Photographs by Chandler Bondurant
To experience Cowboy, or Elliott Foos and Austin Withers’ version of it anyway, all you have to do is follow them on Instagram and wait for a post. When a coffee pop up is announced for a certain time on a certain day – often it’s their apartment in Clinton Hill that’s adorned with cowboy paraphernalia or a local restaurant during off-hours – you show up and have a cup of coffee with a group of unexpected people rotating in and out over the course of a few hours. The guests aren’t on some exclusive list or part of any particular social circles, but instead are like-minded people that are more than likely hoping for a social midday caffeine break. It’s one of those rare experiences in the Instagram age that actually feels really genuine, unpretentious, and unforced because it comes from a place of Elliott and Austin’s genuine enjoyment and knowledge for coffee, cowboy culture, and hospitality.
After a few visits to various Cowboy pop ups around the city, we wanted to get a better understanding of this seemingly niche and truly enjoyable project we’ve been regularly entertained by in this weird post-pandemic era. We went over to Austin and Elliott’s airy apartment to talk shop and get a better understanding of Cowboy, and, of course, have a cup of coffee.
SA: Now that you’ve been working on cowboy for a while, can you tell us what it started as, what it is now, and what you hope it will be? Like, we know that Cowboy is coffee, but what is it to you?
EF: It started as a joke and then it became a way to see friends. Prior to this apartment, I couldn’t have done this. I couldn’t have had people come get coffee from me, I lived far away, I lived with 5 other people. So it was mostly just like, a party where we didn’t have to kick people out so we could go to bed. Then after a while, it quickly became a good creative outlet for both of us. And Austin being more the cowboy and having a much wider breadth of reference points for cowboy imagery and just that world, we started to realize that we were kind of hitting on something. Now it feels like it’s branching off in two directions that were once running parallel which are now starting to separate a touch. Which is hopefully more of a beverage company and we use this as a way to do pop ups, but also to turn it into a much more creative forward entity.
AW: Yeah, it was kind of just an excuse, a vehicle, for us to do creative shit that feels invalidated if it’s not tied to like, a brand, if that makes sense. I could do weird graphic design projects, but if it’s not for something it feels invalid.
Elliott wears the Short Sleeve Single Needle in White Seersucker
SA: Totally. Like, where do you share it? What’s the driving force in the end? What can you tie it all back to and what can the consumer tie it all back to?
EF: Yeah, it’s a branding experiment, which is funny to say now because we haven’t really touched it in a minute.
AW: And people from afar that don’t know us and don’t have any reason to support us at all like what we’re doing.
EF: The fact that strangers have an interest in it is always really validating. When I did the popup at Gem, it was really nice to have people that I have never met and I have no real understanding of how they even got to Cowboy came and bought a t-shirt. Which even further validates me because I “designed” that, Austin took the photo that was on it and it was arguably our least strong point.
AW: Yeah, it was truly made in 5 minutes sitting at this table.
"The looks I get when I walk outside with a saddle to take to my car to ride my horse in New Jersey – I might as well have ten heads because it’s confusing. But, it’s unapologetically what I want to do. So It feels really good to be a part of it."
SA: Even when we came here a while ago to your apartment, where you actually live, a guy came here that you had maybe interacted with briefly on the internet that you had never met in real life but he still pulled up. That’s really cool as well, you have this opportunity for people to show up and you meet them because you have something you can talk about. You don’t have to get dinner or something because it’s less intense in a way. It’s less pressure on meeting people and less pressure on community building because everyone drinks coffee and everyone understands the dynamic of that.
AW: It’s simultaneously nerve wracking to have people in your house, but at the same time because it’s our house and not a coffee shop, it’s not my job to have you up to my house. It’s totally on our terms. It’s kind of nice we’ve created this thing that’s a little bit of what both of us have done in our past, but completely on our terms – kind of beholden to absolutely no one’s opinion and don’t really give a fuck if anyone likes it because we really like doing it. Because we don’t need this to pay our bills.
SA: That’s definitely the sweet spot.
EF: Yeah exactly, we don’t need to think about margins. More often than not, every time people come here to get coffee, all coffee is one price and it’s really cheap. I think it’s a cool way, a fun way, an exciting way for me to show a lot of people my philosophy and show people that while it’s cool to have all of this really cool, expensive, high tech gear, one can still do all of this without it and yeah, we don’t have to constantly market our hobbies. I mean, it’s not a hobby but we’re treating it as such and that feels nice.
SA: I know you touched on coffee being your background, was it important to you to have coffee be a central piece to what you continue doing with Cowboy?
Austin wears the Short Sleeve Single Needle in Linen Micro Stripe
EF: No. It is literally the path of least resistance. It is and always has been a vehicle. If I was more of a night person, I would be a bartender. But, this is very much a means of meeting people. That’s what I like. I like creating a good experience for people. I like providing even the smallest little moment of happiness which I don’t think a lot of people really realize sometimes, that this what this does and can do because we’ve so far commodified what it is.
AW: It’s hospitality.
AW: You want to make someone feel welcome.
SA: If the cowboy side of cowboy is coming from Austin, how long has this been part of your life? I know you’re going to be in a rodeo next month, can you elaborate on that?
AW: It’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I started riding horses at a very young age with my family. As I got older I shifted my interests to other things: Creative endeavors and sports. And I really kind of forgot about horses and rodeo until I moved to New York and I went to Vail, Colorado with my parents and we happened upon a rodeo, and I happened to have a camera and I shot photos of it. And I realized, oh my god, I love this and I miss this a lot and I don’t want to not be around it. Now I try to do it as much as I possibly can. It’s hard. I mean, I live in Brooklyn. The looks I get when I walk outside with a saddle to take to my car to ride my horse in New Jersey – I might as well have ten heads because it’s confusing. But, it’s unapologetically what I want to do. So It feels really good to be a part of it.
SA: So then if you’re going to brand something, it’s going to be cowboy branded because that’s part of your identity.
AW: Yeah, we laughed because we were moving in together and like, I said, we’re moving into an apartment in Clinton Hill and I’m moving saddles and chaps and spurs and ropes and shit into this apartment. So yeah, if it was going to be anything it had to be this.
EF: Or else someone would walk in and be like, what the fuck is this? A big lesson that I’ve had from Cowboy is how much branding truly matters. I can do it on my own terms with this. But it’s always something I’ve been frustrated by because in certain roles I had to be the “person on instagram” or whatever, or try to create content when I have a million other things I have to do. But it’s almost kind of fun now to be in the position where it’s so low stakes that I can focus on the other side and no one is going to give a shit. I could have all the best equipment and make sure everything is perfect all the time, or I could just make coffee because no one fucking cares.
SA: And it’s good coffee.
EF: But it doesn’t have to be.
AW: Exactly, some brands never claim to be making the best product. They just take something people want and need and package it in the prettiest way possible that people want to buy. We could be serving dog shit coffee. We could have a bunch of people over here and brew up a bunch of instant Folgers, but because people are into the cowboy thing they’d love it.
EF: We literally could do that. Call it the cowboy cup. We’re done.
SA: Maybe it should be on the menu!
EF: It would be cool. Make it 50 cents. It would be fun at a cafe to have bodega coffee and it’s a dollar.
SA: It’s kind of like ordering a Budweiser at a high end restaurant.
AW: Actually, the imagery I pull and I love the most is old cowboy imagery that Budweiser used and Richard Prince used for Marlboro. All of that’s stuff. It’s just like, that’s the cool moment that I want to tap into and I want to be a part of. There’s nothing cooler than smoking a cigarette on the back of a fucking horse. Someone walking up with their spurs jingling, which mine have gotten to a point where they really jingle a lot and that makes me really happy, but it’s like, spurs jingling with a cigarette in your hand? That’s fucking cool.
EF: It’s exciting in the most minute of ways to actually be a part of that tradition. And also through our lens of people – young kids – at this time of maybe some real cultural change to be able to direct, re-direct, and also remind people that there are aspects to this culture that aren’t what you immediately think of as far as being redneck or something. I know Austin is really drawn to it and I’m really drawn to it, there’s a lifestyle to being a cowboy, especially present day, that is very much rooted in being a part of nature. And taking care of animals, not just using them as tools.
AW: We have to be good stewards of what we’ve been given. I just think that’s really important.
You can find Cowboy on Instagram at @cowboy.irl to find out about upcoming events and regular cowboy inspiration and at Colbo in the LES slinging cups on the weekends.