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Jaime Macias knew it was crazy to open up a bar in the middle of a pandemic. He also worried about its location on the city’s near West Side, for too long known as a place young residents hope to flee rather than for its storied Mexican-American history.
He did it anyway, opening Jaime’s Place in October of 2020, just as the weather cooled and COVID-19 cases started ticking back up.
He planted a sign out front: “Unbow your heads, 78207”
That sign, along with some social media savvy on the part of Macias’ daughter, would help catapult Jaime’s Place into the national spotlight.
The sign first got noticed by local graphic artist Rafael Gonzales, who posted the saying onto his Instagram account, where it earned more than 200 likes. After being featured in Time Magazine for creating “pandemic Loteria,” Gonzales said he told the Time reporter who’d interviewed him, Jasmine Aguilera, about the Westside bar and restaurant.
“My wife, she was raised on the West Side,” Gonzales said. “When my wife saw that [sign], she had a visceral reaction to it and started to cry. She said, ‘For my whole life growing up, there was some shame to where I was from when people asked,’ and she was like, ‘That’s the first time that I felt empowered to raise my head and be proud of where I’m from.'”
Jaime’s Place became the anchor anecdote in Time Magazine’s in-depth look at how Latino entrepreneurs, among the hardest hit by the pandemic, are now helping fuel the nation’s economic recovery.
Not long after that, a representative from the Food Network reached out to Macias, interested in using Jaime’s Place for a Día de los Muertos-themed web series called “The Día de los Muertos Menu.” The shoot included several episodes featuring San Antonio artists and chefs, and included an episode of Macias and his wife making tamales.
Macias said making tamales is a family tradition for him, his wife, and their children, and credited his daughter Gabriella’s social media prowess for getting them noticed by the Food Network. Gabriella Macias works closely with her father running and marketing Jaime’s Place.
“I’m just the messenger,” Gabriella Macias said of her social media posts. “The message is already there, the culture is there, the people are there — the community’s been here. All I’m doing is sharing it,” she said.
Macias, 56, looks back in wonder that he took a chance on opening a bar in the midst of a pandemic on the West Side, the place where many of his fellow natives fled after graduating high school in search of better opportunities.
“You spend all this energy into building it right,” Macias said. “I was $800 from running out of money. To top that there was the pandemic, right? I mean, it was raging — and then bars were closing. It was scary.”
Macias believes the success of Jaime’s Place is a testament to the West Side’s reawakening. He said that for decades, West Side residents were told to be ashamed of their Hispanic heritage and encouraged to abandon it; in recent years, however, there’s been a renewed sense of pride in the city’s Latin-American roots. He continues to encourage this pride, selling T-shirts with the bar’s unofficial slogan, “Unbow your head.”
“Nobody expected [a new bar] on this side of town, especially right now, when there’s no reason to come into the West Side; there’s no more Malt House, there’s no more stuff here — the only reason you come over the bridge is to go home,” Macias said. “So people, they couldn’t believe their eyes, right? They thought, ‘This is nice,’ because they don’t expect it here.”
Jaime Macias said he hopes Jaime’s Place will be the first of many West Side risings. He envisions a lively barrio where people can come together to celebrate their culture, not hide from it.
“I’m feeling like that stuff is happening,” he said. “It’s really happening.”