Eastside San Antonio– especially the St. Paul’s Square and Sunset Station area– has lost a number of businesses and residents in the last 20 years. But new tenants like Smoke: The Restaurant promise to make elevated experiences accessible and affordable to anyone. Most restauranteurs wouldn’t see the Eastside as a viable option for a new business, but Smoke’s restaurant partners: Adrian Martinez, CPA, Chef Brian West, and Investor Javier Sandoval see it as an opportunity for growth — for their business and the Eastside community.
Smoke: The Restaurant, 1170 E. Commerce, will open for business on Monday, March 14.
The unnamed restaurant group owns several establishments including the first Smoke location in Stone Oak, Smoke: The Food Truck, China Garden, and Stir Cocktail Lounge. The new restaurant and bar on Commerce required an investment just under $1 million, making it the group’s biggest project to date.
“The most popular food in Texas is Tex-Mex, but after that, it’s definitely barbecue,” said Martinez, who delved into food business after working as a CPA for several local restaurants. “We didn’t want to go to areas of San Antonio that are already booming, and the Eastside showed a lot of opportunity — it’s the next piece of the puzzle for downtown.”
St. Paul’s Square has seen a string of new businesses and companies pop up, only to close a few months later. The restaurant open in the 8,000-square-foot unit that has remained empty since Ruth Chris Steakhouse left the area in 2013.
“It’s not what it was maybe two or three years ago…maybe even a year ago,” Martinez said, adding that the highway has, informally, divided Eastside San Antonio from the city’s downtown area.
It took months of meetings to reach an agreement with the City who owns the property, and Zachry Realty LLC, who leases it, but Martinez credited City officials like Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) and and organizations like the Center City Development Office and San Antonio For Growth on the Eastside with helping the group to secure the restaurant’s location.
“There’s still a fence (between the two areas), but there’s a big hole in the fence now, and more people are starting to come over,” Martinez said. The restaurant hopes to attract locals, as well as convention visitors who are looking for new eating options away from the River Walk.
The restaurant’s menu includes wood fire grill options for customers who want to indulge in pricier cuts of meat, or they can select a “Feast” experience, which feeds up to eight people. Everything on the main menu costs less than $20.
The building’s landlord turned down several mom-and-pop businesses and major corporations, Martinez said. “They wanted something that would appeal to locals, make the price point more attractive than a traditional steakhouse, and we took on the challenge.”
Executive Chef Brian West, a former Culinary Instructor at the CIA San Antonio, has developed a menu of approachable plates and snacks like the tater tot and brisket poutine, the “Urban Cowboy BBQ Burger,” and the house made “Abe Froman” beef sausage show that the restaurant has a sense of humor.
“We’re a venue that takes our barbecue seriously, but we wanted to make this a place that was playful too,” Martinez said. That playful approach can be found in the “flying pigs” attached to the restaurant’s interior and the rustic tables paired with modern design elements.
The company has begun construction for a bar in the building’s basement, which Martinez says will be a place for locals to watch Spurs games and enjoy beverages.
Olaf Harmel, renown local mixologist, will lead “Ash,” the restaurants ground level bar. Customers can expect to see Harmel’s dedication to craft cocktails, but Ash will also offer a wide selection of wines, and 20 different beers — both craft and domestic — on tap at all times.
“Yes, this is going to be a very, very nice bar,” Martinez said, pointing out the dark wood paneled bar, custom lights, and cozy sitting areas. “But if anything, we want this to be approachable to anyone.”
*Top Image: The second floor of Smoke can hold up to 150 people for banquet receptions. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone