Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Regulars at Southtown’s Alamo Street Eat Bar will miss the food truck park’s variety of eats and drinks and its unique music and vibe when it closes for good Jan. 15. For owners, Steve and Jody Bailey Newman, who also live nearby, there’s another dilemma.
“We eat there three times a week,” Jody said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do now.”
Yet shutter the popular eatery they will as the couple looks toward building a copy of their other successful restaurant, The Friendly Spot Ice House, in another part of town, while also focusing attention on their other businesses and partnerships, and their two young children.
The Newmans began leasing the site at 609 S. Alamo St. in 2011, “to make sure it was an active business versus a pay-here parking lot,” Jody said, and opened in 2012.
Since then, a number of gourmet food trucks have launched brick-and-mortar restaurants after developing a following at Eat Bar, including Pieter Sypesteyn’s Where Y’at, which became The Cookhouse, NOLA Brunch & Beignets, and Bud’s Southern Rotisserie.
“We’ve been really proud of what’s happened there. Several truck owners opened additional trucks or bars and restaurants, a couple put themselves through school and started new careers,” Jody said. “It’s been really fun to see, like an incubator-style result coming out of there. Steve and I are really proud of that and [had] a great time running it.”
One such food truck owner, Gabe Cardenas, made it his goal to become an anchor truck at Eat Bar with his sandwich/deli truck, The Fridge. “I have roots in downtown and Southtown. In fact, my great-grandmother bought a car from the Chevy dealership that used to be at that location before it became the Acapulco Drive Inn,” he said. “I really appreciate the opportunity the Newmans gave me.”
Established at Eat Bar, Cardenas then went after his next goal, to earn a paralegal certification at UTSA’s downtown campus. He no longer owns or operates a food truck, and has been working for a local law firm since August 2017.
Rising rent prices in Southtown are another reason the Newmans are vacating.
“As our neighborhoods become more popular, the developers are coming in, and it makes it hard for local, single-location businesses to exist,” Jody said, adding that that’s why she and Steve have also been buying commercial real estate and leasing it to small local businesses – “because we know that’s what builds a neighborhood.”
In October, the Newmans were at a Las Vegas hotel when a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The experience gave them a new perspective, Jody said. “It’s something that you can’t imagine happening to you until it happens. Steve and I, our top priority is to care for our kids, have him and I wrap our heads around it and just be grateful and appreciative for the life we have here in San Antonio.”
So with the lease running out at Eat Bar, the Newmans faced a choice – renew and commit for another three to five years, or move on to other projects.
“One of the greatest challenges right now is we don’t have investors, it’s just us, there are no partners,” Jody said. “So one of the things we started talking about in the spring was if we were to do an additional project, what does our time look like. We ultimately settled on closing Alamo Street Eat Bar. Managing that is extremely time-consuming for us.”
Six food trucks regularly rotate through Eat Bar, with the longest tenured being a truck that offers street tacos, SAbores. Jody said she plans to use the contacts she’s developed through her work with Launch SA and other organizations to help those businesses find a new home.
In 2011, the Newmans joined in a fight against City ordinances that made it difficult for the food truck scene to grow in San Antonio. “Since then, we’ve seen a real growth in opportunities for food trucks,” Jody said.
Eat Bar also gave young performers like Eddie Hernandez a venue and audience. As DJ Plata, Hernandez started “Acapulco Gold Oldies” vinyl nights there in 2010. “That place had a fantastic jukebox that I missed – lots of San Antonio artists doing oldies, Tejano, conjunto – hence the name I gave my Sunday night [DJ sets]. Jody loved the idea and supported me all the way.”
Hernandez eventually moved his vinyl-formatted Westside sounds – cruising classics and low-rider soul ballads – to another bar, The Squeezebox, but will return for an encore performance at Eat Bar for its closing night on Jan. 14.
Meanwhile, The Friendly Spot is celebrating its ninth year in business since the Newmans began operating the casual restaurant at 943 S. Alamo Street. Though there’s little about the place that resembles “ice houses” of the early 1800s, where working-class German immigrants bought beer and ice to keep it cold, The Friendly Spot on any given night could stand in for the neighborhood gathering places of ice houses in circa-1960s San Antonio and later.
Once home to a variety of businesses – an antique store, ambulance storage facility, flea market, and barbecue joint – “[The Friendly Spot’s] got a torrid history … I think that’s why we get along so well,” Jody said. Today, it’s one of the largest independent resellers of craft beer in the city.
With a long-term lease in place, The Friendly Spot will stay where it is for years to come, she added.
And now with new property secured several months ago, the Newmans plan to develop another Friendly Spot. Jody said she is not ready to disclose the exact location or when it will open.
“But I think people will be surprised,” Jody said. “We are confident that’s where we need to go. We looked for a long time, and we’d like to open it in the 10th year of The Friendly Spot. That’s our goal.”