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Kevin Smith Brings Mooby’s Pop-Up Restaurant to Austin

The filmmaker and entrepreneur talks about loving Austin, embracing veganism and delivering an amazing experience for fans

At 9 a.m. on Monday morning, acclaimed filmmaker, actor and all-around entrepreneur Kevin Smith stepped off of a plane in Austin, Texas, and made his way to Second Street’s 3TEN. The intimate showroom and extension of ACL Live at the Moody Theater was recently transformed into a purple, orange and yellow-clad fast food joint named Mooby’s, complete with a bar, exclusive merch shop and even two shady characters loitering out front.

The pop-up concept, produced by activation expert Derek Berry, is based on the fictional franchise referenced in Smith’s extensive body of work, first seen in Dogma before appearing in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks II and later the Jay & Silent Bob Reboot. Centered around mascot Mooby the Golden Calf, the limited-time replica has been traversing the country since April of last year, reskinning local businesses down to the finest details and dirty jokes.

Chatting with Tribeza, Smith says of the newer venture, “Mooby’s allows me to interact with the public again in a fun way.” The filmmaker made sure he was there to cut the ceremonial ribbon himself, taking time to greet and take pictures with a handful of lucky movie-lovers.

Available for pick up or dine-in by reservation until May 15th, fans can feast on an iconic menu of Moo Meals and Salt Lick Sides consisting of Cow Tipper burgers, a Cock Smoker chicken sandwich, Hater Totz and more. There’s also a nostalgic selection of sweets like Jumbo Cookies from the Mall Stand and chocolate covered pretzels. For drinks, guests can sample themed cocktails or try specially-made Mooby’s Brand Beer, created in collaboration with Independence Brewing Co.

But what really separates the selection from your average fast food offerings are the intentionally integrated vegan alternatives. A vegan himself, Smith’s shift to a plant-based diet became headline-making news after he suffered from a near-fatal heart attack in 2018. It was thanks to his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, that the director changed up his diet and focused more closely on his health.

“She was the one that flipped me,” he says. “She’d been vegan for a couple of years, so I was like, ‘You know what, I ate how I wanted to for 47 years and almost dropped dead. I will try what you want here — I’ll give you three months.’ And I’ve been doing it for all this time.”

Smith has become a valuable, albeit unintended ambassador of the vegan movement, and Mooby’s represents the potential of vegan food to become a regular staple on fast food menus and beyond. “The idea is to be as invasive a species as a McDonald’s or a Burger King, but you’re giving them a plant-based option and normalizing it. Normalize the f— out of it.”

While Austin marks the 13th stop on the national tour, the Mooby’s journey has been impressive and unexpected. It was initially only meant to be a one-time venture when it launched last year in Los Angeles. The one-month run turned into two, slowly but surely evolving based on the community’s needs. After garnering immense public attention, various restaurants and venues began reaching out to Smith’s team offering their services.

“It became this back door franchise model that none of us intended and it’s all predicated on venues going, ‘We want to do it.’ We never reached out to anybody and said, ‘Can we bring our Mooby’s to you?’”

Meanwhile, merging cultural elements from each location developed later from the idea to create unique merchandise. “We didn’t even do that in L.A.. There were just Mooby shirts, but in Jersey we did the Garden State Parkway symbol and worked it into Mooby’s face and f—in’ all of Jersey went nuts. And then we started having local cuisine based on the places we go.” Austinites will recognize the inclusion of hometown favorites from Wholly Cow Burgers and Nate’s Baked Goods to Deep Eddy Vodka and Independence Brewing Co., as well as cleverly-themed souvenirs.

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“It’s been really beautiful, but it wasn’t planned,” Smith continues. “We had to engineer it every step of the way.” The serendipitous collaboration has also led to invaluable community investments that financially cater to the companies he works with. In fact, the vast majority of sales go directly to the businesses and staff rather than Smith and Berry’s team. “Oddly enough for a f—ing joke restaurant based on very dirty movies, it’s a really sweet little venture that everybody gets something out of.”

Smith’s surprise appearance at the Austin opening came down to perfect timing, for which he’s incredibly grateful. As it turns out, the city plays an integral role in both his personal life and career.

Looking back, Smith reminisces on one of his earliest memories of Austin. It was 1997 and he was visiting South by Southwest for Chasing Amy, essentially a comeback film from Mallrats, which at the time was a box office flop.

“I was probably at a self-esteem all-time low. They put me on a panel that changed that,” Smith explains. “I was with Quentin , Robert , Steven Soderbergh, Mike Judge and George Huang. Being welcomed into a panel of what they were calling my peers — that was worth its weight in gold. And then on top of it, I was funny.”

The memory is readily associated with our city’s exceptional devotion to cinema and independent film creators. “Over the years I’d come down and do many Austin Film Society events and screenings. Because for me, this is the epicenter of indie film. It still is. Robert has clearly not given up, neither has Richard.”

Throughout our conversation, it’s as easy to become captivated by Smith’s elaborate life stories as it is to get lost in his View Askewniverse, the invented realm where his cinematic timelines coexist. When you listen to the director speak, you realize he’s the real deal — a fan with impeccable attention to detail. And although the day is laced with jokes about the potential of an easy cash-grab, it’s clear the pop-up represents the same thing as the rest of his body of work: it’s an unfiltered manifestation of his own imagination, cultivated from years of passion projects. It also adds another notch to Smith’s ever-growing repertoire.

“As long as you keep trying new things, what you lack in skill, you make up for in being adventurous. You aren’t going to get Quentin out of me. You’re never going to get the Coen Brothers out of me, but Coen Brothers are never going to make hot sauce, so f— them,” Smith jokes. “They’re never going to have a restaurant, so we all find our lanes.”

“I never imagined it would do this,” he continues. “It’s so crazy when people introduce you on radio or TV shows, they keep adding titles. One place was like, ‘restaurateur Kevin Smith.’ I’m like, ‘Come on,’ but I’ll take it. It makes my mom proud.”

Still, the full-circle nature and enthusiastic public response is not lost on the cult-classic filmmaker, who shows endless appreciation to fans’ undying support after 27 years in the business. As a performer coming out of the pandemic, it’s proven that his supporters haven’t gone anywhere despite the challenges of the past year.

Ironically enough, the food is only a small part of the excitement compared to reuniting for in-person activations. Well executed pop-ups like these are a welcome breath of fresh air for our slowly reawakening city. And what Mooby’s really comes down to is being a fan-focused, immersive experience made for those who found a home in Smith’s uncompromising work.

“Something like this, the currency is not in the cash. I’ve been in the business a long time so I have a perspective. The currency is that they’ll be talking about this 10 years from now and it’s a part of your long tale. It’s just a chapter of the story.”

The Mooby’s Austin pop-up will run through May 15th, before embarking to its next destination in Denver. ACL Live will also welcome Mooooooovies at Mooby’s Austin on May 13th and 14th, featuring a special screening of the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.

Don’t forget the vegan popcorn!