Kristen Elise enjoys a meal of pork bulgogi at Chas Market & Kitchen.
Kristen Elise enjoys bulgogi at Chas Market & Kitchen. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Editor’s note: Even the most devoted Thanksgiving turkey enthusiast eventually needs a change of protein. To that end, Rivard Report staff roamed the city to find hidden gems, longtime local favorites, and other independent eateries that serve slices of San Antonio’s manifold cultures. For more stories in our Escape the Turkey series, click here.

Chas Market + Kitchen has lived multiple lives, but one long one at that.

In 1936, Charles DeLeon established Charles Supermarket on the corner of Pine Street and the Interstate 35 access road. Somewhere down the line it became Chas Supermarket, and in 1985 DeLeon sold it to JT Kim, who at the time owned a few other independent grocery stores in San Antonio. Two years ago, Kim expanded the grocery store into a Korean barbecue restaurant.

Kim runs the restaurant and store with his wife, Hwa Kim. They both emigrated from South Korea in 1979 to join her brother in Texas, JT said, because there were “better opportunities” in the United States.

“In 1979, in Korea, I was in college, finishing in the military,” he explained. “You have to serve almost three years. I didn’t have any ideas at the time. I just thought, ‘I’ll work at a business’ [in the U.S.] because no one gave us ideas of what to do.”

Once in the U.S., Kim worked at his brother-in-law’s restaurant in Houston, then became a manager at a Stop-N-Go in the same city. He moved to San Antonio soon after to open up his own grocery store, he said. He built his business to include four grocery markets, but eventually sold them all except for Chas Supermarket.

“All the independent grocery stores are gone,” he said. “Everybody closed down, everybody retired. I changed this to a Korean barbecue restaurant, [and kept the] tacos. Grocery stores were slow, and it was hard to survive.”

Since he and his wife added the Korean barbecue portion of Chas Market + Kitchen in 2016, Kim said, business has grown steadily. But his most popular items are still the breakfast tacos they sell in the morning, a part of the market since he bought it in 1985.

“I know how to make tortillas,” he said with a grin. “I know how to cook.”

Making tortillas requires precision, he said, but he learned from a cook who stayed on from DeLeon’s ownership. His favorite taco to make is the carne asada with cheese, he said, but the store’s most popular are the carne guisada and the bean and cheese tacos. Chas Market + Kitchen also offers an assortment of other American fare – hamburgers, Philly cheesesteaks, and fish burgers, among other items.

Kim wants to keep adding to the Korean barbecue menu, calling his restaurant a constantly improving project. Right now, customers can enjoy an all-you-can-eat meal of Korean barbecue for $22.99, complete with rice and numerous side dishes, known as banchan. Chas Market + Kitchen lists popular entrees such as beef bulgogi, short ribs, and bibimbap, and Kim said he recently added a spicy octopus stir-fry as part of his goal to expand the menu.

(From left) Pork Bulgogi and "Panchan," or side dishes.
(From left) Bulgogi and banchan, or side dishes. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Kim still sells an assortment of essentials like soap, paper towels, and light bulbs at Chas Market and lets people make copies on a small copy machine for 20 cents a sheet. He’s not sure why it’s still so popular, but people have come to the market to use the copy machine for ages, he said.

“I can’t throw it away, people are used to coming here and using the copy machine,” he laughed. “We have the machine here, so what can I do?”

As a result of Chas Market’s past lives, the restaurant’s interior is eclectic. There are rows of refrigerated drinks lining the side of the store; Asian snacks and Mexican candy share shelf space by the counter; and the kitchen sits behind it all, serving up Mexican, American, and Korean cuisine.

Kristen Elise enjoys a meal in front of of some Korean images.
Kristen Elise enjoys a meal in front of Korean images. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The market has even sold a winning lottery ticket. Fifteen years ago, someone won $5 million from a ticket bought at Chas Market, Kim said. In Texas, stores that sell winning tickets get a 1 percent bonus, so Kim used his to remodel his kitchen.

Chas Market + Kitchen is open from 6:30 a.m to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. It serves Korean barbecue every day starting at 10:30 a.m. until closing, and tacos every day from the open to 1:30 p.m. American lunch plates (hamburgers, etc.) are served Monday through Friday until 2 p.m. Chas Market + Kitchen will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.