Courtesy of Jean-Francois Poujol
Owner, SoHill Cafe
Years in Food Industry:
Driving force behind several successful local restaurants including Soleil Bistro, Tost Bistro and Tribeca.
“People call me chef, but I’ve never worked in a kitchen a day in my life. It’s too hot. I open and run restaurants.”
Tell us about your background, and how you got where you are today.
I was 18 when I arrived in California and I needed a job, so I worked in a French restaurant and then a bakery. Nobody in my family was ever in the food industry, but it was just in front of me and I was good at it. I really liked the environment and stuck with it. By 21, I was manager of a local shop.
I worked my way into hospitality and was co-managing a five-star Beverly Hills hotel when 9/11 [hit the nation and hotel industry] in 2001. Fortunately, I was recruited to work in San Antonio, and within two weeks I was hired at La Mansion del Rio. It was easy for me to relocate to San Antonio, and I’m glad I did.
I stepped away from hotels in 2007 and opened Soleil Bistro & Wine Bar, before opening Le Midi downtown, which closed in 2011 but it was a platform for local bartender Jeret Peña. I eventually opened Tost Bistro, which became the granddaddy of brunch in San Antonio, and sold it in 2012. I took over Tribeca Restaurant in 2013 and sold it in 2017, before I opened SoHill Café, bringing incredible pizzas to the Beacon Hill area, in 2018.
What inspires you to continue working in restaurants?
A chef once told me that to be great there is one rule: you never compromise. I never compromise with the idea that there’s always a way to create something great. I’m not content with being just OK. I’m always wanting to do better.
I love what I do. I love speaking with customers and introducing them to new things. Sharing my culture with people is rewarding. There are always long hours but this — running restaurants — is my passion.
What do you wish more people understood about good service?
I wish people would pay more attention to the quality of service rather than focus on the attentions of their server. A nice server doesn’t equal good service. Servers should help [customers] make the right decision, food- and drink-wise, and should be more knowledgeable than the customer. Like a sommelier, professional service is an art.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new concept called Julia’s, which will open next door to SoHill Café. It’s a casual French bistro that focuses on good, fun food. I think San Antonio is moving very fast, and it’s time for the city to have a group of chefs that can really put a spotlight on Texas. The creativity of our food will be a big factor. We’re hoping to use our unique relationship to Mexican and Tex-Mex cultures to create food that is accessible and fun but different enough for people to talk about.
So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.