Santa came early this year for pizza lovers with news that the owners of popular Northside restaurant Sangria on the Burg plan to open a new eatery in San Antonio’s downtown tech district this spring.
Sangria on the Burg owner Ceasar Zepeda, who learned the business working in the kitchen at Ácenar, Cappy’s, and La Fonda on Main, is partnering with co-worker Michelle Giusti to develop a pizza restaurant they are calling Whisky Rose.
Zepeda opened Sangria on the Burg at 5115 Fredericksburg Rd. in September 2016 and quickly won “best new restaurant” accolades as well as the hearts of diners in the Medical Center area and beyond.
“I didn’t want to do a genre [of food]. I wanted to change it up,” Zepeda said. “Both tacos and sliders lend themselves to creativity as a vessel for different proteins and vegetables. I wanted it to be fun and healthy. … There’s not a lot of scratch-made around here, so the Medical Center was in need of that, and also with USAA and Valero nearby, this area was kind of hungry for that.”
Soon, he and Giusti, both whisky lovers, began to plot a new concept. With Giusti’s background in baking, they came up with the idea for a pizza pie shop and whisky bar. “We had helped another restaurant do some pizza, and it’s the same kind of concept,” Zepeda said. “Pizza can be a vessel for any kind of topping, and that’s what Whisky Rose will be.”
The idea was validated the night Zepeda stayed in a downtown hotel and found there was only one other pizza restaurant in the heart of downtown, other than delivery chains. “It’s really kind of crazy,” he said. “I tried to order a pizza and you basically couldn’t. It was a two-hour wait.”
Zepeda and Giusti pitched their concept to Randy Smith and Heath Cover, president and vice president of Weston Urban, the real estate investment firm that owns the Rand and other downtown office buildings.
“The Rand guys – we are loving their vision for downtown and our city, and that’s what you want, to surround yourself with people who want the best for our city,” Zepeda said. “They initially wanted another ‘Sangria,’ but this concept was fresh on our minds. They said, ‘We just want an operator who’s doing good stuff and confident in what they’re doing.’ They tried some of our food, and they also thought pizza be a good fit.”
Situated on Soledad, between Rosella at the Rand and building’s parking garage, Whisky Rose will open in a 2,600-square-foot space designed by Luna Middleman Architects.
“We are in the beginning phases, looking at renderings,” Zepeda said. “We would love to be open for the [NCAA Men’s] Final Four in March and for Fiesta, but May is probably more realistic.”
When it opens, Zepeda said, the restaurant will seat 60-70 and include bar seating that faces the kitchen and bakery. He plans for Whisky Rose to offer counter-service breakfast – tacos, pastries, and coffee – and a full-service menu for lunch and dinner.
Zepeda said he and Giusti are learning from the owners of Pinch Boil House what works in the area.
Dinner, he said, is going to be a challenge in the tech district, because most workers leave nearby offices before dinnertime. But co-working space Geekdom occupies the Rand. “They eat pizza,” he said, adding he hopes “happy hour” will draw workers from the nearby Bexar County Courthouse and Frost Bank Tower. The restaurant also will deliver and provide catering services.
“We’re whisky drinkers. … It’s pretty trendy right now,” Zepeda said.
As for the name, he said, “We wanted to make it not so masculine as well and introduce more women to whisky drinks.”