San An­to­nio's lively Pearl district was the vi­sion of salsa mag­nate Kit Golds­bury, who took in­spi­ra­tion from Granville Is­land by Mar­cie Good

BC Business Magazine - - Contents -

San An­to­nio's Pearl district shines in the heart of Texas

At Cured, a much-lauded res­tau­rant in the Pearl district of San An­to­nio, the hostesses fill water jugs at stain­lesssteel sinks that brew­ery work­ers used for decades as hand-wash­ing sta­tions. They're among many ar­ti­facts pre­served and given new life in the his­toric Pearl, which was the south-central Texan city's largest brew­ery for most of the 20th cen­tury. Now the col­lec­tion of re­stored and new build­ings on the 22-acre site is a thriv­ing com­mu­nity with rental apart­ments, shops, restau­rants and en­ter­tain­ment.

“We didn't want to turn it into some­thing like Chili's where there's an old gui­tar on the wall and you don't know why it's there,” says Cured chef and owner Steve Mchugh, who res­cued the steel sinks from stor­age. “Not only did we get to re­use some­thing that had mean­ing, but it also had pur­pose.”

Mean­ing and pur­pose abound in the Pearl, which ac­com­plishes a rare feat for a rel­a­tively new de­vel­op­ment—it feels like it's al­ways been there. The brew­ery closed in 1999; two years later, the site, a 10-minute drive north of down­town, was put on the mar­ket. The area was des­o­late and un­der­pop­u­lated, and two ma­jor high­ways con­verged nearby. Wal-mart Stores Inc. took in­ter­est, but for­tu­nately for San An­to­nio, so did Christo­pher (Kit) Golds­bury.

Known as a reclu­sive ty­coon (he sold Pace Foods, pro­ducer of cult favourite Pace Pi­cante salsa, to the Camp­bell Soup Com­pany in 1995 for US$1.12 bil­lion), Golds­bury bought the Pearl prop­erty in 2001. While sketch­ing out their vi­sion, he and his de­vel­op­ment team vis­ited other re­vi­tal­ized in­dus­trial sites across North Amer­ica, in­clud­ing Van­cou­ver's Granville Is­land. There they ad­mired the abun­dant pub­lic spa­ces, the culi­nary fo­cus, the vi­tal­ity of Emily Carr Uni­ver­sity of Art and De­sign, the lo­cal pedes­trian traf­fic from nearby res­i­den­tial ar­eas and what the Pearl's chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer El­iz­a­beth Fauerso calls “that feel­ing of or­ganic street en­ergy.”

The Pearl Sta­ble, a venue for weddings and other events in the re­stored former home of the brew­ery's horses, was the first op­er­a­tion to open, in 2006. From the start, Golds­bury wanted to show­case in­de­pen­dent, chef-run restau­rants and one-of-a-kind bou­tiques, Fauerso says. Al­though such ten­ants, with their idio­syn­cratic busi­ness mod­els, may be unattrac­tive to many de­vel­op­ers, he thought they con­trib­uted some­thing au­then­tic. “We wanted this to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of San An­to­nio so lo­cals will say, `This feels like my city,' Fauerso ex­plains, “and vis­i­tors say, `I get a view of this place.'”

A wan­der through the lobby of the re­cently opened Ho­tel Emma is a must-do. It's named for Emma Koehler, the intrepid boss of the brew­ery from her hus­band's death in 1914 un­til 1933, through the dif­fi­cult years of

Pro­hi­bi­tion. The ho­tel lives up to its his­toric name­sake with in­ven­tive in­dus­trial chic de­sign—pip­ing in the lobby is treated as sculp­ture, fer­men­ta­tion tanks in the ho­tel bar are fit­ted with seat­ing, and a solid-bronze bot­tle-cap­ping ma­chine im­ported from Ger­many in 1915 makes for a strik­ing chan­de­lier.

Food and drink is the heart of the Pearl, and Golds­bury stub­bornly con­vinced the pres­ti­gious Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica to open a cam­pus here in 2008 to train lo­cal chefs. The many restau­rants range from Bak­ery Lor­raine, which raised eye­brows in San An­to­nio with its $4 crois­sants (worth ev­ery penny), to Botika, a highly an­tic­i­pated Peru­vian-asian res­tau­rant owned by chef Geron­imo Lopez. Bedecked with sleek teal vel­vet seat­ing, Botika serves in­ven­tive takes on tra­di­tional Latin Amer­i­can cui­sine, like steamed buns (hoisin-and­shi­itake-braised pork jowls, pick­led slaw) and sal­mon tira­di­tos (Latin-in­spired sashimi, with pas­sion-fruit tiger's milk, se­same seeds and plan­tain chips).

Cured now oc­cu­pies the Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing, which has the staunch el­e­gance of an early-20th-cen­tury bank. The tin ceil­ings were re­con­structed, and sev­eral lay­ers of stucco were stripped from the orig­i­nal brick in­te­rior walls. The menu, which changes daily, is an ex­pres­sion of owner Mchugh's de­sire to “be a friend to the farmer.” He buys whole an­i­mals and uses dif­fer­ent parts— think pork-cheeks pou­tine and smoked­pork gumbo—un­til ev­ery­thing's gone. Cured's name al­ludes to the res­tau­rant's fo­cus on char­cu­terie (the whipped pork but­ter is from an­other planet) and Mchugh's vic­tory against lym­phoma.

Like the Pearl, he's en­joy­ing a re­nais­sance. “Kit [Golds­bury] could eas­ily have said, `We're go­ing to put an Out­back Steak­house there and a Star­bucks here,'” Mchugh notes. “But he said, `There are peo­ple that need a shot,' and I'm for­ever grate­ful that he gave me my shot.”

IN­DUS­TRIAL EVO­LU­TION (Clock­wise from left) Ho­tel Emma; pas­tries from Bak­ery Lor­raine; the Pearl Sta­ble; Pearl Brew­ery; Cured res­tau­rant

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