The new Trailblazer Café at the Stinson Municipal Airport is dedicated not only to aviation pioneers of the past but trailblazers of the present and future. And, there’s a juicy, stacked burger to go along with that.
The restaurant, serving a full menu featuring burgers, sandwiches, salads, smoothies and coffee seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., is one part of a revitalization plan meant to connect the historic airport to its surrounding Southside community.
An engine of opportunity
The Trailblazer Café is the brainchild of Joshua Smith, a pilot and Army veteran who earlier this year noticed a vacant space in the southwestern corner of the Stinson terminal with west-facing windows overlooking the airfield’s runways.
Smith had an idea for a new business enterprise that could connect existing aviation education programs at Stinson to new entry-level career opportunities for youth interested in aviation, technical fields and entrepreneurship.
Smith solicited help from his restaurateur brother James Cochran and former Army colleague William Osinski, who helped flesh out the concept and build community support.
“We talked with the community and we asked what their interest was in being able to support an initiative like that, and it was just an outflow of support from everyone,” Smith said. “We were looking at trying to support the community first, and then the business aspect of it was going to be our engine to be able to do that.”
San Antonio trailblazers
One person who came on board quickly was Olga Custodio, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who has blazed several trails.
Custodio holds the distinction of being the first Latina pilot in the U.S. military, the first Latina commercial airline captain at American Airlines, and the first instructor pilot of the T-38 Talon supersonic jet at Lackland Air Force Base and Randolph Air Force Base.
“When I saw the proposal of the initiative for the café, I knew it was going to be a great opportunity for the airport, our city and our community,” said Custodio, who works with The Ninety-Nines women’s pilot organization, Women in Aviation International and the Commemorative Air Force, among other groups who have supported the effort.
The café’s name pays homage to the trailblazing Stinson family, who started the Stinson School of Flying in 1915. Katherine Stinson was the fourth woman in the U.S. to ever receive a pilot’s license and was the first woman pilot to ever perform a loop-the-loop maneuver, according to Matt Evans, the City of San Antonio Aviation Department’s arts, culture and music specialist.
Ready to Work
Smith said the café will also support trailblazers of the future, in partnering with the City of San Antonio’s Ready to Work workforce development initiative to offer meaningful entry-level jobs to young Southside San Antonians ready to begin careers.
His wife and co-owner of The Trailblazer Café, Stephanie Smith, said that she is focused on hiring Palo Alto students who are studying for careers in aviation, culinary arts, IT and horticulture. A room is set up in the back with tables and laptops so employees can do their coursework during their shifts. Smith said she always wants her employees’ jobs at the café to come second to achieving their education and dreams.
“These are kids who are passionate about aviation, and we thought, here’s a grand opportunity for us to create a business in a place that keeps their eye on the prize, and closer to their adult mentors,” said her husband.
Situated in a functioning airfield, the café will serve as a hub for youth transitioning out of enrichment programs run by aviation organizations that encourage young people to explore opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. By taking jobs in the café, they’ll stay close to their airfield mentors while learning new skills.
While an interest in aviation brought new employees Chastity Banda and Xero Amaro to Stinson, both are also interested in pursuing culinary arts. Working in the café, they’ll help make such offerings as the Hen Solo chicken salad sandwich (named for Star Wars flyboy Han Solo), the Beet Goes On beet salad and the Call Me Old Fashioned burger.
Outside of the kitchen, Jose Cabrera will bring his background in computer science to work as an information systems specialist, and Andrena Shirk will work as a curator, tying the restaurant to its environs through informative history displays and programming.
Shirk graduated from Southside High School and is currently studying to be a museum curator at Palo Alto College, with a focus on archaeology and ancient history. She said when Cabrera told her about the Trailblazer opening, “I thought it would really be a good opportunity to broaden my horizons on more areas of history.”
Custodio said the café’s focus on mentorship is key to supporting future trailblazers.
“I had to blaze my own trail. There wasn’t a path, so I had to make my own. But I made sure that the people I surrounded myself with were supportive of my mission and my dream,” she said.
Helping build support for the Trailblazer Café “is my opportunity to give back to the community, to the country, to young students, male or female, who have big dreams,” Custodio said.
Photojournalist Bria Woods contributed to this report.