The Choice is Clear: Excellence on the River, or More of the Same?

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Chef Johnny Hernandez poses for a photo outside of La Gloria. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Chef Johnny Hernandez outside of his La Gloria restaurant at the Pearl.

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We want people who visit San Antonio to leave as ambassadors of our City, empowered to broadcast their experiences to the world.

San Antonio attracts thousands of visitors each year. Our vibrant culture, unique traditions, and strong culinary identity that reflects our heritage and Hispanic culture sets us apart from every other city in America.

That’s why I and many others in the chef community believe that creating and maintaining a sense of pride and ownership of our river is so important.

Our river is not just a body of water. It’s tells our story as it runs through the city, winding its way from the Pearl, to our historical center, to Mission Reach. It’s the lifeblood of San Antonio.

If we want to imagine our city as a world-class destination, we first have to create a sense of pride about our River Walk. The river barge contract is a key building block in changing the way people perceive our river and the way people perceive San Antonio.

How is it that the San Antonio River, our most important real estate, our most important asset, isn’t the first thing we recommend to visitors when they come to town?

The good news is there are many citizens and organizations committed to the redevelopment of our city, from the efforts on Houston Street, Alamo Plaza, our UNSECO World Heritage Missions, Zona Cultural and Hemisfair. These legacy projects are significant, as are what they represent, and we will never see them again in our lifetime. Therefore, we have to be good stewards of such projects, and what we’re handing over to the next generation.

The San Antonio river is what connects each of these unique destinations, so we need to respect and treat it as such.

I personally found it insulting that Go Rio and Landry’s proposed to put a duck on our river.

There’s no question that we are a city known throughout the world for our great Mexican food and our Mexican culture. But to me, what’s critically important, is that we work to raise awareness of the much broader chef community that is doing so many wonderful things throughout our city.

The river barge contract is so vitally important in supporting the wonderful efforts, and the smart decisions that have been made by our community to reimagine our downtown. We don’t want to ever disrespect the efforts of what our community has been voicing to us.

The Pearl is a prime example of what thoughtful, smart, strategic leadership can bring to a community. It is that unified vision, with an unwavering commitment to excellence that’s created something so special at the Pearl that has everyone talking about it across the country and now, internationally.

Everything that’s done at the Pearl is done with a level of excellence that I’m proud of, and that’s what I want to see happen with our river barge experience.

We must make an impact in our community and create an experience that makes people want to visit and compels them to share that experience with others. We are in danger of losing that special, unique quality of San Antonio, and we must be careful as we choose who will steward the river. Do we trust Landry’s with that responsibility?

Landry’s isn’t involved in our community. They’re not interested in enhancing the river barge experience. And personally, as a citizen and someone who has invested a lot of time in the community, I fear that Landry’s will take far more away from our city than it will give.

We must work to enhance the river tour into an experience that breaks down the perception that our river is not enjoyed by our local community.

Currently, accessibility to the river is a concern that needs to be addressed. So, I’m committed to making the river available for locals, visitors, and all the small businesses on the river that are uniquely San Antonio. It’s going to be accessible to the chef community, to children, and the all the independent restaurants that want to charter a barge.

With Entertainment Cruises, I am proposing a new, never-done-before dining program on the river, and I am committed to working with the broader food community to reimagine what dining on the river can be, and should be, to bring back locals and visitors from across the world. Add the cutting-edge cuisine, the talent, the personalities, and the chefs – and make that available to our guests – and that’s where the magic happens.

I need San Antonio’s support and we need our City Council to make the right decision. The danger of commercializing our river is a real threat that we’re currently facing. We’re at a crossroads where we are considering partnering with a business who owns nearly 40 national brands. We cannot let that happen to our river on our watch.

5 thoughts on “The Choice is Clear: Excellence on the River, or More of the Same?

  1. Really enjoyed Chef Hernandez’s view on this matter–I had not previously considered the implications of the barge contract on the overall perception of our city. Signing with a company that owns the Rainforest Cafe and thinks paying a full time employee to dress like a duck is a good idea is more of the same old, tired 1980’s tourist trap nonsense that has given the Riverwalk and San Antonio a bad name… Bravo, Chef Hernandez!

  2. It’s not just a “duck” that’s wrong here…it’s a cartoon, commercialized approach that offends. To turn the barge cruises into something on the same level as a Chuck E. Cheese experience is ridiculous. Cultural tourism is a major concept in our beautiful, authentic downtown experience. Let’s not dumb it down, please.

  3. What’s wrong with a duck on the river. The chef is ptobably dissapointed he can’t fit this one his frying pan.

  4. Valid points and arguments have been made concerning the awarding of the HUGE river barge contract. Chef Hernandez writes only because he as well as a few others stand the chance at losing an opportunity to make more money, isn’t that really what it all comes down to, besides, I have eaten at all his restaurants and they are not all that, I’ve had better food at other establishments in the downtown area but that’s another topic, the riverwalk was a tourist trap even before the Rainforest Cafe and at the present time feels like a Chck E Cheese experience, have you been down there lately ? Certain people just need to stay away from trying to influence a very important decision. I don’t agree with the Costumed Character Duck being proposed, I think it is stupid but ducks have made their home along the riverwalk for decades and I actually enjoy watching the ducks and sometimes feed them.
    Money made from San Antonio tourism needs to stay in San Antonio.

  5. I might buy Mr. Hernandez’s argument, but personally I have not found excellence at his restaurants. I know others think they have, but I believe I have found better places at more reasonable prices elsewhere. If he were concerned about excellence, his restaurants would be better. I agree with the statement that this article was written because the new contract will probably bring Mr. Hernandez money while not requiring much effort from him.

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