The meteoric rise of San Antonio chef Andrew Weissman in the world of fine dining is almost as impressive as his apparent ability to get away from it all.
Among the best in his class at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Weissman returned to his hometown about 20 years ago to create something new.
Where Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks is credited with bringing fine dining to San Antonio in the 1980s, Weissman is credited with revolutionizing the concept when he opened Le RÃªve in 1996.
âA lot of chefs never try to do something like he did at Le RÃªve,â Auden said. âAndrew worked long, demanding hours to create thoughtful dishes, and he closed the restaurant whenever he wasn’t there, because he wanted it to meet his standards. He was and still is a perfectionist.
In addition to Le RÃªve, chef named James Beard has since opened – and closed – a host of acclaimed restaurants, including Le RÃªve, Il Sogno, Sandbar at the Pearl, and Moshe’s Golden Falafel. Weissman’s influence on the local culinary scene is undeniable.
“The point is, he could have gone and opened successful restaurants anywhere,” said Patrick Bean, managing director of Signature, Weissman’s only fine-dining restaurant. “I think that says a lot about him that he chose to do it here.”
Despite this, Weissman’s shift to fine dining to focus on his fast and casual eateries, The Luxury, Sip, and Mr. Juicy, may seem to many like an unfortunate change for a chef who has rocked the San dining scene so deeply. Antonio.
It’s a change that leaves many local foodies wondering where Andrew Weissman has gone? We sat down with the 51 year old chef and restaurateur to find out.
The trajectory of your restaurant has changed in recent years, and many locals are wondering something: what did you do?
It’s funny, people say I have an illness, but I love catering. But my wife and I woke up one day and realized that, especially with our three children, life goes by so fast. My oldest is about to turn 13, although it looks like we brought them back from the hospital yesterday. I had this crazy idea to move our family to Costa Rica, where [my wife] is, to slow our life down a bit. We had been traveling back and forth for years, but officially moved to Costa Rica in January.
So where do you call home these days? San Antonio or Costa Rica?
The two. We live in Playa Negra, an area outside of Tamarindo, Costa Rica. It’s nice. The goal was for my family to live in Costa Rica and come back to San Antonio twice a year for vacations while I returned each month for a week to maintain Signature, take care of things going on at Mr. Juicy’s and airport, and other concepts I have. But I realized that my plans needed more attention, and I needed to be at home here in San Antonio for at least six more months while they came to fruition.
What are your plans for San Antonio International Airport?
The airport will showcase two of my concepts, Sip Brew Bar & Eatery and The Luxury, with three outlets. There will be a Sip mobile unit circulating around the baggage claim area with a cold brew and an espresso machine and a Sip brick and mortar in the pre-security area. The Luxury restaurant will be located just after security, right next to a Smoke Shack.
It’s really exciting. What attracts me is [representing] where I come from. I love San Antonio and want to do things that make my family proud. It’s pretty cool being on the outskirts of San Antonio, because it’s the first thing people see when they arrive.
San Antonio’s coffee culture has exploded in recent years, how does Sip fit into this scene?
I have Sip for 16 years now. Over the past couple of years I’ve really started to get excited again. We repainted it, started sourcing local coffee and guest roasts from places like FlatTrack in Austin, and our house blend is currently sourced from Estate. [Coffee Co.] on the east side. I’m a big fan of trying to promote promising restaurants and young people, so we’re doing it. I felt it was time to do something to get us back into conversation at the top, with other cafes.
You helped put San Antonio on the map as a nationally recognized culinary destination starting with Le RÃªve in 2001. How have your career and goals changed since then?
I have an affinity for food, but as I got older I found that feeding that 1% isn’t as exciting as it used to be. When I first started I was wide-eyed and I was like, “Dude, I want to make the best food,” but it’s all ego driven, and it’s not just me. I can’t speak for others, but I have come to this conclusion – and there are many ways to make people happy with food. And that’s really what I’m in there for, I just love it when people eat my food.
It’s the one thing people haven’t really understood about me. I think that’s why sometimes people think, âOh, he’s a jerk. I am actually a very shy person. I very rarely go out of the kitchen to greet people, not because I don’t like it, but because it’s almost crippling and just difficult for me. At the end of the day, I’m happy that I can do what I love, which is cooking.
I look at someone like Jason Dady, he’s a perfect example of someone who’s very comfortable doing that and talking about it. Funny, you know a lot of my cooks have been up front everywhere I’ve been. They say to me “boss, don’t you want to go out and talk to them?” I’m like ‘man you go out and say you’re me.’ Just say you are the owner. You know? It’s just something I’ve never been comfortable with.
You’ve had a string of restaurant closures recently – Il Sogno and Sandbar at The Pearl, then Moshe’s. Why did they close?
Funny people say I still close restaurants, but Sandbar had been there for 18 years. We were previously on the corner of Pecan and St. Mary’s [streets]. I was a little fed up with doing the same, and couldn’t offer my guests top quality – line-caught, ethically sourced fish – at a reasonable price, so I decided to go for it. to close.
Il Sogno was the first restaurant to open at the Pearl, so they made me a sweet deal. As the end of my lease neared, I was no longer the shiny new toy, and I knew I was going to get my head hammered with the same price everyone was paying. From a cost perspective, it didn’t make sense to stay in space.
Moshe has had one of the most loyal customers, but San Antonio’s demand for this kind of food, unfortunately, is very low. I’m going to resuscitate Moshe somewhere down the road. I don’t want to pander to a burger restaurant, but it’s very difficult in this city. At the end of the day, it has to be financially correct.
As part of the airport deal, I can sell produce to my airport restaurants, and one thing I wanted to do was fries. I had planned to make fries at Moshe’s, but realized it wasn’t too far to make burgers and shakes when we were already making fries. He makes over dollars and cents running two businesses from one production facility. So far, it’s a very good decision. It makes about five times the revenue at about one-fifth the cost. We’ll see if it continues.
What stories will you tell with your food and restaurants in the future?
I like the idea of ââdoing one thing and doing it extremely well. So, yeah, these are just burgers, but the point is, we make our own pickles and buns, cut our own fries and meats, and make all of our own sauces. I believe you can have a transcendent dining experience on any level. And that’s the kind of story I want to tell in the future: to give people a great dining experience, even if it’s quick and laid back.
From your perspective, what does the service industry look like in San Antonio?
Finding help is very difficult. And that’s one thing that led me to the QSR Quick Service Restaurant. I was like, you know what, it would be pretty cool to do these kinds of restaurants applying the five star mentality to everything from fine dining to fast casual.
What happened to your plans for a 24-hour dinner in downtown San Antonio? San Antonio needs more places to eat late at night.
I was sitting down with Kevin Covey, the Managing Partner of GrayStreet, at Il Sogno, and told him that I had always had this idea of ââmaking a 24 hour dinner. We talked about a potential building for this, but it was never something that I agreed to doâ¦ But it is something that would always be interested in doing.
What are you working on at Signature in La Cantera? The region is poised to experience phenomenal growth over the next decade, what do you see changing?
I’m excited about the things we do at Signature and envision a lot of things to keep in the conversation and keep it poignant. Sometimes it’s hard you know [to get attention] when you are outside the loop. But I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished here. Even though it seems like my career is going in a completely different direction, I still have my eyes on the ball.
It can be difficult for people in central San Antonio to get to La Cantera, but there are a lot more restaurants than a few years ago.
It’s true. Boulangerie Lorraine is established here. Johnny Hernandez is here. I think a lot of people were starting to realize the validity of bringing something new to the region. Not everything happens around the Pearl.
An earlier version of this article stated that The Dream opened in 2001, but the restaurant opened in 1996.
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