When new owners acquired the dining and retail park known as Los Patios in late 2020, it was their dream to turn the wooded Salado Creek property and its structures into a refuge for recovery.
In March 2021, they opened Blue Heron Recovery at the site to provide private outpatient treatment services for substance abuse disorders.
Owned and overseen by licensed chemical dependency counselor Christine Mayer with her husband, Dr. Paul Mayer, the program provides group and individual therapy and enrichment classes designed to encourage healthy habits and new interests.
Almost a year into the project, the campus has turned into a supportive and serene dining and social destination not unlike the original and long-running Los Patios, with one major exception. No alcohol is served anywhere on the property.
“Recovery requires community,” Christine Mayer said of the premise behind the campus. “Isolation is where addiction thrives.”
The “sober campus” allows people in recovery to socialize with one another and others without coming into contact with relapse triggers.
It provides people in recovery a place to go when they finish detox programs so they aren’t “going right back to the same community they were in before with whoever they were drinking and using with,” she said.
“Instead of coming back to your regular community, [you] come here to make new friends,” she said. “This is your town, this is your home, so why not have the exact opposite of the bar community.”
In addition to the recovery center, where meetings and therapy sessions are held, the Los Patios campus is home to three restaurants and a coffee shop, a yoga studio, an art gallery, a dress boutique, a jewelry store and soon, a medical clinic staffed by Paul Mayer, an emergency medicine doctor.
All are open to the public.
The dining options include Naco 210 Mexican Eatery & Patio, a restaurant where owners Francisco and Lizzeth Estrada serve local favorites, simply prepared, but without the ubiquitous margarita on their menu.
The restaurant is the Estradas’ first brick-and-mortar venture after operating a successful food truck. Lizzeth Estrada said it provides the couple with the added bonus of a safe space to spend time with their young sons while they are working long hours.
Blue Heron client Dolph Mayo also considers the campus “a little safe place in a major metropolitan city,” where the natural park-like setting is a contrast to what can be the sterile environment of a hospital or traditional treatment center.
It’s a place to have fun and learn to live a normal life, he said, “instead of in the chaos that we’ve created.”
There is a growing demand for treatment and supportive recovery programs in San Antonio, according to Bernadette Solorzano, a tenured faculty member at Our Lady of the Lake University and the clinic director of the university’s Community Counseling Service, which is open to anyone, but primarily serves Westside communities around the school.
“There’s an increasing need for strength-based services” especially, said Solorzano, who is not affiliated with Blue Heron. Such treatment is focused on building confidence rather than viewing the individual as broken and in need of fixing, “which is kind of heavy-handed with people who are in recovery and it really invites them into a narrative of hopelessness.”
Since the pandemic began, Solorzano said the clinic has seen a mix of mental health crises ranging from depression and anxiety to addiction and relapse. The recent holiday season added to the stress. Just prior to Christmas, most new clients to the clinic were seeking help for substance abuse or the heartache from a loss.
“We’ve had a lot of grief from people who’ve lost multiple family members,” she said.
Blue Heron offers treatment options that include a day program designed for people having just completed residential treatment, an intensive outpatient program and weekly therapy.
But there are also special events, workshops and courses intended to foster healthier ways to self-soothe. Cooking, music and yoga are part of the lineup of classes at Blue Heron. But it’s not all recreation — some clients find jobs on campus.
At Chef Stephen Paprock’s Gunslingers 2021, the casual menu offers burgers, wings and salads, with beverage options limited to ice tea, fountain drinks and bottled water and soda.
Alex, a Blue Heron patient who preferred not to provide his last name, began working at Gunslingers in December.
“I used to be a server for two and a half years and I had to quit because of how bad the environment is” for recovering addicts, he said of the food and beverage industry. “Alcohol sales are your biggest moneymaker in a normal bar environment so to still open a restaurant like that without alcohol, it’s pretty cool.”
As a recovering alcoholic, Mayo said the venues and environment make up a kind of judgment-free zone for him and others to build a future for themselves.
“My journey has been pretty long and I’ve had some great sobriety but I’ve also hit some flat spots,” he said.
It helps to be around people who understand and in a place where he can develop new interests, hobbies and friends. “What we’re all gunning for is a better quality of life,” he said.
If you or someone you know is suffering a mental health crisis, dial 211 to be connected to the United Way Helpline, available 24/7.