The Roadside Attraction
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Meda Kessler
For Shannon Houchin and her son, Finn, selling produce is serious business. They count on a good location, nostalgia and perfectly ripe peaches.
Shannon Houchin is battling a hot wind as she attempts to set up a canopy over her roadside fruit stand. Shade is key in her line of work, and the sun continues to creep up from the horizon.
Finn Canard, her 19-year-old son, arrives to help. Home from college for the summer — he attends the University of Colorado in Boulder — Finn already has set up a pop-up stand in a nearby neighborhood park and has others to attend to in and around Fort Worth.
They work quickly and efficiently, stopping now and then to take in the aroma of the East Texas peaches as they unload them and bag them for sale. Customers already are pulling up to the parking lot of the Ol’ South Pancake House on University Drive. Shannon talks a bit about where the peaches came from, the differences among certain varieties and what she looks for in a perfect peach. “These are ripe and ready to eat,” she says to one couple. Sales are made and peaches restocked.
A small red-and-white camper trailer holds some of the supplies, and Shannon also drives a vintage red pickup, both suited to this roadside entrepreneur who, along with Finn, started selling peaches almost 10 years ago.
“I had a friend in South Carolina who had run peach stands for a decade. In 2013, I spent a summer there and learned the business. Roadside stands bring back good memories for many people, and people who stop by are happy people.”
Shannon’s background has little to do with fresh fruit and bushel baskets. She has a master’s degree in information sciences and was chief operating officer for her family’s software business. She also worked in the real estate business before flipping the switch on her career once again. A single mom, Shannon found herself looking for something different during the pandemic lockdown. She remembered everything she had learned and liked about the peach-selling business in South Carolina and decided to take it one step further in forming Roadside Republic in 2020, a new family business.
Doing copious amounts of research, including checking traffic patterns to find high-traffic areas for road stands and navigating zoning and permit regulations, she checked out farmers markets and found farmers and wholesalers to source her fruit and produce. For staff, she turned to college students and teachers looking for summer jobs.
Kids typically wear their college T-shirts, which can be a conversation starter with customers. They learn about the product, how to pick a ripe watermelon, the growers and any information that’s useful to the customers. They’re encouraged to put out tip jars, too.
The first year, she opened Memorial Day weekend, closed on Nov. 1 and used the winter to plan for the next season. She’s never looked back.
Roadside Republic is now a thriving enterprise for mother and son. They’re fixtures at the University Drive location and at a location in Benbrook six days a week, working 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. or until they sell out. Shannon also will set up at special events, festivals and artisan markets. As the season progresses, she adds cantaloupe, sweet corn, okra and more. “July is the month for Pecos cantaloupe, and people mark their calendars for those.”
Finn, who is studying logistics at school, helps his mom with more than just selling. He’s also teaching his friends how to run stands.
“The summer helps pay for Finn’s college tuition and living expenses,” says Shannon. “I’ve done a pumpkin patch a few times, but it’s a lot of work. I’d rather use my off-season to recharge for the next year.”
Shannon offers webinars and business plans on her website to help others get into the business, too. But she loves the hands-on part of the business best: the storytelling and the selling.
“I’ve sold fruit to moonshiners in the Caroliners who use them to make liquor. I’ve had ice cream and custard makers as clients. Even overripe leftovers go to farmers, so they can treat their livestock. It’s one truth in my business: Everyone loves peaches.”