Suzanne Taranto-Etheredge is the CEO and President of Culinaria. She has been deeply involved in the San Antonio food scene and being an advocate for improving the visibility and notoriety of it for a decade. She has a lot to say about our city and the scene.
Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenidos, San Antonio. Welcome to The Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonioan and keeper of chickens and bees. On The Alamo Hour, you’ll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique, and the best-kept secret in Texas. We’re glad that you’re here.
All right. Welcome to The Alamo Hour, today’s guest is Suzanne Taranto-Etheredge. Suzanne is the president and CEO of Culinaria. Culinaria is a 501(c)(3) committed to promoting San Antonio’s area food scene, making it a better food destination and wine destination. They’re involved with what everybody has experienced in Restaurant Week, that’s something they put together. I learned today I’ll have other things like what do you all call them? Food tours.
Suzanne Taranto-Etheredge: Yes. We have a lot, [unintelligible 00:01:00] food trail.
Justin: I didn’t know that, I thought that was super cool. I was looking into it. I learned some stuff about our food scene today and I thought I was probably pretty good. I’m the guy that like all the North-side guys who have wives and kids will call and say, “We have a date night, where do I go?” There was a time I was good at that. I’m not as good at that anymore.
Suzanne, thank you for being here. Thank you for joining us. I know it’s the middle of Restaurant Week, so it’s probably your busiest time of the year.
Suzanne: It is a little busy, but it’s a different kind of busy now with COVID protocols in place. It’s been very interesting to adapt and change and pivot in the middle of our world. It’s never too late to eat out, that’s the good news.
Justin: Well, I was looking at the Restaurant Week menus, most of them have to-go options, which is the first time I’ve ever seen that. We’re going to get into Restaurant Week here in a second, but I’m going to do what I do with all of my guests and go through some top 10 questions with you being part of the food scene and the wine scene, yours are going to be a little bit different. You’re not going to hurt anybody’s feelings so I’m going to ask you some questions and let’s start.
Suzanne: You never know, Justin. There’s time, you don’t know.
Justin: Everybody’s thin-skinned these days.
Justin: I had Stefan Bowers on here and I really appreciated how he was not concerned with hurting anybody’s feelings. Let’s take inspiration from that today. Starting off, what brought you to San Antonio? How long have you lived here?
Suzanne: Oh, my gosh, a job brought me to San Antonio. I had a choice to live in either Austin or San Antonio. Everyone was cra– They couldn’t believe I chose San Antonio, but I knew the minute that I got here because I was doing a lot of things strategically statewide for another organization, and so I had the choice where I wanted to go. The minute I got to San Antonio, I just was in love. I’ve been here for gosh, over 15 years now. It’s flown by like crazy.
I was just the child when I got here. It’s been a really fun ride. San Antonio, more than any other city just, made me feel at home. People here are so welcoming and so gracious, and I just loved it. I’m a Texas girl. I’m from North Texas so it just was a really great fit.
I’m from Canadian, Texas.
Justin: You’re from Panhandle North Texas.
Suzanne: I’m from the Panhandle. Absolutely right.
Justin: I’m from North Texas, you’re from the Panhandle. My dad was born in the Mineral Wells area, he was raised in Borger.
Suzanne: Got you.
Justin: I grew up in the Wichita Falls area, which still falls, I think is more like traditional North Texas.
Suzanne: Yes. You get it, that North. I really love San Antonio just because everyone was so friendly and kind, and it just feels San Antonio still, to this day, feels smaller to me and I like that. I liked that we get to all be interconnected and [unintelligible 00:03:52].
Justin: Did you go to Texas Tech?
Suzanne: Myself– Two of my siblings did, but I did not.
Justin: Where’d you go?
Suzanne: I went to A&M.
Justin: Okay, I went to A&M.
Suzanne: Technically, I started at A&M and then I finished at West Texas A&M.
Justin: Well, everybody regionalized as where they end up going to school. You moved here in what? 2015?
Suzanne: Do what?
Justin: I mean, 2005 is that about when you moved here?
Justin: All right. Where are your favorite spots in town to eat now? I won’t say universally, but now where? I know even though you’re culinary, you got to share your love.
Suzanne: It’s literally picking my favorite children, so I’ll go with pandemic. Right? I’m loving the to-go option from Meadow. They have this great– They’ve done a really great job since the pandemic started and I don’t want to cook, let’s be clear. I’m not into cooking, I don’t want to do it, I go out for a reason. They did a really good job bringing everything to you and they have free delivery within a mile.
I thought they did such a great job like they have half-priced burger night and then they do half-priced wine nights so I would just order all my wine on Tuesday and get my burgers on Thursday, it was great. I’ve been loving that. I love Jardeen, I think great thoughtful new place added into the scene. I just went to Rebelle this weekend, I love Rebelle.
I eat everywhere though, so it’s really not fair. I love El Jarro for good Mexican food. I eat everywhere, so I really love all kinds of cuisines. I start popping around the genre wide and then I love Tre at the museum. I think that’s a really cool spot. I love everything. This is the hardest question that I ever have to answer.
Justin: Well, they’re going to get worse. El Jarro was in your neighborhood, right?
Suzanne: Yes. During the pandemic, I stayed closer as I assume most people did. We’re seeing a lot of people who are staying closer to where they live now, because that’s where they’re working as well and so I found it really easy to somewhere that’s close to me when I’m Zooming until six o’clock or whatever and just have my food show up. I was really liking that.
Justin: I have found myself going to Playland more than I should and I also found out Sichuan house will basically deliver anywhere.
Suzanne: They’ll take it anywhere. I love that place, it’s so good. I think it’s so good.
Justin: I live super close to Tidy, so I get to cheat with it. Have you been there?
Suzanne: [unintelligible 00:06:39]. Who hasn’t been there?
Justin: Well, a lot of people still haven’t and you cannot wear tank tops in there. Just as an aside-
Justin: -you have to have sleeves on your shirt, which is surprising considering the decor.
Suzanne: You need to dress appropriately to go to Tidy, exactly.
Justin: Well, I have a pool, so there’s been moments that at four o’clock, after a day in the sun, having some drinks, everybody’s like, “Let’s go to Tidy,” and the gas station next door sells T-shirts, just in case you need to know. What are your favorite spots for drinks right now? Cocktails, wine, whatever.
Suzanne: Well, I like them all. I wish that bars were open, that would be a great place to start. Friendly Spot is always a great place. Really, I’m sticking to patios right now, I’m trying to do my part to be COVID-free. I like to drink all over town too. I like to drink at Pearl. They all have really– I really like the people watching at The Pearl right now in particular for a shop for all of my mask so I see what everybody else is wearing and then I go and order a billion masks after I see them walking around, but I love both Pica. Have you been to Best Quality Daughter? That’s phenomenal.
Justin: I have not, I saw it though. Honestly, I’m sure this is an unpopular opinion, Hot Joy makes my tummy hurt, so I don’t love Hot Joy. It’s pretty heavy food. I loved the Granary so I will go though eventually.
Suzanne: Got you. I did love Granary, I’m going to miss that. I love Southtown, I love going to La Frite. I love that patio. I love South Alamode, so really everywhere again. Tick all the box.
Justin: The Pearl needs– The people watching is great, but in that place where you can watch all the people on the lawn, there needs to be a cocktail bar that you can sit outside because there’s really not.
Suzanne: Actually, I agree with you. I don’t know why they haven’t done that.
Justin: Yes, there’s beer and wine, but if you want to have a cocktail– Like you want to have a margarita and sit outside and watch people play with their dogs and whatever else they do. That’s what I want to do and that’s not an option yet. If that happens–
Suzanne: They don’t have– You need that in a plastic glass, even when walking everywhere.
Justin: You’re allowed to walk around with drinks there?
Suzanne: Yes. You’ll walk [unintelligible 00:08:51] but not many people want to drink their wine in a solo cup. Some people do. It’s not bad, whatever.
Justin: I’m not above that. Next question, what are some of your favorite purveyors in town of either food or meats? We’re now getting this industry in San Antonio that I think is a little bit beyond the normal consumer, but we have The Farmers Butcher. We have some of these specialty meat shops and we’ve got wineries and breweries here too that people don’t know about. What are some of your favorite purveyors of the product?
Suzanne: Oh, gosh, I love Maverick. I love– Really, what is that one that is right by Elm Creek? I can’t think of the name. You’re putting me on the spot, Justin, I can’t remember it.
Justin: The one what?
Suzanne: The little book shop at Elm Creek and it’s like they were so good because during the pandemic, they had stuff for everyone. It was great and nobody was thinking about it. You could pop into any of these meat shops when everybody else was going through chaos and ACB. You could just pop in there and they had all the meat where you couldn’t buy it anywhere else. Gosh, it’s going to drive me crazy.
Justin: Well, when you think about it–
Suzanne: Ask me another question and then I’ll remember that-
Justin: You can tell us–
Suzanne: -and I’ll shout it out.
Justin: Something we do with everybody is favorite hidden gems in the city. We’re going to cover– We’ve already covered beer and wine and all that. [crosstalk] Nuremberg pointed out there’s Denman Estate Park. I’d never heard of it, looked it up, still haven’t been, it’s beautiful. It’s a cool, off the beaten path local attraction.
Suzanne: I hadn’t heard that either.
Justin: I hadn’t either. Do you have anything like that in the city when you have friends that are like, “Anything we should check out?” The Botanical Garden’s always one for me-
Suzanne: Botanical Garden.
Justin: -but also the Japanese Tea Garden is really great if you’ve never been.
Suzanne: I love Japanese Tea Garden. I love– What is it called? Justin, I’m having a mental breakdown over here. I just can’t even think of what I’m thinking of.
Justin: It’s my hard [crosstalk] questions.
Suzanne: I don’t know where Denman is though.
Justin: It’s somewhere in the Northside-ish.
Suzanne: I love Botanical Gardens. I also love to go– There are those great– In the North right by– In-between where La Cantera Resort is, there are those great trails through there and you get these beautiful views of the Hill Country, and they’re just these walking trails and I love to take people there. That’s one of my favorite spots.
Justin: On La Cantera Parkway?
Suzanne: Yes. Well, it’s in-between the resorts. There’s those two big resorts right there and if you go to either resort– You don’t have to go to resorts, but I always start there because I know where it is. You can just go on all those walking trails through there and it’s beautiful.
Justin: I didn’t know that.
Suzanne: It’s really nice.
Justin: You’ve got a good one there.
Suzanne: I always feel that’s a definite hidden gem.
Justin: Favorite dishes in San Antonio. For me, it’s always–
Suzanne: Oh, my gosh.
Justin: At Cured at one point, he had a lamb in a puff pastry, and I don’t know what it was called, but to me, that’s still just one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in San Antonio.
Suzanne: I’ve never had that. I love– At Botika, he has that sushi that’s piled high with all the things and he puts this– I think it’s apple cider vinegar, but I’m not sure. They’re soaked in them and he puts those on top and I am obsessed with that dish. I should know what it’s called, but I don’t, of course. Then I love– Gosh, what else do I love? I’m trying to think of really weird things that I love all over town. I love Jason Dady does this great gluten-free bolognese that I love. I know gluten-free is weird but I do love it. It’s so good. Then there is a bakery that does these beefed little tartlet things that I’m obsessed with those too.
Justin: Do you like–?
Suzanne: I like things everywhere.
Justin: Do you like pizza?
Suzanne: I love pizza.
Justin: Have you ever had Chicago’s deep dish?
Justin: At Chicago’s on Blanco?
Justin: Everybody I’ve fed that to is just blown away and they’re like, “This is the best pizza I’ve ever had.”
Suzanne: It’s the best pizza in the world.
Justin: It’s so good. That’s also walking distance for me.
Suzanne: So good. Have you had to Trilogy? Have you had that? That’s up in the North too.
Suzanne: Have you had Trilogy? Everybody’s raving about Trilogy. I haven’t had it yet, but I’m hearing great things.
Justin: What is it? Pizza?
Suzanne: It’s like dish pizza as well. They’ve got stiff competition, but we’ll see.
Justin: I don’t know if I’m considered Northside.
Suzanne: [inaudible 00:13:20] whatever.
Justin: South of 410, is that Northside? It’s all–
Suzanne: South– Yes, you’re middle city. You’re the middle of the city.
Justin: I’m of the people. What’s your favorite junk food?
Suzanne: People. [laughs] Popcorn. I like caramel, I like chocolate, I like salt and vinegar. I like all the popcorn and chocolate. Any time, I’ll take chocolate every day.
Justin: I’m a personal injury lawyer by trade and there is actually an injury called popcorn lung that popcorn workers-
Suzanne: Stop it.
Justin: -and people that eat too– You would have to eat so much popcorn– [crosstalk] I’m not shitting you.
Suzanne: You are lying. What are you talking about? You’re just such a liar.
Justin: I swear.
Suzanne: Are you kidding me?
Justin: If you googled–
Suzanne: Have you had one of these cases? Have you had one of these cases?
Justin: I had one in San Antonio. If you Google– [crosstalk] It was for a lady who worked at one of those popcorn stores in the mall.
Justin: It only affects people that either are around making popcorn all the time or you– There are some consumer cases because there are some people that are out there and will eat six bags of popcorn a day. It’s the vapors that cause– It’s called bronchiolitis obliterans. It actually can be caused by other things, but people that are around aerosolized, fake butter flavoring can get a degenerative lung condition.
Justin: Eat popcorn, don’t breathe–
Suzanne: Well, now I’m giving up pop. I’m super depressed now. What’s happening?
Justin: Well, don’t breathe the vapors.
Suzanne: Don’t breathe– Okay. I’ll try not to.
Justin: You know the old commercials, they would pop it open–
Suzanne: Is that a real case?
Justin: I swear. Yes. [chuckles] As crazy as it sounds, I’m not funny.
Suzanne: I’m going to google that. I’m to google so many things. I’ll go to Google.
Justin: All right. Well, you’re going to learn this and you’re going to step away as it’s vaporing when you’re done cooking it until it’s done, then you can eat it. All right. What has been the biggest change– How long have you been doing the Culinaria stuff?
Suzanne: 150 years now.
Justin: Well, I don’t think so. How long have you been doing it?
Suzanne: Gosh, it’s probably since 2009.
Justin: What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in San Antonio’s food scene since then? Obviously, we have more better restaurants-
Justin: -but anything in particular stands out?
Suzanne: I think that the city has really done a great job of attracting talented people and really– Gosh, it’s evolved so quickly and I think that there are a lot of factors that go into that, but it’s really grown and I think that the confluence of tour that was found in the food before has exploded, which I’m so glad because we didn’t want that to go away. San Antonio is such a diverse city and the culinary offerings have always been so diverse. I think that with the growth, we’ve seen all of that stay as a fundamental element of San Antonio and that’s been really great, but it’s just blown up.
I remember the [inaudible 00:16:14] would be– If you wanted fine dining, there was four good places. If you wanted middle of the road dining, there was 10. Now just in certain areas of town, you can see it at The Pearl, you can see it at The Rim. There are these huge concentration of just really great quality food and some amazing talent and some really different kinds of food. The sheer volume of restaurants that have opened in the last 10 years has been astounding.
Justin: You think that’s been more due to the increase in Millennials moving here or high-paying jobs or the CIA?
Suzanne: I think it’s all of those things. I think that San Antonio used to be known for the Alamo and great Mexican food and that was it. I don’t think that anybody was really interested in anything else in terms of– Because we’re such a hospitality town and so many people are coming here for those two reasons. They want to go the River Walk, they want to go the Alamo, they want to eat some great Mexican food. I think that what happened was all of the chefs and all the talent were like, “Oh, well, I don’t make Mexican food. I’m just over here doing this amazing French food or this amazing Bolivian food,” or whatever it was.
They were on the back burner a little bit and I think that there was some bright lights that were shown on the city. I think that Bravo made a huge difference. I think that when Bravo started airing from San Antonio, it was a huge difference almost overnight. I think that the CIA made a huge difference. I think that all of the players that came together really started realizing that the scene was really ready to go to the next level. I think it’s been a lot of different things. I think it’s also been– We have a lot of great tech and we have a lot of people who are just exploring the city all the time, and so that demanded some new things and new offerings and a growth spurt. I think that the whole scene really adapted nicely.
Justin: When you moved here, it was Dady, Weissman, and Bruce Auden. Those were the fine dining and those were our celebrity chefs.
Justin: Still, you have so many people that are just spinoffs of those guys’ restaurants, but now you have a whole new class of people too.
Suzanne: Yes, we have so many.
Justin: What was your favorite place back then? Back in the ’05, ’06, ’07.
Suzanne: Oh, gosh. I loved Little Rev. I loved The Lodge. I loved Viega. I still love Viega, but it’s the only one that withstood the test of time was Viega.
Justin: I loved Sand Bar when it was in that weird little spot.
Suzanne: I loved it downtown.
Justin: They had– There was–
Suzanne: When you never knew if they were going to have food or not, you just walk up and hope that you got in.
Justin: Sometimes they had cooked-
Suzanne: It was so good.
Justin: -food too that they would run through the basement. There was one waiter named James and him and I became friends and he would say, “Come on Saturday night.” They were closed Sunday, Monday. After everybody left, we would just finish out the half-drunk bottles of wine. It was great. Then it was very–
Suzanne: That’s not a bad life at all.
Justin: It was very– Well, I worked across the street.
Suzanne: Then he got fired.
Justin: Well, maybe.
Suzanne: I’m just kidding. I’m kidding.
Justin: Did you know him? He’s British. He was the only waiter. Chris Carlson was the chef there then.
Suzanne: Chris Carlson. I remember Luca with that Little Rev.
Justin: It was him and James.
Suzanne: Now, he does the one in the Fairmont, right?
Justin: Silo, yes. Well, he is a culinary guru behind all Silo restaurants and of course, Nonna, which oh, my gosh, you should have talked about Nonna. I love that place.
Suzanne: I forget it.
Justin: I love SILO Prime. It’s so good.
Suzanne: I went once and there was us and three other people there the whole night. It was a strange feel.
Suzanne: At SILO Prime or at Nonna?
Justin: Correct. At SILO Prime. Nonna has been full every time I’ve gone.
Suzanne: I love it there.
Justin: You know what’s hard on nice restaurants is consistency, I’ve found, like those guys that can stay consistently good. There are lots of restaurants here I’ve been, and one time it’s the best I’ve had and the next time it’s– Those ones that can stay consistent, I never realized how hard that is to do.
Suzanne: I agree with you. It’s very difficult.
Justin: You are the president and CEO, according to LinkedIn, of Culinaria. Am I saying that right, or is it Culinaria?
Suzanne: It’s Culinaria.
Justin: What is Culinaria?
Suzanne: Well, it’s a lot of things right now, but more than anything, it is an organization that’s really dedicated to promoting San Antonio as a premier destination for wine and food. We do that by really investing in the local scene. Every event that we do, every single thing that we do is really geared towards getting people to go to different restaurants in San Antonio to explore the culinary scene. Then also, we bring in, well, normally– I don’t know if I should talk about this during the pandemic or before.
During the pandemic, we’ve adapted some of our programs that we normally do on a regular basis. We took them and completely changed everything. I feel like it’s like everybody. Right now, our biggest focus when we started in March was we immediately moved into feeding all of the restaurant workers who were laid off. 150,000 employees were laid off in a matter of a day. That was so shocking to us, and so we opened a restaurant, we partnered with Jason Dady, who has the Shuck Shack. We wanted a smaller restaurant that we could start in and that we could just feed restaurant workers that were coming around that geographic area.
Then we later opened Sweet Paris at La Cantera for the North side. Our immediate function was to feed everyone during the pandemic, and then we moved into a grant phase. Without any events, it’s been a really crazy season. Now, we’re trying to ramp back up for Restaurant Week, which is equal parts interesting and fun and difficult at the same time. The culinary landscape unfortunately has been so damaged due to the pandemic that I feel like half of our day, every day is spent just listening and coaching and speaking on behalf of restaurants and trying to figure out the best way that we can to help those who–
Some people will never open again and some are going strong. It just depends on who we’re talking about, but Culinaria is a very different entity during the pandemic. Normally if this was a healthy year, let’s call it a healthy year, I don’t know what else to call it at this point, but we would normally be doing events like we have a student wine festival and we invite chefs and we bring in media from all over the country to shine a light on what’s going on in San Antonio and they interview the chefs and they do with the events. It’s really all about promoting local eateries and really hospitality in San Antonio.
It’s usually a lot more fun. There’s a lot of events. We do everything from, a 5k-wine run to a full-fledged five-day food and wine festival. During the pandemic, we’ve been doing music festivals, which have been great at outdoor venues. We’re on a lull right now, waiting it out just because cases have spiked to be so high. More than anything, our first thought is always just shining that bright light onto these eateries and making sure that people know, that that’s where they need to go and eat. That’s what we do.
Justin: Are the events essentially your advocacy as well as your fundraising?
Suzanne: To some degree, I would say so. Absolutely. Yes, because when you have 10,000 people who are going to the festival, we want them to be going to those restaurants once it’s over. We want them drinking the wine that we’re pouring and ordering the cocktails that we’re having made for them, et cetera. It really acts as a two-pronged approach in terms of we want them to go and try all the things that we roll out for them. We keep it distinctly focused on really this region. We’ve never been a festival that brings in everyone else because we don’t need to promote everyone else. We need to promote everyone who’s living in our city so that’s a big focus for us.
Then, normally, we also have a charitable component. We typically do grants. Right now, we’re doing grants for hospitality workers, but normally, that would be culinary scholarships. We also typically do different things for hospitality management schools. It’s been an interesting gosh, year almost that we’ve changed every single thing about the organization. It’ll be interesting.
Justin: How was it formed? What was the genesis of Culinaria?
Suzanne: It formed with a totally different name. It was really volunteer run. It started as a group of friends getting together and enjoying great food and wine in their homes, and then it started getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Then they decided, “Hey, what if we did this?” We really focused it on local eateries and really getting our friends and everyone to go and support because then, in particular, like I said, there weren’t that many places. They were really like, “Oh, go here, go here, go here.” One of them was a hotelier.
There was a lot of hospitality people that were involved. It started like many things do, just the conversation with friends and then it became an actual nonprofit in 2000 and then continue to grow. It was very small in the beginning, probably a couple hundred people who would go and do things, and then it just grew from there and expanded outside of it started with, and was only a food and wine festival. Now, it’s grown to– we entertain a million people every year, in a healthy year, versus, a hundred people.
The growth has been really amazing and it’s scaled to fit what the city needs at the time. We worked very closely with people who visit San Antonio and things like that, really promoting the culinary scene.
Justin: Do you all get any government funding, city, local, state, federal?
Suzanne: We do not.
Justin: All your own money raising.
Justin: Okay. In a non-COVID year, you all are going to do Restaurant Week, twice, a 5k?
Suzanne: Yes. We do a 5k wine and beer run. We do a music festival. We do food wine festival. We do a smaller event called chefs and sellers, which that one’s crazy. I tell everyone, that’s the one you never want to miss. That one is where we invite five chefs, it’s inside the CIA and they cook live for you.
Suzanne: It’ll be anywhere from 5 to 21 courses.
Suzanne: You just never know, but it’s much smaller, under a hundred people. We do a lot of those events throughout the year that are smaller, because we love those boutique events.
We do Rambling Rosé which is at Becker Vineyards and that’s a blind tasting of Rosé wine, where you just go and enjoy a day at the vineyard and try a bunch of– We have a great panel and it’s a blind tasting. Then we do a lot of different beverage seminars throughout the year. We’re busy all the time. It’s been interesting to not have any events.
Justin: What’s the music festival?
Suzanne: The music festival, the one that we just had, we did in New Braunfels. It’s just about really eating and drinking and enjoying good music-
Justin: Is it called something?
Suzanne: That one’s really fun. Well, yes, of course. Of course, it costs them. [chuckles]
Justin: What is it called?
Suzanne: This one, we rebranded, it’s The Music Festival for Good is what it’s called.
Justin: Why in New Braunfels?
Suzanne: They have bigger outdoor spaces where we could do– Everyone in San Antonio was not really doing events. We were really scared, but New Braunfels was in our territory. We do a lot in New Braunfels. We do a lot in Burnie. Some of our volunteers that are in New Braunfels, they really wanted to do it. We were a little nervous, but it was amazing. I was so happy. We had meeting after meeting, after meeting about what does this look like? We’ve never thrown an event where you can’t be next to each other.
Drinking and eating can be an intimate affair, and so we only sold it in groups and you had to buy a table and we had very strict guidelines on how you could move about the venue and when you’re wearing a mask versus when you weren’t and everyone was so respectful. It was so great. It was really great. I was so surprised.
Justin: Restaurant week, I think when it first started, it was just once a year. Right?
Suzanne: It was, yes.
Justin: Now it’s grown into twice a year and honestly, I’ve never really understood. It makes fine dining in some of the nicer places more affordable and approachable. Also, there is a charitable or fundraising arm to it. Explain why people should participate in Restaurant Week.
Suzanne: Absolutely. Well, that’s it. Yes. There’s a lot of reasons. Number 1, so you don’t have to cook. Number 2, it doesn’t break the bank. Just like what you said, $20 for a three-course lunch, and it’s a lot of food. The chefs do a really great job of rolling out their best, not just whatever they have laying around and they really do a great job of putting together these phenomenal menus. Then dinner, three-course pre-fixed menu for 35 and 45. Some of them have drink pairings. A dollar from every meal goes back to Culinaria. In a normal year, again, that would go to our different pronged fundraising thing that we do, which is we do culinary scholarships. We do endowment funds with like the University of Houston hospitality management. We do some of those different things. Now, that money really will go towards the same thing, which is just building up the organization.
Justin: Some of the grants go outside of San Antonio? You said University Houston gets some of it.
Suzanne: No. They’re in San Antonio.
Justin: Oh, University of Houston’s management program here?
Justin: How do you all convince the restaurants to participate in these? You see some restaurants jump in one year, they’re out the next year.
Suzanne: I think that in a healthy year, I think that typically what we see is that some restaurants just can’t handle the volume. Some of them will really, really want to participate. They’ll get on board and sometimes it takes them a while to really get it right. We do have chef mentors but sometimes, you don’t always want to listen to what people are telling you. We try our best to tell them what to prepare themselves for but typically, when we don’t get someone back, it’s because they just can’t handle the volume.
Now, in a year of COVID, it’s much different why they don’t want to do it. It may be because there’s been so many restaurant problems. It’s been really difficult on the food supply chain and making sure that menus are consistent. The great news is that we’ve done a lot of education for the public, just telling them, “Just because you see this menu doesn’t mean that they’re going to have it every single night. If it changes, it’s okay.”
You’re still going to get a three-course meal. They’re going to do something great for you but with different types of– I feel like it’s just always something during the pandemic that keeps us on our toes. The burden on the supply chain was a problem. All the restaurants that are on there now are reporting back really solid numbers. People are being very respectful, which is great.
Justin: Does Culinaria have any fiesta events for which they are the benefactor or the beneficiary?
Suzanne: We do not, but people always ask us to do one, so it’s not off-limits. I think at some point, we’d love to do one.
Justin: When is the wine and food festival?
Suzanne: It’s in the end of October, first week of November, depending. It’s a great time.
Justin: I’ve been to the Austin one, which is a huge event. I haven’t been to the one in San Antonio. What sort of participant–
Justin: I know. You know, it’s just we have so many events.
Suzanne: What is wrong with you, Alamo, our host?
Justin: Culinaria has never given me a special invite and I am a local celebrity. I have tens of listeners-
Justin: -so maybe next year.
Suzanne: You’re officially invited to all of our events.
Suzanne: You heard it here first. You’re invited. I want you to come to every single event that we ever have moving forward.
Justin: Where is our wine and food festival? How big is it? Who participates?
Suzanne: It’s pretty big. The last year we had it at La Cantera Resort. We take over the whole resort. It’s pretty big, but very– I tell everyone we like to maintain a little bit of a boutique feel so we move you around spaces so you don’t feel like it’s just an open field. You know what I mean? We try our best to keep it feeling a little intimate, even though there are thousands of people who go. Our last year that we had the festival, we had, I think right at 9,500 participants.
We do a buddy system in that we really only bring in chefs that are chefs they’re friends with, which makes it really fun for them. We really use it as just a great opportunity for everyone to get out there and have a really good week. It’s typically four to five days dependent on the year and the programming. Last year or whatever year it was, the last festival was five days long and it’s a ton of– we had everything from one day of golfing with chefs to we do a ton of dinners.
We do big events. We do a full-blown tequila night. It’s called [unintelligible 00:34:40]. It’s so much fun. It’s one of my favorite events. We do a grand tasting. We do burgers and beer, which is outside and really a lot of fun, so we do a lot of different things.
Justin: You’re mentioning these and I have purchased tickets to some of these. I don’t know why I didn’t go. I had definitely bought tickets to burgers and beer-
Suzanne: I’m offended.
Justin: -and I think I definitely bought tickets to the tequila thing. Who knows what happened that day?
Suzanne: I don’t know why you didn’t go to the tequila. You have lost your mind. It’s the best event. It’s so much fun.
Justin: Well, it’s so far out there and tequila’s– you shouldn’t drive if you have a lot of it.
Suzanne: Well, you spend the night. That’s why you stay there.
Justin: Maybe I bought it the year– I like my own bed. I’ve got chickens and–
Suzanne: It’s a new thing.
Justine: Go ahead.
Suzanne: I don’t know if you’ve heard of this. Are you ready?
Justin: There was a time it was gone.
Suzanne: There’s a new thing, it’s called Uber. For two minutes and there were also taxis.
Justin: It was about nine months. Have you ever gone in taxi here?
Suzanne: You can also call– Have you ever gotten a limo or a town car?
Suzanne: Easy freezy. You just call them up and they show up and they [unintelligible 00:35:47] up.
Justin: What do you think, I’m Bill Gates over here?
Justin: Getting a limo.
Suzanne: Or you get a sober friend. Okay? You need a sober friend that can drive you home so you can stay in your own bed.
Justin: “Hey, sober friend, come to this tequila tasting.” All right. We’ve got Restaurant Week. I think everybody’s familiar with for the most part, even if they don’t do it, everybody knows what it is. I forget about the food and wine festival, but I’ve always gone and looked at it. Then my friends would say that I’m averse to leaving the loop. That’s only partially true but it’s kind of true. Music festival in New Braunfels. You got the grand deal where you can watch chefs cook in the CIA. That’s something that would interest me.
Suzanne: Chefs and seller, super fun. That’s close to you.
Justin: I went to [unintelligible 00:36:34] at Cured, did Young Guns for a little while, those things. I think twice, I was having happy hour and it just extended into Young Guns dinner and people canceled and there I was, and those are really fun. It sounds similar to that.
Suzanne: Correct. We just have a lot of those. I never got to make it to one of those, but I heard it was great.
Justin: Where’s your happy hour spot? Everybody’s got a happy hour spot. Where’s your happy hour spot?
Justin: Generally in life.
Suzanne: I hang out at The Pearl.
Justin: Well, ours is always Cured.
Suzanne: I love Supper.
Justin: Man, I’ve only been to Supper, I think three times.
Suzanne: Really? I love Supper. I love happy hour there and I love, love, love the bar in there as well.
Justin: It’s tiny.
Suzanne: Don’t you just want to sit in those beer things, whatever those are called? I love that place.
Justin: What beer things? Oh, you mean the bar at the hotel?
Suzanne: Yes. I love that [crosstalk].
Justin: Supper also has that tiny little three-seat bar.
Suzanne: No, I don’t sit at the bar.
Justin: That’s what I’ve seen.
Suzanne: I sit on the patio at Supper or just at a regular table, but not at the bar. Then I love going to the bar inside Hotel Emma. I like to go there and do everything. That used to be my meeting spot just to go there and then let it turn into happy hour. I love it there.
Justin: Yes, it’s beautiful.
Suzanne: It’s gorgeous.
Justin: I went to Supper for breakfast one time and there was a lawyer from Houston in town who will remain unnamed. We had a hearing and he said, “Let’s go to breakfast.” We’ll go to breakfast and we were at breakfast and then that turned into lunch. Then he left at 4:00 for his flight. I don’t know what you call that when you’re just somewhere from breakfast to dinner.
Suzanne: I call that a good day.
Justin: I was just being a supportive friend and he wanted to stay there but they were very accommodating.
Suzanne: I think it’s a good day.
Justin: It don’t make any sense. That’s absurd.
Suzanne: I think it’s just fine.
Justin: What are the future goals of Culinaria? There’s so many options for events now and everybody’s getting really creative [unintelligible 00:38:54] food truck fares and all kinds of stuff happening. What do you see some of your future events? What are some spaces or locations in which you’d like to have them like that gin distillery on the Southeast side is beautiful.
Suzanne: It’s beautiful, so gorgeous. I think that for the immediate future, I think that what Culinaria is really going to be focused on is all of the offerings that we have that you can do on your own just because of COVID. The food trails, you mentioned those earlier, that’s a great way to get out and experience the best of San Antonio all on your own. Then certainly through offerings like Restaurant Week, we’ve looked at doing some virtual events, but it turns out I’m just not a big fan of them. I’ve done several from several diff– and it’s really missing something. We’ve been working on that a little bit but when we can return to events, I think– I’ll be so excited. [chuckles] I can’t wait. We’re going to– [crosstalk]
Justin: What about to-go events?
Suzanne: The what events?
Justin: What about to-go events?
Suzanne: That is we’ve been chatting about that a lot so we’ve been doing– The great thing about Culinaria is that all of our friends are chefs and purveyors and they have interesting products, and so we’ve been taking a look at doing maybe even like a box that you can take to go with interesting– and homemade products from chefs and then they’ll show you how to put it together. We’ve been taking a look at some of those things. We really want to make sure that it is at the end of the day, events are meant to be fun and whether that’s– hopefully, you’re really fun at your own house and you’re interested and unboxing these things. I would love it because I would love to get a box full of amazing chef-driven cool products. That’s totally my jam.
It appeals to me, but we need to make sure it appeals to everyone else because a lot of people have not had great success with it and I think it’s just people want to get out again, now’s not the time, but eventually when we do get out, I think that you’ll see events from Culinaria all over town. Certainly, the food and wine festival will come back. We’re just calling it a nice little break.
When it comes back, we’ll have all new ideas and all interesting things, but the most important part is that how are events going to change after this and for how long, that’s the hardest part of strategizing for the next year of unknown. I doubt that we go back to a 10,000-person event, even in six months, nine months, or a year. I don’t know that people will be ready for that, unless you’re maybe some of the law breakers who are just having those huge parties, maybe we invite them. I’m not sure. I’m totally kidding.
Justin: Somewhere red hats.
Suzanne: I don’t want the mayor to call me. Exactly. No, I don’t. [chuckles]
Justin: They don’t believe in masks, but I think outdoor events are going to be the first things to come back.
Suzanne: I think so too. I think it’ll be a great time for us to resurrect some of our crowd favorites, like burgers, bourbon, and beer. That’s a big event for us, no matter where we do it. We’ve been thinking about we might just pop that up and do smaller iterations of that and maybe it’s 100, 200 people and we still are making sure that we’re distancing people for the very near future. Then of course, there’s a whole lot just to pull off a five-day food and wine festival. It takes a really long time to plan and so it’s just watching and waiting like the rest of the world to figure out how we’re going to bring everything back to life but the good news is everybody is very ready. We’ve gotten that going forward.
Justin: We really like The Pearl basket, they do every Sunday, the farmer’s market basket that they just put it together. Those kind of things, I think people like, because you don’t have to do anything for one, and it’s an approachable price and you get neat stuff and you figure it out as it goes, but I think so many people were caught flat-footed on the to-go thing and some restaurants have done a great job with the to-go and some have done a terrible job with the to-go. When you get the food, it’s going to be gross or soggy or whatever the answer is to doing that. Some just haven’t really seemed interested. Man, I don’t know how you survive without it, during all this. It’s got to be a big part of your business.
Suzanne: Yes. One of the things that we did was right before the shutdown, we pulled together a group of chefs just to talk and say, “Look, we know this is coming and you have to do to-go.” If you’re not doing to-go, you’re not going to be open. You’re not going to have any business. The hardest part for us over the course of the next couple of months after that was really trying to convince everyone, not everything will stand up to go.
You have to really think it through and some things just don’t hold up well. We all know that from like taking things to parties and everywhere else, there’s just certain things that aren’t going to hold up. Some of them were very resistant to it and it’s always a fascinating thing and probably because we’re not chef, so us telling them, “Hey, you need to make sure that you’re doing this.” They’re like, “You don’t. You’re not a chef,” which is true but some people have really just knocked it out of the park and some have just– terrible.
Justin: Yes. All of us want to support all of them, so that’s what’s been unfortunate about some of it.
Justin: One of the things I didn’t realize and Stefan really brought it to light was when the shutdown happened, how much product they all had to throw away. I don’t think any of us really, you might, I didn’t realize how much just an inventory and value in inventory had to just get tossed. Then to restart-
Suzanne: It was unbelievable.
Justin: -it’s such a barrier to entry cost-wise to restart that process. Man, I didn’t have an understanding of it.
Suzanne: It’s unbelievable. We had a lot of– thank goodness because San Antonio is such a great city and that we all wanted to help each other. We had a ton of chefs who came to us over the first two weeks of the shutdown, just saying, “Take all this food, I have to throw it away,” or, “I need you–” and so they were really a big part of our efforts, which was really, really great. Then we actually started with our hospitality house. We started a network of chefs.
We basically went to them and said, “Look, this is a big endeavor and we’ve never done this before, and so we need your help getting it to your restaurant staff,” and so all of the chefs would show up, pitch in, help bring food, and then they would deliver it to their restaurant workers.
It did a couple of things. One was we wanted all that food to go to good use and the second thing was we want them all to go back to work when they were able, and so we needed to bring some type of connectivity between the chefs and their employees. It was a really invaluable lesson for all of us, just starting to understand.
I think and on a larger scale in terms of San Antonio, I think it’s why it’s been so frustrating with the shutdowns and things like that. People are losing their livelihoods and their very business because they either can’t be open or can’t comply with all of the rules and regulations so it’s a very trying time in today’s world for restaurant.
Justin: For so many industries, but hospitality in particular and especially in a city like that, which has been so unfortunate. For people that are considering doing a Culinaria event or giving money to Culinaria, you said that it goes to a restaurant hospitality management program scholarships?
Suzanne: Normally, that’s typically what we do. What we’ve done from the pandemic is that we’ve been giving grants to individual workers who’ve lost their jobs and now we give everything away and then re-evaluate and give everything and re-evaluate. Right now, we’re just entering into a new era of now, it’s time to fundraise again because it takes a lot to feed thousands and thousands and thousands of people and then giving all the grants away. Hopefully, we’ll continue on in that vein as long as there are no more shutdowns or anything like that.
Justin: Current grants for workers, normally hospitality management programs-
Justin: Culinaria school degrees.
Suzanne: Culinary scholarship.
Justin: Okay. What else? Anything else?
Suzanne: We do endowment funds for hospitality. Everything we do is hospitality-geared.
Justin: Then the advocacy for food scene.
Suzanne: Absolutely, which is the biggest component of our mission.
Justin: I think this is– we’ve covered it all, but what are you eating and drinking today? What’s on the menu?
Suzanne: I don’t know yet. Probably what I try to do is just a nice rotation. I probably will do J-Prime to-go.
Justin: Do they do good to-go?
Suzanne: It’s all good. Really good.
Justin: It’s one of the few places I’ll really trek all the way up there to eat.
Suzanne: I love it. It’s so good.
Justin: It’s so good. They have lamb lollipops off menu.
Suzanne: Yes, it’s so good. You know where else I love for happy hour? It’s Kirby’s. They have one of the best happy hours in town. I think it’s like a secret. They do such a great job.
Justin: I’m not going up there. [laughs] That’s just too far.
Suzanne: You would just freak out if you saw their happy hour. [chuckles] It’s just too far. It’s so close to J-Prime. It’s right there.
Justin: I said, it’s one of the few places I’ll trek to, three times a year.
Suzanne: We’ve got to get you out more.
Justin: You know what? There’s a lot of charm lost on the North side I think, just my opinion, great food-
Justin: -great restaurants but I like a little greediness in my life and I prefer downtown in that world.
Suzanne: Okay, got you.
Justin: I lived in the 09, but I was two houses from the cutoff. I was the bad side of 09 but there was a great-
Suzanne: Oh, my gosh.
Justin: -Jamaican restaurant on Austin highway for a while. Maybe it’s still there.
Suzanne: I don’t think it’s there anymore.
Justin: What was Silo’s little– Oh, they’re little– What would you call it? They’re small little restaurant.
Justin: Is that still open?
Suzanne: Nosh. Yes, still there, so good.
Justin: That’s great.
Suzanne: You know what? When we’re out of COVID, I’m just going to take you on a dining tour. We’re just going to go to a million places. It’s going to be great. We’ll take Laura.
Justin: There’s only so much food you can eat though.
Suzanne: You’ll be fine. We’ll do a little sample, a little taste.
Justin: All right.
Suzanne: We’ll taste here and there.
Justin: Okay. I always end my podcast with a guest wish list. Coach Pop is always my number 1, but for the food scene or the world in which you operate day-to-day, who would you recommend I try to get on the show? They’ll definitely tell me no, they will say, “Pod, what? Who are you?”
Justin: I’ll say, “I had the mayor,” and they’re like, “Who’s the mayor?”
Suzanne: Who’s the mayor?
Justin: Who would you recommend?
Suzanne: Oh, my gosh. An In-food scene?
Justin: Well, just anything. You have a world of experience in San Antonio, who’s interesting?
Suzanne: I think you should do a winemaker. Have you done any winemakers or any cocktail? Any distillery makers or?
Suzanne: Well, let’s start there.
Justin: Who? Azar?
Suzanne: Yes, that would be a good idea. You can also–
Justin: No, I did Boyan from Dorćol.
Suzanne: Oh, got you. Okay, well, never mind.
Justin: Still good.
Suzanne: Then why don’t you do a winemaker? Any Texas winemaker will do. Did you do Dr. Becker from Becker Vineyards?
Justin: Is that the French guy Becker? Oh, yes. I’d like to do that.
Suzanne: He’s great.
Justin: Is the French guy still in his tasting room? There was a French guy that ran his tasting room forever.
Suzanne: Yes. Yes. He’s still there. Oh, I assume, I don’t know. You know, we’ve been closed.
Justin: I have a story about him. I’ll share with you after we’re off.
Suzanne: Oh. Okay, good to know. Yes. I think you should have Dr. Becker and his winemaker.
Justin: Okay. I’ll reach out.
Suzanne: They would be great.
Suzanne: Yes, I’ll connect you.
Justin: Who’s the new–? There’s the hot beef producer in the Pleasanton area, I think, that everybody’s talking about right now.
Suzanne: Oh, my gosh. I know exactly who you’re talking about.
Justin: Well, I slid into their–
Suzanne: They have a great– She hosts that huge dinner [unintelligible 00:51:39]. No, not the [unintelligible 00:51:40]. She hosts that huge farm-to-table dinner and it’s amazing. John Bren from [unintelligible 00:51:48].
Justin: Well, I slid into their DMs to try to get them to come do it and they read it and left me on red, so didn’t work out for me.
Suzanne: She’ll come around. She’ll come around.
Justin: Trust me. I don’t have a problem with rejection. I’ll ask everybody.
Suzanne: She’ll come around.
Suzanne: She’ll want to do it, eventually.
Justin: All right, so anybody else?
Suzanne: I could send you a list once we’re off. I can just make you some connection.
Justin: Yes. That’d be great. I am going to pedal my help-me-all-you-can-as-much-as-I-can. Suzanne, thank you for doing this. I’m going to go get Battalion, I mean, Playland this week because that’s what I wanted for my birthday, but they decided to be closed on Tuesdays now. Yesterday, I got Florio’s. Have you had Florio’s before?
Suzanne: How dare them?
Justin: I know.
Suzanne: Yes, Florio’s. That’s good, though.
Justin: Yes, it’s good.
Suzanne: Not as good as Playland but–
Suzanne: Have you been to Rebelle though?
Justin: Yes. That’s–
Suzanne: I’ve got to there for Restaurant Week. It’s all good.
Justin: That’s one of my list of best meals I’ve ever had in San Antonio was when they first opened, they did their steak with duck confit potatoes. Really, I’m not a huge steak eater, like it’s just– and that was one of the best thing– That’s on my top five things I’ve eaten here. I brought it up to Stefan and he was very impressed. I remembered how they prepared their fried potatoes. That was a big thing to him.
Suzanne: Well, you know it’s funny as on Saturday night, I had the steak and then I had the fried potatoes. Then they made this thing called a spinach. It was like a spinach. The waiter kept calling it a spinach bomb. It was the ugliest dish I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m not kidding. It was so good, I almost passed out. I was like, “I want to have this every day.” That was so good.
Justin: Did you sit outside?
Suzanne: No, we sat inside.
Suzanne: Don’t tell anyone. I shouldn’t have said that out loud. I’m sorry.
Justin: Because of the baby, my ordeal is we’re not going to eat inside.
Suzanne: Yes. That’s good.
Justin: That’s about the only rule on my life right now, and so I feel pretty comfortable following that one. I’m also super hot-natured so I can sit outside, so I’m okay with that right now. Suzanne, that’s going to do it for the show, but sit tight. I want to chat with you after we’re off, so you get to hear my awesome outro music and then we’ll chat. Hold on real quick.
Outro: Thanks for joining us on this episode of The Alamo Hour. You are what make this city so great. We hope you join us next week. In the meantime, subscribe to our podcast. Check us out on email@example.com/alamohour or our website alamohour.com. Until next time, Viva San Antonio.
[00:54:32] [END OF AUDIO]