In a Houston Street building known for cooking ideas into bona fide businesses, a popular seafood and crawfish pop-up is opening its first brick-and-mortar operation this spring.

Owners Sean Wen and Andrew Ho announced that Pinch will move into the ground floor of the Rand building, which houses collaborative workspace Geekdom and other businesses, after testing their concept at pop-up events all over town. Pinch will replace Taiwan Chinese Restaurant at 124 N. Main Ave., which closed Dec. 31.

The menu at Pinch – named for the pinch of seasonings and the crawfish claws – will feature a variety of Southeast Asian-inspired seafood dishes and sauces. Other highlights include fresh banh mi and a bia bar to complement the food. Bia is Vietnamese for beer.

Houston natives Wen and Ho, both 27 years old, met during their college years at the University of Texas at Austin, where they often invited friends to their crawfish boils and eventually started toying with the idea of a food truck.

“Andrew brought the idea up, and I remember saying there was no way I would know what I was doing, and that I needed a real job first,” Wen said.

Indeed, they both went on to tackle “real jobs” at an investment bank, engineering firms, and startups. Later, Ho moved to Thailand and then Vietnam, where he had family ties. There he helped start a craft beer and barbecue restaurant while learning how to cook the country’s traditional foods from street vendors.

Wen landed at Geekdom through a fellowship program called Venture for America, which pairs graduates with startups to foster entrepreneurship. While working as a membership manager there, he “fell in love with San Antonio, its tech scene, and its burgeoning food scene,” he said.

“I told Andrew all about the city and how much awesome potential it had,” Wen said. “This time, Andrew asked me again if I was ready to start Pinch, and I confidently said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. It’s now or never.’ He moved to San Antonio the next month, and we haven’t looked back.”

Wen describes their restaurant concept as both a boil house and bia bar, decorated in bold, bright colors to match the flavors in the seafood and sauces such as coconut curry, garlic butter, and Thai sweet chili. Working with a design team at Alamo Architects, Ho and Wen hope to create a space with a youthful, rebellious vibe that feels fun and casual, with communal dining.

Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar will be in what was Taiwan Chinese Restaurant.
Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar will be in what was Taiwan Chinese Restaurant. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Both agreed that opening at their location in the Rand building, an opportunity provided by Geekdom and Weston Urban, “was too hard to pass up,” because it puts Pinch in the heart of growth in downtown San Antonio. In the spirit of building community, a sentiment they feel strongly about, Wen and Ho are currently inviting others to join their venture as founders, and are creating a Pinch Founders Club with what Wen called “some pretty awesome perks.”

Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar will be located on the bottom floor of the Rand Building 124 N. Main St.
Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar will be located on the bottom floor of the Rand Building 124 N. Main St. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

While both men are fairly new to San Antonio’s restaurant scene, Wen said neither are rookies in the kitchen.

“It’s been something that has been the lifeblood of my family, and consequently, (I’ve) spent hours with my mother in the kitchen,” he said. “It was the only time I really felt like I could bond with her. Food has a funny way of connecting and communicating with people, way beyond words.

“Andrew got involved with food at a young age as well, cooking with his father during the weekends, because he worked long hours and late into night.”

Pinch’s opening is scheduled for mid-April, but Wen and Ho are planning a big crawfish boil for March. Follow Pinch on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook for news and updates.

Pinch is only the latest ground-floor retail operation to open at the Rand building. Rosella Coffee is on track to open in February on Houston Street and there are separate plans to open a bar on the rooftop.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.