By Richard Webner | @RWebner | Heron contributor
Voodoo Doughnut, the iconic Portland, Oregon-based retail chain known for selling donuts with eclectic toppings in pink boxes, has signed a lease to open its first San Antonio store in the location of the Playland pizzeria on East Houston Street.
The chain expects to begin renovation work on the space, on the ground floor of the Maverick Building at 400 E. Houston St., within the next 60 days and hopes to have the store open by the end of this year, CEO Chris Schultz said in a phone interview.
Like Voodoo’s other locations, the store will be open 24 hours a day, baking donuts three times a day so they’re offered fresh, he said. It will also sell coffee drinks, including espresso-based drinks, he said.
“To be honest, (San Antonio) wasn’t really on our radar for this year, but this site became available and we just couldn’t pass it up,” Schultz said. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s right at the downtown corridor, where all those activities are happening, growth is happening.”
The store is a significant gain for the Houston Street retail corridor, where many businesses have struggled in the years before and since the outbreak of the pandemic while others, such as the La Panaderia restaurant and bakery, have thrived.
“It just validates that still, all things are possible downtown,” said David Adelman, the local developer who co-owns the Maverick and restored it into a boutique apartment building. “It’s not over yet. We’re still alive. Covid was a real gut punch, but this is a great time.”
“This will be a national brand coming in that will thrive. It shows that the ecosystem is able to support both local businesses and national brands,” he said. “For once they prefer to be on the street level, not on the River Walk. It’s nice to see the street get a little love.”
Adelman said that his team reached out to Voodoo with the idea of opening a store in the space of Playland, whose last day of operation is slated for June 30. The chain is expanding fast across the U.S. but especially in Texas, where it has a popular store on Sixth Street in Austin and has opened locations in Houston and its suburb of Cypress.
Schultz describes being impressed with the energy on Houston Street, including the redevelopment plans at the Alamo. The site appealed to the chain because the pedestrian traffic on Houston features a mixture of locals, tourists and conventioneers, he said.
“There’s electricity when you walk down that street. I think now it’s kind of come off of the River Walk and onto Houston,” he said. “We wanted to be close to the River Walk, obviously. Yet I don’t think we need to be on the River Walk to be successful. I think where we’re going to be is great – it’s central for the River Walk, the people from the Alamo, the Convention Center. It’s kind of that hub where everyone’s walking and going.”
“It’s funny, because forever, when you think about Texas—at least in my business—you think about Austin, Dallas, Houston, right? So many times, San Antonio’s not on the radar,” he said. “But recently, everything is happening in San Antonio—businesses, restaurants. Everyone’s coming… We were very fortunate this site became available for us.”
Adelman said that Playland, which opened in 2018, suffered due to a lack of demand during lunch hours downtown with fewer workers in offices in the wake of the pandemic. He said he is helping Stefan Bowers, Playland’s chef and owner, open a new concept in what Adelman calls the River North district around the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Voodoo will only occupy the ground level of Playland’s former space. Playland also occupied space in the Maverick building’s basement, where it had event space and a small bar. Adelman said he has a “major plan” for the basement but isn’t ready to reveal it yet.
Voodoo will employ 75 part-time and full-time employees who will earn “well above minimum wage,” Schultz said. The employees who work 24 hours or more a week will be able to sign up for a health insurance plan, he said.
The store will have unique features reflecting San Antonio’s culture, he said—possibly, a graffiti wall painted by local artists. It could include donuts tailored to local culinary tastes.
“It’s like a string of pearls: Every store looks a little bit different,” he said of Voodoo’s business model. “This will be Voodoo San Antonio. This is not Voodoo Houston or Austin.”
He went on: “I don’t want to tip our hand too much—we’re working on things that will be very unique for San Antonio. San Antonio’s a great restaurant community and we need to step our game up.”
Setting It Straight: The original article has been corrected to state that Playland is still open.
Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter