Denise Aguirre and Noel Cisneros have been developing Dignowity Meats, a small smokehouse/deli at 1706 E. Houston St., for only a few months But by looking at the dozens of people standing in line for free food Friday night, one would think excitement for the new near Eastside eatery had been building for much longer.
Dignowity Meats hosted a grand opening party, complete with a DJ, free beer from Alamo Beer Co., and samples from Moonshine Sweet Tea. The grand opening was also an official Meat Week event, an annual celebration of all things meat at select restaurants around town.
"Tonight has been absolutely amazing," said Aguirre, who with Cisneros stayed busy during the grand opening, meeting and greeting patrons while tending to an array of business matters.
If you're familiar with foodie (and craft beer) circles in San Antonio social media, then you've at least seen/heard of Cisneros and Aguirre's older ventures, The Point Park and Eats, a food truck park in Leon Springs, and Taps y Tapas on North Flores Street.
Dignowity Meats had a soft opening Jan. 5. It is born literally from a casual drive that Cisneros and Aguirre took around the Dignowity Hill neighborhood one day following a visit to what has become for them a regular breakfast stop, Panchos and Gringos, on Nolan Street.
"We drove by here. It was an old orange building. A sign said it was for sale," Aguirre explained. She half-jokingly mentioned to Cisneros that the spot could do well for their next business.
But they thought more about it. Then they talked with Shane Reed and Andrew Samia, owners of Crazy Carl's food truck, which has made many visits to The Point.
"They told us about how they've always wanted to do an old-school deli, and we thought this would be a super awesome place for that," Aguirre recalled.
Cisneros and Aguirre considered buying the East Houston Street property, on which sits a building Aguirre said dates back to the 1950s. It has been the scene of many restaurants over the decades, including barbecue and, perhaps most notably, a Whopper Burger.
The property was out of their price range. But the owner of their Point Park property backed the idea of a new business at the East Houston spot and bought it for Cisneros and Aguirre.
Cisneros, Aguirre, Reed and Samia all chipped in for interior and exterior improvements at what would become Dignowity Meats, where patrons stand out in front and order a food item and a beverage from the menu of hot and cold sandwiches.
David Uminski, recently minted “Prince of the Riverwalk” in representing the Paseo del Rio Association, is a graduate of St. Philip's College, where he now teaches hospitality industry students. He took an instant liking to the positive vibe at Dignowity Meats' grand opening; it was his first visit.
"Downtown is slowly spreading outward. It's adding life and lots more fun to this side of town,” Uminski said.
District 2 Councilmember Alan Warrick II sampled some of the food. He said Dignowity Meats is a boost to the Eastside economy.
"It's the first of many new businesses coming to the neighborhood. Neighborhoods like the Eastside don't stay quiet very long," said Warrick. The councilman said the Eastside could benefit from an influx new, different businesses and residents.
"Most of the people I've seen and met here tonight aren't from this neighborhood. The question is: How do we turn this into a neighborhood of diversity like we see tonight," he said.
Two diners at the grand opening, Robin Reyes and Robert Klodginski, hail from different parts of town -- Reyes from the Southeast side and Klodginski from around North St. Mary's Street.
"You drive around, it's an up-and-coming neighborhood," Reyes said. "I think it'd be a cool place to come over for lunch. I was starting to think I love the pastrami at (H-E-B) Central Market, but the pastrami here is so great."
Dignowity Meats is currently open for lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. Aguirre said she and Cisneros are hoping to expand those hours over time, and add some more recreational elements to the site, such as a pool table.
There are plans to serve beer. Reed and Samia are talking of curing meats there, too.
Aguirre said she and Cisneros want to apply for a grant from San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE), the nonprofit economic development resource, to help offset some expenses and allow for more improvements.
They also are allocating donations taken at the grand opening to SA Heals, a faith-based nonprofit focused on promoting better physical health and welfare on the Eastside.
"We think we bring a lot to the community. I think tonight has proven that, with a little bit of passion, we can get people here excited about something new," Aguirre said.