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Pearl Brewery: San Antonio's Cultural Gem

Meetings Focus |
From 1881 to 2001, this sprawling complex two miles north of downtown San Antonio was the home of the storied Pearl Brewery Company, its name reportedly taken from a German brewmeister who saw beer bubbles as pearls. So named in 1952 after three previous incarnations, Pearl was once the largest brewery in Texas, and the only one to survive the Great Depression. It’s tagline in 1952: “Pearl, the Gem of Fine Beer.”
 
Soon after operations closed for good in 2001, San Antonio businessman Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury, who had sold salsa giant Pace Foods to Campbell Soup for $1.15 billion in 1995, began redeveloping the 22-acre site via his Silver Ventures investment firm.
 
Inspired by a visit to the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in Napa Valley, Goldsbury wanted to see an equivalent culinary school in San Antonio—with an express two-fold purpose in mind. Firstly, he wanted to elevate the reputation of Latin cuisine. Next, he wanted to address what he saw as the great inequity in the restaurant industry, where Hispanic chefs, while doing most of the work, were fated to remain on the line through lack of educational or advancement opportunities.
 
In 2006, he helped fund the CIA-affiliated Center for Foods of the Americas, a pilot culinary program at the Pearl. One year later, he committed $35 million to expanding the 5,500-square-foot building, and after negotiations with the CIA, it became an official branch of the school. With $20 million reserved for scholarships for students of limited means, Goldsbury’s donation also funded a 30,000-square-foot expansion of CIA, San Antonio, which opened to great fanfare in October 2010.
 
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said, “We’re sizzling right now and this is a great component of it, with a good deal more to come.”
 
How right he was, too, for today the still-evolving Pearl, along with art, culture, retail and entertainment, is a culinary sizzler that’s only getting hotter.
 
Both local sons and CIA graduates, two of San Antonio’s most celebrated chefs, Johnny Hernandez and Andrew Weismann, are at Pearl. Hernandez’s artful, casual La Gloria Ice House is a temple of authentic Mexican street food, while Weismann’s Il Sogno and Sandbar continue the innovative excellence he established at Le Reve.
 
There’s the popular Farmers Market on Saturdays, and the Blue Box cocktail bar, and then there’s the CIA.
 
“With two CIA student-operated restaurants—NAO, which celebrates the New World Flavors of Latin America, and the more casual CIA Bakery Cafe—the campus offers food lovers the ability to taste the work of students at the world’s premier culinary college,” says Stephan Hengst, the CIA’s marketing and communications director. “Also boasting state-of-the-art kitchens and meeting spaces, CIA, San Antonio hosts classes, boot camps and special events throughout the year.”
 
There’s more on the horizon, too, including the dramatic transformation of the historic Pearl brew house into a hotel and a barbecue concept restaurant.
 
For planners and groups, the Pearl is a gem of a choice.