and Jeremy Portwood first met in New York, she was working in the sprits industry and he was a touring musician living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “In addition to falling madly in love, we found… that we had complementary skills and wanted to find a way to build something together beyond our romantic life,” Nicole says.
Both had worked in the restaurant industry in some capacity during their early lives and vowed to never open a restaurant. Yet, food was a continuous cornerstone of their relationship.
“When we first got together we were capital-P-poor and living in the city,” Nicole recalls. “Not enough money to go to the movies, much less out for a nice dinner. So, we cooked at home and it became the centerpiece of our courtship.”
In college, Nicole’s mom had given her a pizza cookbook filled with sauce and dough recipes, and listing suggestions for topping combinations. “That little book is where our fascination with pizza started and really has never stopped,” she says. “With humble ingredients, you could make wildly delicious things happen in the kitchen.”
Once they moved to Austin and Nicole accepted a job as the VP of Brand Marketing at Tito’s Handmade Vodka, they decided to think more seriously about starting a business together. They considered a bed and breakfast but found it required too much startup capital. They worked with a friend on a technology idea but couldn’t get bites from investors. All the while, they were strictly opposed to the idea of opening a restaurant.
“We were worried about the life of being ‘married’ to it,” Nicole explains. “Worried about the late nights. Worried about making a living, all that normal stuff. Eventually, we just could not ignore what was staring us in the face. We were so passionate about food, we just could not deny that that’s where we’d be happiest if we finally pulled the trigger.”
The two purchased a gutted 1955 Spartan Imperial Mansion trailer, which they’d found listed on Craigslist. “It was basically just a beautifully polished shell—nothing in it,” Nicole says.
Then Jeremy spent the next six months turning it into a pizza kitchen. “I had no idea how to build a kitchen, let alone a commercial kitchen inside a mobile home,” he says. He had to learn a little about everything from plumbing to electricity to propane management. “Outside of all the blood, sweat, tears, and unpaid labor hours, it cost us about $50,000 to do everything from buying the trailer shell to finishing it out and opening for business.”
Six months after opening, they were pleasantly surprised by Spartan’s success. “Seeing the reaction people had to our food, we really thought we’d hit on something.”
Jeremy agrees: “We knew that if we were going to turn Spartan into the kind of business we hoped it could become, brick and mortar was the way to go.” Their first pizza shop just opened this month in the new Corazon apartment complex on East 6th Street. “The plan now is to open several over the course of the next few years,” Jeremy says.
Read more food trailer to brick-and-mortar stories from this multi-part series:
Writing: Veronica Meewes – @wellfedlife
Photography: Chris Perez – @citygrammag, Hannah Vickers – @vickershannah
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