Ben Olivo | SAHeron Devils River Whiskey is located inside the Burns building, 401 E. Houston St. Photos taken March 12. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Devils River Whiskey is finally set to open on Wednesday inside the Burns building at 401 E. Houston St. The distillery is also relocating its headquarters from Dallas.

Mike Cameron, president and co-founder of Devils River Whiskey, said he wanted to be in the heart of the San Antonio tourism scene.

"We felt our close proximity to the Alamo would help our business thrive," Cameron said.

In 2018, the Dallas-based distillery announced it was relocating to San Antonio. However, the pandemic delayed the move. During the relocation process, Cameron, who’s lived in San Antonio for 30 years, contemplated a move to the Hill Country, but ultimately decided to make downtown the company’s new home. Another reason for the move was because of its proximity to Devils River, which is a part of the Rio Grande drainage basin. The distillery draws from the limestone-filtered spring water from Devils River, which is considered the more pristine river in Texas. The distillery gives a percentage of its profits to the Devils River Conservancy from each bottle; the percentage fluctuates from year to year.

The company also moved its bottling service facility near Fort Sam Houston, and uses it to ship out to 29 states with plans to increase to 33 states by the end of this year.

Rob Gourlay, a partner with the Boulevardier Group, has designed a Prohibition-era themed cocktail menu using Devils River Whiskey’s five selections: bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, barrel strength, coffee bourbon and single barrel straight bourbon whiskey. Cocktail prices are expected to be in the $8-$10 range.

Cameron said the distillery will feature a Prohibition-era vibe with authentic furniture from the 1920s, a hand-carved bar, marble flooring, a copper-made distillery on the first floor and a speakeasy bar located in the basement.

An outdoor patio will serve as a cigar-lounge.

He had Austin artist Crystal Nobles paint Texan-born musicians such as Selena, Beyoncé, and Willie Nelson in the display case in the front. “It was important for out-of-town folks to learn about the talent Texas has,” said Cameron, who wants to bring live music to the distillery.

Eventually, Devils River Whiskey will open a rooftop bar, but the construction for that project has been pushed back to the fall.

Cameron said they plan to offer a house rum, vodka and gin in the future, but wanted to solely focus on bourbon whiskey in the beginning.

The distillery plans to offer a food menu with a charcuterie and cheese plate; a farm table salad; shrimp diablo (jumbo shrimp with habanero butter, lemon and garlic) ; onion dip with chips; Sichuan barbecue cashews; and rosemary citrus nuts.

So far, Devils River Whiskey has hosted 10 weddings and is booked for 50 future events. Cameron said the distillery will be closed to the public at certain times during these events.

“The bride likes it because of the classiness of our place and the groom likes it because it's a whiskey distillery,” Cameron said. “I feel like that is why it has worked so well for our weddings. Some feedback we have seen and heard from people when they came in for a tour was it was perfect and they were blown away.”

Devils River hours of operation are 4 p.m. to 11 p.m Tuesday- Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight, Friday, noon to 12 a.m. Saturday, and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday.

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Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

Grant Pinkerton, owner of Pinkerton's Barbecue, poses for a photo inside the pit room of his new restaurant at Weston Urban park.
Grant Pinkerton poses for a photo inside the pit room of his new restaurant at Weston Urban park. Photo by Isaiah Alonzo | Heron contributor

Grant Pinkerton, owner and pitmaster of the eponymous Houston barbecue joint, isn't trying to run any local barbecue purveyors out of business.

In fact, 2M Smokehouse on the East Side is one of his favorites. He believes Pinkerton's Barbecue, whose menu goes far beyond the normal Hill Country selection, can join other styles in San Antonio to make a kind of barbecue crawl to accommodate smoked-meat lovers' taste buds.

Pinkerton’s is getting ready to open its first San Antonio location 11 a.m. Saturday at the Weston Urban park, 107 W. Houston St., under the adjacent Frost Tower.

"When you come here we want you to feel like you're coming over to our house, but also feel like you're hanging out in our backyard as well," Pinkerton said Thursday.

Pinkerton's candied pork ribs.
Pinkerton's candied pork ribs. Courtesy Pinkerton's Barbecue

Pinkerton's will feature indoor and outdoor dining areas, a bar, a pit room that’s visible to eaters, and green space as part of the newly-opened Weston Urban park..

Their smoked meats are all-natural, hormone-free and, for the brisket and other beef selections, prime angus comes from Creekstone Farms Premium Beef in Kansas.

Pinkerton’s offers brisket, beef ribs, candied-style pork ribs, pulled pork, regular or jalapeño sausage, chicken, turkey, and Gulf Coast-influenced items, such as smoked duck and boudin.

The inside of Pinkerton's Barbecue, 107 W. Houston St.
The inside of Pinkerton's Barbecue, 107 W. Houston St. Photo by Isaiah Alonzo | Heron contributor

Pinkerton's smokes all of their main-course items on five custom pits that were built by Millscale Metal Works of barbecue mecca Lockhart that cost a total of $160,000.

Sides include jalapeño cheese rice; potato salad; coleslaw; "South Texas beans;" rosemary, bacon, mac and cheese; and duck and sausage jambalaya.

Customers can expect the food to be sold in a la carte just like the legendary places in Lockhart—Smitty's Market, Kreuz Market and Black's BBQ—in which customers order by the pound, or slice, bone or link.

High-end bourbons are the backbone of Pinkerton's bar menu.
High-end whiskey is the backbone of Pinkerton's bar menu. Photo by Isaiah Alonzo | Heron contributor

The bar menu offers craft cocktails made with high-end bourbons and tequilas, as well as local beers and wines.

Happy hour will be offered throughout the week at the restaurant and their new location will debut a special menu with barbecue-inspired bar eats from 3-6 p.m., that Pinkerton’s couldn't offer in Houston due to kitchen space. But those days haven't been determined.

"Our famous happy-hour we are known for in Houston is our $1 beer days, but we haven't chosen a day for that, yet," Pinkerton said.

The 5,000-square-foot restaurant was scheduled to make its debut in late-spring 2020, but the pandemic pushed their plans back.

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A Houston native, Pinkerton started grilling for his family when he was 12, but never envisioned his cooking techniques would eventually land a business of his on Texas Monthly’s coveted "Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas," which was last released in 2017.

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in the late 2000s, Pinkerton returned to Houston and started working at a gym. While working at the gym, Pinkerton was unsure about the next steps in life, but he always had an interest in the barbecue scene.

His manager at the gym felt he belonged in the food industry and offered advice and assistance, which prompted Pinkerton to start serving barbecue from a trailer inside the gym parking lot.

Pinkerton's brisket. Courtesy Pinkerton's Barbecue

Pinkerton describes the rest as history, and with enough popularity, it allowed him to open up his first brick-and-mortar location at The Heights neighborhood in December 2016.

The restaurant would soon become a staple in Houston and eventually capture the attention of Weston Urban, the San Antonio development company lead by philanthropist Graham Weston.

The Pinkerton family reunion circa 1919.
The Pinkerton family reunion circa 1919. Photo by Isaiah Alonzo | Heron contributor

In November, David Robinson Jr., Weston Urban's director of parks and recreation, said he envisioned Pinkerton’s as being the park’s anchor.

Pinkerton agreed with Robinson and said he and Robinson are working collaboratively to activate the park with events, and hopes customers will experience a relaxing, home-like atmosphere when they visit.

That include the bar area.

"You can enjoy a game or watch the Spurs or Longhorns play and that is a big part of the experience at Pinkerton’s," he said. "We want you to sit down with a group of friends and be provided with a great atmosphere, and not just have it about the food."

Pinkerton's Barbecue is located at Weston Urban park, 107 W. Houston St.
Pinkerton's Barbecue is located at Weston Urban park, 107 W. Houston St. Photo by Isaiah Alonzo | Heron contributor

Women's bathroom at Pinkerton's Barbecue. Photo by Isaiah Alonzo | Heron contributor

Men's bathroom at Pinkerton's Barbecue. Photo by Isaiah Alonzo | Heron contributor

The pits area at Pinkerton's Barbecue. Photo by Isaiah Alonzo | Heron contributor

Pinkerton’s hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday-Tuesday.

Previously published
» 'It was important for us to open the park to people right now' (Nov. 25, 2020)
» Pinkerton’s Barbecue of Houston to open in Weston Urban park (Jan. 15, 2019)

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

The former Fig Tree restaurant at La Villita from the River Walk.
The Fig Tree restaurant at La Villita is also under new ownership. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

A bar and restaurant owner with some cachet locally has begun working on three new concepts at La Villita with the hopes of bringing more foot traffic to the sleepy arts district.

Sam Panchevre, owner of Sam's Burger Joint and the Aztec Theatre, is now leasing the buildings that once housed the Little Rhein Steak House and the Fig Tree. He's also taking over the adjacent Dashiell House. All three are owned by The Conservation Society of San Antonio.

Panchevre said he felt the three buildings, in particular the tiered outdoor seating areas that sit above the River Walk and under the shadow of the Hilton Palacio Del Rio, had been underused.

Terraces over looking the River Walk near the Arneson River Theatre.
Terraces over looking the River Walk near the Arneson River Theatre. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

"If you walk on the side of the river, it's a beautiful area and you can't help but look at the terrace and imagine sitting there and enjoying a meal and drink and watch what's going on," said Panchevre, who described the three renovations as a "substantial investment" when asked how much it’s costing. "I have always taken spaces all my life and transformed them."

This week, workers concentrated on renovating the Little Rhein's former home, or, the circa-1855 Otto Bombach residence and store, which has entrances from South Alamo Street and the River Walk.

Panchevre has partnered with Terry Corless, CEO of the Mad Dogs Restaurant Group, to transform the former steakhouse into a German beer garden to be called Little Rhein Prost Haus. They anticipate to open the beer garden and restaurant in March.

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In 2013, Corless opened BierGarten River Walk, a Bavarian-style beer garden at 126 Losoya St., at the Paseo Del Alamo, which connects the Hyatt Regency to Alamo Plaza.

However, Corless felt the Oktoberfest concept his company brought from their time spent in Munich to their own beer garden in downtown San Antonio hasn't reached its full potential.

"We have had success in our small venue, but we felt like we haven't been able to put out an authentic product that displays all the elements from the Oktoberfest concept we saw in Munich," Corless said.

"I have spent years trying to find the perfect location for a beer garden, so this opportunity with Little Rhein allows us to see whether we could develop the full manifestation of this concept, and be in a building that was renowned as German," he said.

Inside the Otto Bombach building, one room will serve as the main restaurant area, while another will serve as a beer room with more than 20 drafts either imported from Germany or originated from German-authentic recipes. Corless says they will also add a patio to the front of the building.

The Otto Bombach building, 231 S. Alamo St., will become a German-style beer garden.
The Otto Bombach building, 231 S. Alamo St., will become a German-style beer garden. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The Little Rhein and Fig Tree restaurants, along with the Dashiell House event venue, were previously leased by long-time restaurant owner Moe Lazri. Last March, Lazri closed the doors to the restaurants due to Covid-19, and decided not to renew his lease in December.

In April, Panchevre hopes to open the Dashiell House, 511 Villita St., as a restaurant and bar that will feature comfort foods and cocktails, along with a happy hour.

Panchevre says their menu is still evolving and food and drinks have not been decided, but people can expect a high-energy restaurant that will offer live music outside.

"We hope to bring out more locals to our new restaurant-bar and be a catalyst to increase the foot traffic at La Villita," Panchevre said. "We plan to still do private events if needed, but we want to rejuvenate this historic building and bring more people to this side of the river."

Dashiell House, 511 Villita St., will become a restaurant and bar.
Dashiell House, 511 Villita St., will become a restaurant and bar. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

He says he is still in the process of developing a new concept for the former Fig Tree building, also known as the Gray-Guilbeau House.

The Fig Tree location, 515 Villita St., was a fine-dining staple on the River Walk that had been open for five decades and known for its upscale cuisine, formal dining area and River Walk terrace.

Panchevre plans to re-open the former Fig Tree as a fine dining restaurant in May.

Picnic tables are set for the Little Rhein Prost Haus on the River Walk at 231 S. Alamo St.
Picnic tables are set for the Little Rhein Prost Haus. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The master lease to Panchevre comes as another major restaurant project at La Villita appears to be stalled. The city has leased Maverick Plaza to chef and restauranteur Johnny Hernandez so he can build three new restaurants, and better connect the plaza to the South Alamo promenade. The Conservation Society has objected to the plan because it says the amount of public space will be significantly reduced, therefore hurting its ability to maximize the space during A Night In Old San Antonio.

[ Read: Conservation Society blasts Maverick Plaza renovation plan fearing NIOSA impact ]

Panchevre also gave an update on Aztec Theatre renovations. Two years ago, he had planned to add a rooftop bar and a 1,500-square-foot terrace on the second floor that overlooked Crockett Street and the River Walk.

"We have the rooftop bar concept on hold, but we were able to add the terrace and office spaces that will be available for tenants to lease for their businesses," he said.

Heron Editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report.

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

Guayaberas of all styles are sold at Divide & Conquer, 110 Broadway, Suite 140. Photo by Chris Stokes | Heron contributor

While many businesses are struggling during the pandemic, Divide & Conquer, which produces aprons and chef coats for the food service industry inside the Ayres building on Broadway, has prospered.

"I will be honest with you ... the business hasn't suffered financially," owner Javier Treviño said. "If anything, we made more money during these times."

Treviño's business originally was located on South Presa Street. In March, at the start of the pandemic, Divide & Conquer was classified as a non-essential business by the city and Treviño was forced to shut his doors temporarily.

That's when Treviño sought advice from his attorney on how his shop could become essential, and they developed the idea to make masks made of guayabera fabric.

"We were able to design 3-layer filtered masks with our guayabera fabrics, and sell over 2,000 masks that helped keep the business afloat," Treviño said.

Javier Treviño owns Divide and Conquer, an aprons and chef coats retailer. Photo by Chris Stokes | Heron contributor

Treviño would reopen his doors a week later. Business boomed to the point that he moved his shop in November into the Ayres building at Broadway and East Houston Street.

"We were in need of more space for our clientele, so we decided to make the move to the downtown area," Treviño said.

While Divide & Conquer isn't a new business, the shop is new to downtown, where foot traffic has slowed—a direct result of the hard-hit tourism industry.

Since the pandemic started, two dozen bars and restaurants have opened in the downtown area, while several have closed, including 1718 Steakhouse, Mexican Manhattan, Spaghetti Warehouse, and Cadillac Bar.

You might ask new downtown business owners if they’re crazy to open during the pandemic. Some say it’s the perfect time.

Sebastian Hernandez works the kitchen at Bunz Handcrafted Burgers, 122 E. Houston St. Photo by Chris Stokes | Heron contributor

Edwin Salazar, co-owner of Bunz Handcrafted Burgers, a new gourmet burger joint five blocks west of Divide & Conquer, said, "If you open a business right now and succeed through these tough times, the journey after will be two times better for you."

In October, Salazar and chef Thierry Burkle opened Bunz in the Savoy building on East Houston Street.

Burkle is the owner and executive chef at The Grill at Leon Springs, where Salazar serves as the sous chef. The two partnered to create the concept for Bunz because they felt they could bring high-end sizzle to downtowners' taste buds at affordable prices.

The duo also like operating in the "heart of San Antonio."

Salazar said to-go orders have kept Bunz afloat during the crisis, and said dine-in service would do better if it were not for the 50% occupancy restaurant restrictions currently in place. The restaurant is actually hiring for kitchen staff and a cashier.

Tony's Siesta, 206 Brooklyn Ave., opened in November. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Andy Palacios, co-owner of Tony's Siesta, 206 Brooklyn Ave., offered this advice to entrepreneurs looking to open during the pandemic: "Do your research on organizations that can offer loans or grants to upstart your business. And understand you will fail at times, but take the little wins."

Tony's Siesta, opened its doors in November under a slightly new name after previous owner, Tony Lopez, retired last year after 20 years as a bar owner.

Palacios took over the bar from Lopez and updated the original old-school cantina with a modernized look, while keeping the bar "puro San Antonio." On the walls, he replaced the Spurs memorabilia polaroids of regulars with rich splashes of color and neon lighting. On the outside, Palacios kept the old-school painted signage from the original Tony's, as well as the mini replica of the Tower of Americas near the entrance.

He funded the renovations using dollars he received from LiftFund, a nonprofit organization that offers loans to small businesses and startups.

Palacios said he wasn't able to receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan because he opened after the deadline date to qualify. He said not getting that assistance felt like a punch in the stomach.

The bar's renovations took a toll on Palacios physically and mentally, but he felt it was personal for him because he didn't want to let Lopez down.

"I told Tony what I wanted to do for the bar and how I wanted to continue his legacy, and that's when he presented the opportunity for me," Palacios said.

His experience as a first-time bar owner has been stressful and exhausting, and has caused to lose sleep. The bar has suffered financial losses.

"Every morning I wake up and wonder, ‘Will we see tomorrow?'," Palacios said.

Crystal Jerulle gives a pedicure at Prose nail boutique located on the first floor of the Frost Tower recently. Photo by Chris Stokes | Heron contributor

Andrea Fascinetto and her mother Dolores Novak said "the best ideas come during the craziest times."

Just before Thanksgiving, the mother-daughter duo opened PROSE, a national chain of sleek nail boutiques, on West Houston Street on the first floor of the Frost Tower.

Novak said they've learned that they aren't the only businesses facing adversities, and the ability to bring something positive to downtown during a dark time is powerful. Fascinetto and Novak said opening their nail boutique offers a sense of normalcy for their members.

"It's rewarding for us when we hear our members come in and tell us, 'this is exactly what I'm looking for and I'm feeling like my old self again'," Fascinetto said.

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Previously published
» Mexican Manhattan Restaurant, downtown San Antonio staple for 62 years, permanently closes
» Cadillac Bar, a 45-year institution, closes its doors following liquidation sale

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

The renovation of Maverick Park, 1000 Broadway, is expected to be completed in early spring 2021. Photos by Ben Olivo | Heron

The $640,000 renovation of Maverick Park, 1000 Broadway, is expected to be completed this spring.

The project will add a large dog park to the Broadway corridor, with areas for small and large pups. The dog park alone will take up about a third of Maverick Park’s three acres, and include areas for agility training, disc and ball throwing, climbing and showering.

The updated park, which has been under construction since June 2020, will also includes a bioswale—a winding trench that filters out pollutants, like pet waste and trash, from rainwater before it flows into a water source—added picnic tables, drinking fountains, trash and recycle bins, more trees, new lighting and a Portland Loo stand-alone restroom.

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In 2014, Joe Alderete III, a San Antonio firefighter who once lived near the park, and Ashley Riley, former employee of AREA Real Estate, whose office is down the street, began raising money for the project.

Alderete and Riley thought the park could offer better amenities for the community's dogs and dog owners, and began collaborating with the San Antonio Parks Foundation to lead the charge toward a doggy park makeover at Maverick.

Larry Clark, co-founder of Bender Wells Design, the firm redesigning Maverick Park, said the park may take longer to open than expected because of "the colder conditions San Antonio has been experiencing, the grass hasn’t been able to sustain growth. The grass is not suitable for dogs to walk on and their feet can cause erosion."

Alderete and Riley recruited neighboring apartment building owners, Graham Weston's 80/20 Foundation, and other community members and organizations to raise more than $250,000 for the project. In terms of public dollars, the 2017-2022 bond program funded the rest of the project, as did the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

Workers organize toys that were donated to San Antonio Housing Authority residents on Wednesday at SAHA headquarters. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

The Alazan-Apache Courts toy drive seemed doomed after more than half of the 200 toys collected were stolen from the property's community room last Friday.

Then, San Antonio stepped up to replace the stolen gifts—and then some—as the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) received more than 2,000 toys from the community at large since the theft.

Roxanne Aguilar, 35, was among the people who received gifts during a toy distribution Wednesday at SAHA headquarters. Aguilar, who lives at a SAHA community on the northwest side, said the toy drive would allow her to surprise her three kids on Christmas Day.

“This program helps a lot because with the pandemic there (are) very little jobs," Aguilar said. "So what they are doing helps provide a lot."

Aguilar said she was shocked when she first heard about the stolen toys, but was grateful for the community's response.

“I think it’s very awesome that we have people that care not only about themselves, but others,” Aguilar said.

Terrence Blackwood, 43, said it was his first time participating in the program. His son was wanting a laptop, and Blackwood was happy that he could grant his son’s wish.

“It should make him a little more happy because he is getting more gifts than usual," Blackwood said.

SAHA was able to increase the amount of children that received gifts from 60 to 1,600 due to the community's generous efforts, and it allowed the agency to give toys to residents at other public housing properties, not just at Alazan-Apache.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg helps distribute toys to public housing residents on Wednesday. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

"San Antonio is always a community that stands together and rallies around each other, especially during times of need and times of crisis," said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who helped hand out toys on Wednesday.

"This is all of that rolled into one and it’s such an incredible response from the community and hearing that children are giving other children their gifts so they wouldn’t go without one during Christmas is everything you need to know about our city."

SAHA Spokesman Michael Reyes said the agency received gifts from community organizations and churches, and even from kids who offered some of their own toys. He said the San Antonio Police Department is still investigating the theft, and no suspects have been identified.

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Sammy Nieto, a retired executive at Valero Energy Corp., founded the toy drive at the Alazan-Apache Courts more than 25 years ago. Through a program funded by Valero, Nieto served as a mentor for youth in the area who were cited for truancy, and were required to attend college-prep and motivational courses.

During his service, he remembers encountering a man he met that told him in Spanish that "he had no money to buy his kids shoes."

Nieto said he felt the Alazan-Apache Courts, where the average family income is $9,000, was in need of assistance the most.

When he learned of the outpouring of support from the San Antonio community, Nieto was shocked at the generosity.

“The city of San Antonio woke up and said 'You’re not going to do this in this city,' and they came back and donated a bunch of gifts and money," Nieto said. "It’s a great city and they have a great heart and it shows from the people who donated.”

More than 2,000 toys were handed out to families in need on Wednesday at SAHA headquarters. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

Doloris Balderramos (left) and Jay Taylor sit in front of Back Unturned Brewing Co. as they receive a personal pizza earlier this month. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

Allie Irvine, 37, has been homeless since Easter weekend of 2016. In her life, she has faced hardships such as drug abuse, self-harm, and being a victim of police brutality, she says. However, Irvine says she is blessed with the amount of care she has received from the many homeless and social services programs in the downtown San Antonio area.

One of them comes from an unlikely place.

In June, Back Unturned Brewing Co. began serving pizzas to the homeless community during lunch. Now known as the Easy as Pie program, the microbrewery offers homeless people a hot personal-sized pizza, along with a drink, five days a week—no questions asked.

Doloris Balderramos prepares a pepperoni pizza from Back Unturned Brewing Co. on Dec. 17. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

“I enjoy this program more than others because I enjoy coming here and it’s pleasant,” Irvine said.

Back Unturned Brewing Co., which opened November 2019 at 516 Brooklyn Ave., is known for its unique beer selection and brick-oven pizzas. Owner Ricardo Garcia gave the bar its name because he didn’t turn his back on his dream of starting his own brewery. But for his lunchtime regulars, the name may take on its own meaning.

“They are human, too,” Garcia said. “I just want to show them some love and give them something to eat.”

Before he started the Easy as Pie outreach program, Garcia’s views on the homeless aligned with the stigma many have toward the homeless community, and was a factor that steered him away at first.

“I had a very negative judgment against homeless people in the past, and questioned why can’t they just get jobs,” Garcia said.

When asked to elaborate on what changed his mind about the homeless, and what sparked him to create the program, Garcia said, “God just told me one day I had to change my views, and find a way to help them. I’m doing this program to just help the people.”

“I can’t judge someone on what they've been through and justify what is OK and what isn’t.”

Gukki and Johnny Blaze look over Back Unturned's menu before placing their order recently. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

Elizabeth, 56, is one of many who are on the streets who appreciate what Garcia is doing for the homeless community.

“The pizza allows me to get in my protein and vegetables daily, while giving me nourishment to keep me well and give me energy for the day,” said Elizabeth, who declined to give her last name. “It’s truly cooking with love. The pizza feels like this is a healing work of food on your body and it’s blessed and done with love.”

Jay Taylor, 32, said the loving energy from Garcia and the Back Unturned staff transcends into other parts of his day.

“I hope this program waters the seed of love that they planted and it grows into a tree, and starts the cycle for the next group,” Taylor said.

Back Unturned server Rebekah Gomez takes a personal pizza to a homeless person outside on Dec. 17. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

The program operates 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday at the brewery that's along the Museum Reach, and is available to the first 10 people. Individuals are allowed to enjoy their food outside, but people Garcia and the staff know can sit inside. There is no limit on the amount of times individuals can take advantage of the program.

Before the program, Garcia and his staff gave away free pizzas to his regulars from the homeless community during the initial development of the microbrewery. They were giving out 50 to 75 pizzas a week, but it caused his staff to be overworked and the business suffered financially.

“We would lose out on about $350-$500 a week, and it was hard because I had to pay the bills, as well,” Garcia said.

This is what led to Garcia capping the amount of the pizzas offered to 10, so they could balance out their labor and expenses.

The microbrewery funds about 75%-80% of the program, while the rest are donations from customers. Customers learn about the program from signage on the front door, from tabletop displays that give additional info, or word of mouth.

Donation bin inside Unturned Brewing. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

If anyone is interested in donating to the program, the brewery has a QR code that you can scan to pay them via PayPal, but cash is also welcome. The funds will be used to potentially increase the amount of pizzas they can offer to people on a daily basis.

Garcia says he is exploring making the program into a nonprofit organization.

Back Unturned also created a donation bin inside the brewery for non-perishable food, and clothes and shoes for individuals in need. The public is welcome to donate items during the brewery’s operating hours of 11 a.m to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Recently, brewery held a Winter Blanket Drive as the cold weather started kicking in.

"I understand how uncomfortable it can be helping a stranger," Garcia said, adding that "at the end of the day, they are people, too."

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Back Unturned Brewing Co. is located at 516 Brooklyn Ave. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

Hello Paradise is located at 520 E. Grayson St. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

Hello Paradise, a new outdoor bar and restaurant by bar developer Jeret Peña, celebrates its official opening today on East Grayson Street in Government Hill.

Peña and his Boulevardier group opened the Thai restaurant and tiki-inspired bar last week.

Peña’s most recent bar, Still Golden Social House, was closed in the spring after Jefferson Bank acquired the land it was on on East Grayson and Broadway to construct its new headquarters building. In two years, he plans to reopen Still Golden in the bank’s new building in a retail spot on the southeast corner of East Grayson and North Alamo, a half-block from Hello Paradise.

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Peña said they wanted to wait to find the right deal before opening Hello Paradise, which took over the former Shuck Shack location, and that timing was key.

"We had no other businesses, when Covid hit we were freaking out about what we were going to do," Peña said.

Hello Paradise includes an outdoor patio area with picnic tables, a giant projection screen, and fire pits. Lights hang over the picnic tables and give off a calmly lit vibe at night, making it ideal for Instagram-worthy photos.

The drink menu offers frozen and classic cocktails, beer and wine that range from $8-$10. Customers can also invent their own frozen cocktails that start with daiquiri, vodka sour and margarita bases, and can be finished with flavors such as mango, matcha, spicy cucumbers, strawberry, mint, and pandan, a Southeast Asian aromatic.

The Thai food menu is operated by the owners of the food truck, Yai’s Mobile Kitchen. Yai’s Mobile Kitchen is run by Peña’s in-laws, Dara and Kusol Maknual, and was previously posted outside of Still Golden Social House. Yai’s food menu includes spring rolls, Thai-fried wings, tom yum noodles, and panang curry, and range from $8-$10.

Hello Paradise is open noon to 2 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

Spring rolls and a rum-based cocktail called A Kauai Place. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

Hello Paradise opened last week. Photo by Rocky Garza Jr. | Heron contributor

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

Little Em's Oyster Bar in Southtown welcomes guests during a soft opening recently.
Little Em's Oyster Bar welcomes guests during a recent soft opening. Photo courtesy @littleemsoysterbar

San Antonio restaurateurs Emily and Houston Carpenter are bringing a new seafood spot to Southtown.

The couple is opening Little Em’s Oyster Bar for lunch service today in a former gas station, and in The Friendly Spot’s original home, on South Alamo and Beauregard streets.

After two successful soft openings, the Carpenters felt prepared to open their doors to the public.

“If we can do one thing it’s that this restaurant brings light to the area and everyone’s business gets business because of ours,” Emily Carpenter said.

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“We want this to be a gateway for those who’ve never been to Southtown,” Carpenter continued. “A lot of people don’t know about Hot Joy, Tito’s, Liberty Bar, Maverick, The Friendly Spot and more,” Carpenter said, likening South Alamo's potential to become what South Congress is to Austin.

The couple fell in love with a little oyster bar in Paris, which inspired them to create their own.

“They had a nice, small clean menu that was done right and we tried to copy that concept,” Carpenter said.

They believe Little Em's will bring people who have never been to the Southtown area, while playing a role in the growth of their community.

Ben Crumley will serve as the executive chef of Little Em’s, and brings over 20 years of culinary experience to their team.

“We chose Crumley because his food speaks for itself,” Carpenter said.

Courtesy Little Em's Oyster Bar

The menu will consist of oysters from the Northeast Coast, ranging from Canada to Massachusetts. Other food options on the menu include shrimp, lobster rolls, ceviche, salads and meat options such as burgers and a filet mignon.

The drink menu will feature local draft beers and an extensive wine list.

“The way we categorized each section, you’re going to know exactly what to pair with oysters,” Carpenter said.

“You’re going to know how each red tastes, how each white wine tastes, and it’s very user friendly,” she said. “We’re trying to open up the mind about those who don’t know about wine, and you’re going to be able to try this and that.”

Little Em’s currently doesn’t have a happy hour menu and plans to wait until 2021 to develop one for the restaurant.

Emily Carpenter. Courtesy Little Em's Oyster Bar

The restaurant can seat 20 people inside at 75% capacity and 40 people on the patio with tables spaced six feet apart. They also have a service window for customers to order drinks from the patio. They have 10 propane heaters at hand if needed for colder days.

Little Em’s has created Covid-19 safety measures that include deep cleanings of the restaurant, hand sanitizer dispensers, social distancing regulations, PPE worn by staff, and a mask mandate.

Little Em's Oyster Bar is located at 1001 S. Alamo St. Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Sunday brunch.

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

Contact the Heron at | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park two weeks ago. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Now that downtown’s newest park has opened across from the Frost Tower, its caretaker, a familiar name to Spurs fans, says locals can expect the green space to flourish with activity in the coming year.

Weston Urban, the park’s owner, has hired San Antonio native David Robinson Jr., son of Spurs legend David Robinson, as director of parks and recreation.

The 1.2-acre park, which Weston Urban acquired from Frost Bank in the recent land deal that resulted in the new Frost Tower, resides along West Houston Street between North Main and North Flores streets.

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
Eddie Romero and his daughter, Halynn, take in the new park the first week it opened. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Two weeks ago, fencing around the park, which had been completed for months, were finally taken down. Only Pinkerton's Barbecue, located inside a newly-built 5,000-square-foot restaurant on the park's north end, remains closed.

"This is more of a soft opening for us," Robinson Jr. said. "Early next year, we really want to open the park up once Pinkerton's opens. I think next year will be more of a coming out party, but it was important for us to open the park to people right now.

"There has been so much negativity and one good thing could help the people."

Robinson is planning programming and events to bring people together at the park. His ideas included screenings for movies or sporting events in a possible partnership with Alamo Drafthouse. He's also considering outdoor fitness classes, recreational sports and company meetings.

The park consists of a large green space semi-enclosed by a curved berm, and Mexican sycamore trees—all of which were added to the mature oaks that already lined the space.

There’s also a vine-covered pergola along North Flores. Tables and chairs are spaced six feet apart for social distancing and Christmas lights have been set up on the trees along the pergola. Robinson envisions the area as being popular with couples on date night.

A wide paved promenade along Houston Street, also lined with tables and chairs, is an extension of the one built next to the neighboring Frost Tower when it opened last year.

Robinson Jr. emphasized how crucial the green space is for the downtown area.

“Downtown has a lot of parking lots and people don’t get to enjoy the fresh air or be outdoors because we don’t have much green space in the area,” Robinson Jr. said. “This will help people gather responsibly, enjoy the outdoors, and make people happy.”

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
Pinkerton's Barbecue is expected to open early next year. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The "main staple," as Robinson Jr. described, is Pinkerton's.

Once large gatherings are permitted, Robinson Jr. envisions crowds coming out after work to grab sliders and a beer, or enjoying some barbecue during Spurs game days. He also hopes Pinkerton’s becomes a main attraction in the downtown nightlife scene.

Robinson Jr. expects the barbecue joint to open its doors at the beginning of next year.

He said he's open to any programming ideas from the public, and reassured that safety protocols would be taken during Covid-19. After the pandemic?

“We would love to host events here at the park in the future, during Fiesta or Oktoberfest, and see possible wedding receptions being held here,” he said.

For now, Robinson and his team have created safety measures to ensure individuals feel safe while visiting the park. Measures include sanitizing publicly-used spaces, hand sanitizer dispensers gifted by Centro San Antonio, and social distancing regulations along with enforcing the mask mandate.

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Robinson said the Pearl’s creation of chalk circles in their greenspace area that distance people six feet apart was an excellent idea that the park could use once foot traffic increases.

Weston Urban park is currently operating during the daylight hours and Robinson said an official name for the park has not been decided.

“I think people will be blown away about how lush, green and vibrant the park will be in five years,” Robinson said.

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The Weston Urban park is located along West Houston Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The pergola runs alongside North Flores Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The Houston Street promenade. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The gates finally came down around the Weston Urban park on West Houston Street across from the Frost Tower.
The downtown worker checks out the new space two weeks ago. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

Contact the Heron at | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

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