Last Updated on December 7, 2023

“Your destination is on the right.”

The robotic monotone of my car’s navigation system let me know coffee was nearby. I’d punched in the address for Island Joe’s at the suggestion of a friend who told me this was the place to grab coffee in the Texas coastal town of Corpus Christi.

My coffee needs are pretty basic: a cup of regular old drip filter to jump start on my day. By this time, I’d been up for nearly an hour without my daily dose.

The coffee place didn’t do much for me, but my friend’s suggestion was near my hotel, and coffee needed to happen soon.

Despite my usual morning grumpiness, my face spread into an involuntary grin as I pulled into the Island Joe’s Coffee and Gallery parking lot. Multiple shipping containers stacked atop each other in vivid oranges, blues, greens, and yellows loomed before me. Maybe it was the quirky design and bright colors combined with the impending promise of hot coffee that lifted my mood, but I noticed a palpable joy not usually present when I look at a building – whether there’s coffee inside or not.

Kansas Beer Garden in a Shipping Container

Revolutsia Shipping Container Mall in Wichita, KS.
Revolutsia Shipping Container Mall in Wichita, KS. Photo by Jill Robbins.

A few months later and 800 miles to the north I’d found another shipping container gem, a collection of small businesses made of shipping containers positioned around a shared patio.

Revolutsia is a shipping container mall near downtown Wichita, Kansas, a surprising foodie city. I was there to check out Prost, a two-story German restaurant and urban beer garden made of nine shipping containers fitted together, but I was enthralled with Revolutsia as a whole.

The entire aesthetic was just so…cute.

As I circled the property, snapping pictures, I was reminded of the brilliant coffee shop on the Texas coast.

“I guess shipping container businesses are a thing now,” I thought.

They are.

I’ve seen them pop up everywhere, and while what’s inside these businesses varies, the level of playfulness in the design makes them inviting.

In addition to Prost, Revolutsia in Wichita houses an art gallery and retail stores. The design has an element of whimsy, and the outdoor gathering space drew me in and made me want to stay and hang out. 

Austin English owns and operates Prost with his wife Manuela, Manu for short, who is originally from Germany, which accounts for its authentic recipes. Prost was the first business to move into Revolutsia, and they’ve called the shipping container mall home for five years. The family was operating a food truck in Wichita called Let’ m Eat Brats and couldn’t serve the array of food they wanted with limited space in a truck.

Also, the city of Wichita doesn’t allow food trucks to serve alcohol and the Englishes wanted to serve German beer because nothing compliments German cuisine quite like German beer, right? They had the chance to move into Revolutsia – and Prost was born.

Prost means “Cheers” in German, which is the perfect name for a beer garden. The restaurant serves a variety of German-made beer, wine, and spirits. The wall of beer steins on the lower level is a testament to the urban beer garden’s loyal following. These unique drinking vessels belong to members of Prost’s exclusive Stein Club. Each member of the Club has a dedicated mug that remains at Prost.

“316 steins are sitting in ammo cans, which is an homage to our military,” explained English, referencing nearby McConnell Air Force Base.

The number of steins on the wall – 316 – is Wichita’s area code.

And come hungry! Prost serves all types of traditional German fare, from brats to small plates, but the jägerschnitzel is the most popular item on the menu, according to English – a breaded pork cutlet topped with savory mushroom gravy.

Shipping Containers Support Sustainability Travel

More and more, travelers are paying attention to sustainability when planning trips. Leisure spaces made from shipping containers repurpose existing materials, cutting down on both the cost of construction and the need for new resources. Did you know concrete production and buildings are a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions globally?

These containers allow more flexibility of space as well as ease and speed of construction, and in some cases, lower rents for small business owners who might not otherwise be able to afford a storefront.

Supporting a shipping container business means supporting a small or family-owned business, an often-overlooked element of sustainability. Grabbing your coffee at a place made of hip, colorful, stacked shipping containers might seem like just an amusing backdrop for your travel photos, but it means more than that – you’re putting your dollars into the local economy versus supporting a big box store.

Shipping Container Businesses throughout the United States

If you want to add a little whimsy – and a great Instagram photo op to your trip, check out one of these repurposed shipping container spots around the U.S.

The list isn’t all-encompassing and I’m sure there are lots of upcycled gems for you – and me – to discover on our adventures, but it’s a fun list of ones I’ve personally encountered during my travels.

Island Joe’s: Corpus Christi

Island Joe’s, the Corpus Christi coffee spot mentioned above, serves various hot and cold coffee drinks and light bites.

If you have time to linger, this 10-shipping container structure has lots of nooks and crannies to cozy up in.

Logboat Brewing Company: Columbia, MO

This Columbia, MO brewing company isn’t made from shipping containers, but their outdoor bar is, adding a pop of color and whimsy to the neutral-colored building. The outdoor container bar, Nar Bar, was added to Logboat Brewing during their spring 2023 expansion project.

“We wanted to make it easier for people to get drinks while enjoying our park,” Judson Ball of Logboat Brewing Company said. “The idea of modifying a shipping container seemed like a really fun concept for our industrial atmosphere. The color is called ‘begonia,’ and we love the way it jumps off our black building.”

Rockwell Beer Co: in St. Louis

Rockwell Beer Co. in St Louis, MO.
Rockwell Beer Co. in St Louis, MO. Photo by Jill Robbins.

This is another Missouri brewery utilizing shipping containers to make their exterior pop.

While Rockwell Beer Co.’s S. Vandeventer location (there are two St. Louis locations), isn’t made of a shipping container, the presence of shipping containers is used in the exterior architecture. It’s one of the first things you notice about the building.

A neon orange shipping container bears the brewery’s logo, and two other eye-catching containers grace the building’s exterior. An additional shipping container houses brassWELL, the onsite restaurant that serves a variety of burgers and other handhelds that can be enjoyed at the brewery.

The Churchill in Phoenix/MSA Annex Tucson

Exterior of The Churchill shipping container mall in Phoenix, AZ.
Exterior of The Churchill shipping container mall in Phoenix, AZ. Photo courtesy of The Churchill.

A shipping container mall with a space designed to unite the community, The Churchill houses 10 shipping container businesses centered around a 9,000-square-foot courtyard ideal for gathering and socializing. The space hosts various events, including DJs, bingo, and artisan popups.

MSA Annex in Tucson offers a similar space, containing 12 revamped shipping containers housing small businesses, many of which are female-owned or POC-owned.

Shipping Containers Converted to Hotels

If you can have a beer or shop in a shipping container, why not sleep in one?

Flophouze Shipping Container Hotel, near Roundtop, TX, is made from upcycled shipping containers taking the sustainability concept up a notch. The room’s interiors are made with reclaimed wood, and the windows were salvaged from a school in Philadelphia slated for demolition.

If Round Top sounds familiar, this tiny central Texas town is the place to shop for antiques.

The Hotel Otto in Fort Worth’s River District is a micro resort with eight bungalows made of shipping containers. Onera, an upscale collection of treehouses and yurts near Fredericksburg, has a shipping container swimming pool.

Starting Your Own Shipping Container Business

I asked Austin English of Prost what his best advice would be to entrepreneurs interested in dipping their toes into operating a business out of a shipping container. His first recommendation was to be patient. Prost already had a following from running a food truck for five years, and he said it can sometimes take new businesses time to find their sea legs.

“[That and] occupy every inch you can within that structure,” Austin said. “We have things hanging from the ceiling and bar area, and magnets are our friend.”

Author

  • Jill Robbins

    Jill Robbins is a freelance writer covering lifestyle, travel, health, and commerce. Her writing has appeared in Insider, The Saturday Evening Post, Shondaland, Tripsavvy, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, Matador Network, and other publications. Jill lives in San Antonio with her husband and two youngest kids, although she's usually somewhere else.