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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Where in the World is Andrew Weissman?: San Antonio’s Fine-Dining Revolutionary is Leading a Lower Profile These Days. And He’s OK with That.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 25, 2019 at 12:34 PM

click to enlarge LEA THOMPSON
  • Lea Thompson
San Antonio chef Andrew Weissman’s early meteoric rise in the fine dining world is nearly as impressive as his apparent ability to walk away from it all.

Among the top in his class at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, New York, Weissman returned to his hometown around 20 years ago to create something new.



Where Biga on the Banks’ Bruce Auden is credited with introducing fine dining to San Antonio in the 1980s, Weissman is credited with revolutionizing the concept when he opened Le Rêve in 1996.

“Many chefs never try to do anything like he did at Le Rêve ” Auden said. “Andrew worked long, demanding hours to create thoughtful dishes, and he’d close the restaurant whenever he wasn’t there, because he wanted to it to meet his standards. He was and still is a perfectionist.”

In addition to Le Rêve  the James Beard-nominated chef has since opened — and closed — a slew of acclaimed restaurants including Le Rêve, Il Sogno, Sandbar at the Pearl and Moshe’s Golden Falafel. Weissman’s influence on the local culinary scene is undeniable.

“The thing is, he could have left and opened successful restaurants anywhere,” said Patrick Bean, general manager at Signature, Weissman’s sole remaining fine dining restaurant. “I think it says a lot about him that he chose to do it here.”

Even so, Weissman’s shift away from fine dining to focus on his fast-casual restaurants The Luxury, Sip and Mr. Juicy may seem to many like an unfortunate shift for a chef that once so thoroughly shook San Antonio’s food scene.

It’s a change that leaves many local foodies wondering where has Andrew Weissman gone? We sat down with the 51-year-old chef and restauranteur to find out.

Your restaurant trajectory has changed in recent years, and many locals are wondering something: what have you been up to?
It’s funny, people say I have a sickness, but I love the restaurant business. But my wife and I woke up one day and realized that, especially with our three children, life is just going by so fast. My oldest is about to be 13, even though it seems like we just brought them home from the hospital yesterday. I came up with this crazy idea to move our family to Costa Rica, where [my wife] is from, to slow down our life a little bit. We’d traveled back and forth for years, but we officially moved to Costa Rica in January.

So, where do you call home these days? San Antonio or Costa Rica?
Both. We live in Playa Negra, an area outside of Tamarindo, Costa Rica. It’s beautiful. The goal was for my family to live in Costa Rica and come back to San Antonio twice a year for holidays while I’d come back every month for a week to maintain Signature, take care of things happening at Mr. Juicy’s and the airport, and other concepts I have. But I realized that my projects needed more attention, and I needed to be home, here in San Antonio, for at least six more months while they come to fruition.

What are your plans for the San Antonio International Airport?
The airport will feature two of my concepts, Sip Brew Bar & Eatery and The Luxury, with three outlets. There will be a mobile Sip unit cruising around the baggage pickup area with cold brew and an Espresso machine and a Sip brick-and-mortar in the pre-security area. The Luxury restaurant will be located just past security, right next to a Smoke Shack.

It’s really exciting. What attracts me is [representing] where I’m from. I love San Antonio and I want to do things that makes my family proud. It's kind of cool to be at the almost doorstep of San Antonio, because it’s the first thing that people see when they arrive.

San Antonio’s coffee culture has exploded in recent years, how does Sip fit in to that scene?
I’ve had Sip for 16 years now. Within the last two years, I've really started to get excited about it again. We repainted it, started to source local coffee and guest roasts from spots like FlatTrack in Austin, and our house blend right now is from Estate [Coffee Co.] on the East Side. I'm a big proponent of trying to promote restaurants and young up-and-coming individuals, so we're doing that. I felt like it was time to do something to put us back into conversation at the top, with other coffee shops.
click to enlarge JASON RISNER PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Jason Risner Photography
You helped put San Antonio on the map as a nationally renowned culinary destination starting with Le Rêve in 2001. How have your career and goals changed since then?
I have an affinity for fine dining, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that feeding that 1% isn’t as exciting as it used to be. When I started, I was wide-eyed, and was like, “Man, I want to make the best food,” but all that is ego-driven, and it's not just me. I can't speak for other people, but I’ve come to that conclusion — and there's a lot of ways you can make people happy with food. And that's really what I'm in it for, I just like when people eat my food.

It's the one thing that people have not really understood about me. I think that’s why sometimes people think, “Oh, he's a jerk.” I am actually a really shy individual. I very rarely come out of the kitchen to say hello to people, not because I don't like to, but because it’s almost paralyzing and just difficult for me. At the end of the day, I get satisfaction from being able to do what I love, which is cooking.

I look at someone like Jason Dady, he's a perfect example of somebody that is very at ease with doing that and talking about it. It's funny, you know, a lot of my cooks have been front-of-house people wherever I’ve been. They're like, ‘chef, 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're the owner. You know? It's just something I've never been comfortable with.

You had a recent string of restaurant closures — Il Sogno and Sandbar at The Pearl, then Moshe’s. Why did they close?
It's funny, people say I’m always closing restaurants, but Sandbar was around for 18 years. We were previously on the corner of Pecan and St. Mary’s [streets]. I kind of just got tired of doing the same thing, and I couldn’t offer top quality — hook-line caught, ethically sourced fish — to my guests for a reasonable price, so I decided to shutter it.

Il Sogno was the first restaurant to open at the Pearl, so they gave me a sweetheart deal. As I approached the end of my lease, I was no longer the shiny new toy, and I knew I’d get hammered over the head with the same price everyone else paid. Cost-wise, it didn’t make sense to stay in the space.

Moshe’s had one of the most loyal clienteles, but the San Antonio demand for that kind of food, unfortunately, is very small. I'm going to resurrect Moshe’s somewhere down the road. I don't want to pander with a hamburger place, but it’s very difficult in this town. At the end of the day, it’s got to be financially right.

As part of the airport deal, I get to sell product to my airport restaurants, and one thing I wanted to do was french fries. I planned on making fries at Moshe’s but realized it’s not too far a reach to do burgers and shakes when we’re already doing fries. It makes more dollars and cents to run two businesses from one production facility. So far, it’s been an extremely good decision. It does about five times the business at about one-fifth the cost. We'll see if it continues.

What stories will you be telling with your food and restaurants moving forward?
I love the idea of doing one thing and doing it extremely well. So, yes, it's only burgers, but the fact is that we do our own pickles and buns, cut our own fries and meat and make all of our own sauces. I think that you can have a transcending food experience at any level. And that's kind of the story I want to tell going forward here — giving people a great food experience, even if it’s fast casual.

From your perspective, what’s the service industry like in San Antonio?
Finding help is very difficult. And that was one thing that kind of led me into QSR quick service restaurant. I was like, you know what, it would be kind of cool to do these kind of restaurants by apply five-star mentality to everything from fine dining to fast casual.

What ever happened to your plans for a 24-hour diner in downtown San Antonio? San Antonio needs more late-night eating spots.
I was sitting down with Kevin Covey, the managing partner at GrayStreet, at Il Sogno, and I told him I’d always had this idea of doing a 24-hour diner. We talked about a potential building for it but it was never something I agreed to do… But it's something that would still be interested in doing.

What are you working on at Signature at La Cantera? The area is poised for tremendous growth in the next decade, what do you see changing?
I'm excited about the things that we’re doing at Signature and contemplating a lot of things to keep in the conversation and keep it poignant. Sometimes it's tough, you know, [to get attention] when you’re outside the loop. But I'm really proud of what we've achieved here. Even if it seems like my career is going in a completely different direction, I still have my eyes on the ball.

It can be a bit of a trek for people living in central San Antonio to get to La Cantera, but there’s a lot more restaurants there than a couple of years ago.
It’s true. Bakery Lorraine has opened out here. Johnny Hernandez is out here. I think a lot of people were starting to realize the validity of bringing something new to the area. Not everything occurs around the Pearl.

An earlier version of this article stated that Le Rêve opened in 2001, but the restaurant opened in 1996.

So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.

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