Justin Utz
Justin Utz

We Live at the Can Plant

It all started one afternoon day in June. I was sitting in the office of the home my wife, Kari, and I had remodeled out of ruins in Terrell Hills. I answered a knock at the front door and found a guy standing there with an interesting proposition. Would we be willing to sell our house, he asked? Our home wasn’t even on the market, and we had only occasionally talked about selling it. But…

To make a long story short, by 8p.m. we had made a deal over dinner at Feast to sell. Now we had a decision to make, and we needed to make it in a hurry: Where would we move?

Living and dining space in Justin's Can Plant Apartment. Photo by Justin Utz.
Living and dining space in Justin’s Can Plant Apartment. Photo by Justin Utz.

We loved Terrell Hills, and the area in general, but we dreamed of being closer to the places we frequented. We looked all around, but nothing else matched the urban charm like  Pearl Brewery. We called up the folks at The Can Plant, a new community that was very much under construction at the Pearl redevelopment, and quickly found an apartment that fit our needs. Sight unseen, we signed on the dotted line.

A quick history of the Pearl Brewery development:The original brewery was found as the J. B. Behloradsky Brewery and the City Brewery in 1881. By 1886, the first bottles of Pearl beer rolled off the line and into local tap rooms. The brewery flourished until 1919 when Prohibition set in and the facility was converted to producing near beer, bottling soft drinks, dry cleaning and ice cream. This trend lasted until September 15, 1933 when, at midnight, Prohibition ended and 100 trucks and 25 railroad boxcars loaded with real beer left the brewery grounds. The brewery continued Pearl beer production, eventually being taken over by Pabst Brewing company, and ultimately closed in 2001. That same year, Silver Ventures purchased the 22-acre property and proceeded forward with what is now the city’s most admired redevelopment project in contemporary times.

View from Justin’s window overlooking construction at the Pearl. Photo by Justin Utz.

The move has been a good one, although things are very much still under construction around here. New things seem to be popping up daily. Construction on the remaining units is on schedule, and the barricade fences are quickly disappearing, allowing us to explore anew.

The urban environment here is opening up a new type of living that isn’t known to San Antonio, one where you can walk to dinner at Sandbar, a laid back seafood restaurant where the sommelier, Adam, can get you a nice bottle of vino or a bottle of beer, and Erica can get you something to fit whichever food mood you’re in. If you’re not in the mood for seafood, you can hit up Andy Weismann’s other restaurant, Il Sogno, where you can indulge yourself in some of the city’s best Italian food. Although you can rack up a nice tab at either of these restaurants, they also offer great value items on their menus.

Blue Box at the Pearl
Blue Box. Photo courtesy of The Pearl.

My wife and I had dinner at Il Sogno for just over $30 last week. Although those are our favorites, there is also Nao (a Latin inspired restaurant ran by the Culinary Institute of America), La Gloria (for some good Mexican street food), Sam’s Burger Joint (for a burger and live music), Timbos (for a cold beer and their famous Shypoke eggs), Josephine Street Café (for a good ol’ Chicken Fried Steak), and Boehler’s Bar and Grill (for a little German influence). And for an after dinner drink, the Blue Boxis the only place to be.

And that’s just the start… I can look out the window of my apartment and see two new restaurants under construction. The Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden, a concept from the owners of Max’s Wine Dive, will open in the old boiler building that sits just across from Nao. The Granary ‘Cue and Brew will occupy an old house that was saved for reuse and bring beer brewing back to The Pearl property. I don’t miss many meals, so I’m dying to try these new jewels when they open.

For daytime activities we frequent the Saturday morning Pearl Farmers Market to buy fresh produce from local vendors, and  grab a plate of chicken and waffles, the perfect cure after a late night at Blue Box. On some summer afternoons, we catch a movie at the amphitheater, grab a bike from the San Antonio Bike Share program to tour the city, or take a cruise down the river on one of the riverboats that stop right at Pearl.

As an added bonus, just this week we received a surprise on our door, a Pearl “Red Card!” If you follow Pearl on Facebook you may have seen them giving away this card to followers who could answer fun trivia questions about Pearl tenants or history. But, as a perk of living at the Pearl we get one without having to strain our brains! The Pearl Red Card is a card for loyal Pearl shoppers, visitors, and diners. Every time you flash your Red Card it unlocks deals and exclusive offers from Pearl tenants – discounts at retail stores, free appetizers, a chef’s selection of wine, a gift with purchase, and much more.

Can Plant entrance. Photo by Iris Dimmick

In any event, there are hundreds of things to do here. The Pearl development has been a big breath of fresh air for Broadway and for the city. We hope other areas like this quickly develop. We’ve already recruited one friend to move here, and we expect many more to follow.

Justin is Vice President of Development Operations for Verano Land Group, the team behind the much-anticipated walkable, urban south side development surrounding Texas A&M – San Antonio. Justin also operates a consulting firm that helps other real estate developers manage their projects. He is married to Kari, his wife of 9 years. They have four-legged son Toby, and they are expecting their first baby in April. 

Life in a Live/Work Loft in the Full Goods Building

Katie and I share a deep appreciation for anything with San Antonio and Texas roots. We are Spurs fans, Fiesta revelers, TexasExes, frequent Southwest Airline flyers and loyal H-E-B shoppers.  We support anything native Texan. We promote our local economy and would recommend a San Antonio-only restaurant over a national chain any day. We believe that by supporting, advocating, and recommending a local brand that we are helping to organically diversify San Antonio’s culture.

Nightmare on Grayson. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

We both remember coming downtown as kids to go to Nightmare on Grayson Street, to visit the San Antonio Zoo, and to see the River Walk sparkle during the Holiday season. Back then, we’d pass by the Pearl Brewery without giving it much thought. But with its renovation and resurgence over the past few years, we’ve come to love its architecture and its history.

After growing up, we ventured off to earn our respective degrees at the University of Texas at Austin. We fell in love with the sense of community that Austin nurtured in all of its native and transplanted residents. After completing our degrees, we moved back to San Antonio and began searching for that same sense of community. In a city as big as San Antonio, this proved to be extremely hard. We separately sought this in different parts of town, but to no avail. So naturally, when we found out that a Live/Work Loft was available at the Pearl, we were ecstatic. It had local roots with that inherent sense of community. We were in the market to find our first place together as a married couple and decided to present an offer to the Pearl for an apartment, sight unseen.

exterior live/work lofts at the pearl
Tristan and Katie’s back patio at the pearl off Grayson Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

There are eight Live/Work Lofts in the Whole Goods building. Zoned for both residential and commercial use. The lofts vary in size from 826 square feet ($1,400) to 1,551 square feet ($2,600). The lofts can sometimes works as a sort of business incubator. According to Assistant Property Manager Adrian Contreras, tenants usually stay for about four years, not a quick turn-over, but it’s steady.

“Usually the reason people leave is because their business becomes too big for the space,” Contreras said. “We have a very long wait list.”

Two tenants are currently taking advantage of the space by both living and working in the lofts: Contects, an architectural firm, and Tracy Maurer Photography.

“Without a doubt I think (multi-use zoning) downtown is going to boom within the next couple years,” Contreras said, “What turns people off from downtown now is the commute. This kind of arrangement fixes that problem.”

Now having lived at the Pearl for more than a year, we are in love with our surroundings. Countless friends and family members have asked, begged, and have even just shown up on our doorstep unannounced, eager to see what the live/work situation is like.
To put it simply: We have taken “ownership” of the businesses that are close. Their business customers are our life customers. What I mean by this is that we are loyal residents of the Pearl, proud of the businesses that we share our home with.

For example, our local Italian spot is hands down Il Sogno. This happens to be right next door to our front door. We have a relationship with all of their employees and staff. We wave to each other, stop and talk, or have a glass of wine and just visit. When someone asks about where to eat or places to check out, we first recommend any of the businesses that reside at the Pearl.

Suite 101. Photo by Iris DImmick.
Suite 101. Photo by Iris DImmick.

Have we had any customers/tourist knock on our door? Ha! They never knock, they just stroll right in! Its great – not so much for Katie. We try to keep our door locked so that we don’t have a random person  walking in on us in the middle of dinner. But it comes with the territory.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I was sitting downstairs at our kitchen table working on my laptop. It was 11 a.m. and I was plugging away. Low and behold a lady walks into our home  and acknowledges me but continues to walk inside. I forgot to lock the door. Our loft is not too big so by the time I got her attention – I kept asking what/who she was looking for – she noticed I was in my boxers (the beauty of working from home). Her expression was priceless, almost like I was in the wrong here. She said “Oh my … umm … I was looking for suite 101.”

I replied, “Yes you are in suite 101, but must be mistaken. You see we live here and there is no business.”

She doesn’t respond at all…just quickly scurries out of our home.

We are proud and blessed to call downtown and the Pearl home. We enjoy our active lifestyle and feel “plugged” into the immense cultural map that San Antonio has to offer. We love the fact that we are able to walk out of our home and a B-cycle docking station is only 100 yards away. We wake up at our leisure on Saturday mornings, make a cup of coffee, and walk down the sidewalk to the Farmers Market to buy our week’s groceries.  The Battle of Flowers Parade floats literally stage-right outside of our back patio. A true sense of community surrounds the entire Pearl.

The Pearl plays host many events, so more and more people are exploring life here. Yet it’s never very loud here, just busy enough to remind us of how plugged into the city we are now.

Nick Simonite at Echale
Echale Concert Series at the Pearl Park Amphitheater earlier this year, only a block away from Tristan and Katie’s loft. Photo courtesy of The Pearl.

Katie Strong is a high school physics teacher for NISD. Tristan Maldonado works as a marketing director for Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville: mostly managing the tour sponsorships and social media (The Margarillas).