While many businesses are struggling during the pandemic, Divide & Conquer, which produces aprons and chef coats for the food service industry inside the Ayres building on Broadway, has prospered.
“I will be honest with you … the business hasn’t suffered financially,” owner Javier Treviño said. “If anything, we made more money during these times.”
Treviño’s business originally was located on South Presa Street. In March, at the start of the pandemic, Divide & Conquer was classified as a non-essential business by the city and Treviño was forced to shut his doors temporarily.
That’s when Treviño sought advice from his attorney on how his shop could become essential, and they developed the idea to make masks made of guayabera fabric.
“We were able to design 3-layer filtered masks with our guayabera fabrics, and sell over 2,000 masks that helped keep the business afloat,” Treviño said.
Treviño would reopen his doors a week later. Business boomed to the point that he moved his shop in November into the Ayres building at Broadway and East Houston Street.
“We were in need of more space for our clientele, so we decided to make the move to the downtown area,” Treviño said.
While Divide & Conquer isn’t a new business, the shop is new to downtown, where foot traffic has slowed—a direct result of the hard-hit tourism industry.
Since the pandemic started, two dozen bars and restaurants have opened in the downtown area, while several have closed, including 1718 Steakhouse, Mexican Manhattan, Spaghetti Warehouse, and Cadillac Bar.
You might ask new downtown business owners if they’re crazy to open during the pandemic. Some say it’s the perfect time.
Edwin Salazar, co-owner of Bunz Handcrafted Burgers, a new gourmet burger joint five blocks west of Divide & Conquer, said, “If you open a business right now and succeed through these tough times, the journey after will be two times better for you.”
In October, Salazar and chef Thierry Burkle opened Bunz in the Savoy building on East Houston Street.
Burkle is the owner and executive chef at The Grill at Leon Springs, where Salazar serves as the sous chef. The two partnered to create the concept for Bunz because they felt they could bring high-end sizzle to downtowners’ taste buds at affordable prices.
The duo also like operating in the “heart of San Antonio.”
Salazar said to-go orders have kept Bunz afloat during the crisis, and said dine-in service would do better if it were not for the 50% occupancy restaurant restrictions currently in place. The restaurant is actually hiring for kitchen staff and a cashier.
Andy Palacios, co-owner of Tony’s Siesta, 206 Brooklyn Ave., offered this advice to entrepreneurs looking to open during the pandemic: “Do your research on organizations that can offer loans or grants to upstart your business. And understand you will fail at times, but take the little wins.”
Tony’s Siesta, opened its doors in November under a slightly new name after previous owner, Tony Lopez, retired last year after 20 years as a bar owner.
Palacios took over the bar from Lopez and updated the original old-school cantina with a modernized look, while keeping the bar “puro San Antonio.” On the walls, he replaced the Spurs memorabilia polaroids of regulars with rich splashes of color and neon lighting. On the outside, Palacios kept the old-school painted signage from the original Tony’s, as well as the mini replica of the Tower of Americas near the entrance.
He funded the renovations using dollars he received from LiftFund, a nonprofit organization that offers loans to small businesses and startups.
Palacios said he wasn’t able to receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan because he opened after the deadline date to qualify. He said not getting that assistance felt like a punch in the stomach.
The bar’s renovations took a toll on Palacios physically and mentally, but he felt it was personal for him because he didn’t want to let Lopez down.
“I told Tony what I wanted to do for the bar and how I wanted to continue his legacy, and that’s when he presented the opportunity for me,” Palacios said.
His experience as a first-time bar owner has been stressful and exhausting, and has caused to lose sleep. The bar has suffered financial losses.
“Every morning I wake up and wonder, ‘Will we see tomorrow?’,” Palacios said.
Andrea Fascinetto and her mother Dolores Novak said “the best ideas come during the craziest times.”
Just before Thanksgiving, the mother-daughter duo opened PROSE, a national chain of sleek nail boutiques, on West Houston Street on the first floor of the Frost Tower.
Novak said they’ve learned that they aren’t the only businesses facing adversities, and the ability to bring something positive to downtown during a dark time is powerful. Fascinetto and Novak said opening their nail boutique offers a sense of normalcy for their members.
“It’s rewarding for us when we hear our members come in and tell us, ‘this is exactly what I’m looking for and I’m feeling like my old self again’,” Fascinetto said.
Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter