The resurgence of San Antonio's Eastside continues as Oak & Salt Quality Goods and Estate Coffee Company, a joint-business venture between chef-turned business owner Ben Annotti and wood worker-turned coffee roaster Brian Labarbera, sets up shop in the neighborhood at 1320 E. Houston St.
One block away from historic St. Paul's Square – itself amid a new wave of revitalization – and across the street from the large Merchant’s Ice & Cold Storage building complex – which is expected to become housing – the white, two-story building is undergoing renovations to accommodate the new commercial space for specialty goods like spices, cocktail mixers, sauces, and freshly-roasted coffee.
"There's not anything like this on this side of town yet," Labarbera said. "I think the city is ready and I think lots of people want to get quality spices and coffee and know where it's coming from."
The building is owned by Douglas Architects whose offices are in the back of the building. As of now, Annotti and Labarbera are the only other tenants, but there are two available rooms upstairs that are available for rent, Annotti said.
Annotti is a Chicago native who has long worked in the restaurant business as a chef. He started his online goods service, Oak & Salt Quality Goods, in 2014 and eventually made his way to San Antonio with his wife, Erica, last year where his business continued to grow.
The Eastside space will be Oak & Salt's first brick-and-mortar endeavor.
"(Oak & Salt) certainly has a national presence since it's online, but I loved where (San Antonio) is going with its culinary aspects and I wanted to serve the community a little better," he said.
Labarbera, originally from Houston, owns his own wood working business in San Antonio, but after dabbling in the coffee roasting business as an apprentice coffee roaster, he decided to make it his full-time job.
After only a few months of planning and renovating, the quality goods and coffee company will officially open their doors in early March. The space as a whole, Labarbera added, will function as a grab-and-go store as well as a sit-down coffee shop with tables and seating that he is personally handcrafting.
As far as renovations, the street-facing facade of the building is getting a complete overhaul and will have tables and seating out front. Inside, Labarbera said, the key is transparency; to the right, the store will feature an L-shaped coffee bar with counter seating and a roaster front and center so customers can view the coffee roasting and preparation processes.
The other end of the store will be Oak & Salt's domain, with library-style shelves on the back wall storing spices, sauces and salts for individual and bulk sale.
"It's two businesses, but you know, there's no curtain down the middle," Annotti said.
In the middle, where the two businesses collide, there will be a large family-style table where visitors can sit and enjoy some coffee and where Annotti can make customized spice blends and rubs for his customers.
They've already been welcomed by several nearby residents and business owners, and Annotti and Labarbera said they are looking forward to maintaining a community-centered focus in their operations.
"We want it to be a space where if you want to be educated about spices or roasting and ask questions you can, but if you just want to come get a cup of coffee and hangout you can do that, too," Labarbera said. "It's supposed to be more of an experience."
The store will feature spices and coffee sourced from all over the world, so a top priority for the team includes keeping their customers in the know about where their products come from.
They will do so, Annotti said, by making sure their product labels reflect their respective origins.
Another priority for the duo is to maintain an approachable presence in the neighborhood by keeping their prices affordable, he added.
Many Eastside residents have been calling for more local businesses to bring commerce back to many streets that have been dormant for several years. Nearby neighborhoods have some of the lowest-income residents in San Antonio.
Annotti and Labarbera saw the location of the space as ideal for integrating their business into that opportunity for growth, considering its proximity to St. Paul Square and potential mixed-use and commercial complexes. They see the Eastside as a "diamond in the rough."
"(The Eastside) is kind of hit or miss right now, but I think it has a lot to offer," Labarbera said.
Oak & Salt and Estate Coffee Company looks forward to "riding the wave" of the revitalization of the Eastside in a way that upholds and includes the existing community members, Annotti said.
"We're not trying to be the saviors of the neighborhood, but it's exciting to be apart of something growing and we're hoping more people jump on the momentum."
*Top image: Oak & Salt Quality Goods and Estate Coffee is located at 1320 E Houston St. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.