Ranch Hand co-owners talk business, McCombs, how their food is more than just salad

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Photo Credit: Blaine Young | Daily Texan Staff

In a little more than three years, health-conscious grain bowl business Ranch Hand has gone from a meal subscription service at UT to local food truck to sharing space with other small businesses at Native Hostel in Austin. And they’re only getting started. 

Ranch Hand co-owners and UT alumni Quentin Cantu and Brian Murphy met in 2016 when they were pursuing graduate degrees at McCombs School of Business. Both were impressed by UT’s gymnasium and how fit the student body was as a whole, but the food options offered to students didn’t seem to match. Murphy said he remembers looking around between classes and being stunned by the unhealthy chains that seemed to dominate campus. 

“One of the options is a  … Wendy’s — one of the highest grossing Wendy’s in the country — and then Chick-fil-A.” Murphy said. “There’s not many healthy food options, at least branded options, that students can kind of dig into.” 

Cantu and Murphy viewed the problem as something they could solve using the ideas they were being taught in the classroom. They created a business making and selling salad bowls to their MBA classmates online. Cantu said balancing course work with making the bowls was a challenge.

“We would meet up at 6 a.m. to go shop at H-E-B and sling together about 10-15 salads for our classmates who bought them, then bring them to McCombs, put them in the fridge and go to class,” Cantu said. 

When undergraduates started ordering from their site, Murphy and Cantu knew they needed to expand beyond a meal subscription. Around that time, they started taking an entrepreneurship class at McCombs called New Venture Creation, where they were able to test their business model for Ranch Hand. 

“To be able to think through a business model in a low-risk academic situation allows you to think through a lot of potential missteps you might make in the business without having to make them,” Murphy said.  

Cantu and Murphy then began raising money from investors to achieve the next phase of Ranch Hand: buying a food truck. UT alumnus Nick Spiller is the director of marketing at the Genesis Program, who invested in Ranch Hand early on. 

“Ranch Hand focuses on natural ingredients and healthy food at an affordable price,” Spiller said. “I think that is a really important problem to solve. They’re trying to make it accessible to students, which is really exciting.” 

When the food truck opened during Murphy and Cantu’s second year of graduate studies, the goal was to bring healthy food options to their customers through the truck. Cantu said they wanted to create a food concept that spoke to Texas culture, which includes meat.  

“A lot of healthy food concepts in America only focus on salads — they don’t focus on meat at all,” Cantu said. “We wanted to embody that rugged, Texas feel more than a lot of other healthy concepts in the market. (Ranch Hand is) not a glorified salad bar — it’s actual proteins.”

But their goals for the business extend far beyond just healthy bowls. In December, Cantu and Murphy launched Ranch Rider Spirits, a branch of Ranch Hand that makes clean canned cocktails. Murphy said the concept is much the same: taking natural ingredients and presenting them to customers. 

“Right now, beverage is our main conduit through which we can do that because the spirits industry is so antiquated with additives, coloring and preservatives,” Murphy said. “Our goal is to continue to bring the healthiest possible food and beverage options to our customers.”