Benjamin De Los Santos
Chef and owner of Benjie’s Munch food truck and restaurant
Years in food service:
Benjie’s Munch has won 1st place in the San Antonio Grilled Cheese Festival each year since the event launched in 2018.
“Every bite needs to be the best bite it can be.”
What’s great about your job?
The fact that it allows me to be creative and play with food. We offer New American, global comfort food — grilled cheeses, salads, sandwiches — but it’s not traditional. We hit a lot of different flavor points and different diets with gluten-free or keto-friendly items. It’s all scratch-made and unique.
What makes the burgers at Benjie’s Munch stand out from the pack?
We take choice Angus chuck and grind it ourselves in-house. All burgers are a half-pound, but they’re lean, juicy and fall-apart tender. My go-to order is a patty melt, and it’s above and beyond anybody else’s in San Antonio.
What’s your favorite ingredient to cook with and why?
Probably pork and pork belly. We started with a slow roasted porchetta on the truck. At the restaurant, we have a pork belly banh mi, a pulled pork grilled cheese sandwich and the Cuban sandwich. It’s fun and I really like bacon. We put bacon on everything.
Tell us about your background and how you got where you are?
I started working in restaurants at 15 as a dishwasher, worked my way into prep and eventually got a culinary degree from St. Philip' s College. I worked a lot of corporate jobs, including my position with Sodexo, where I would work 10 days at a time, traveling throughout the country.
Things changed when my wife took me to a movie called Chef
. After the movie, my wife turned to me and said, “You need to do that. Your son is going to be a high school senior, and you need to be around for that.”
I cashed out one of my 401Ks and opened a food truck with unique menu items. People think running a food truck is easy and cool and glamorous, but I was hustling and working hard. I opened the food truck in April 2015, and that led to the brick-and-mortar opening in October 2017.
What’s your secret weapon?
I have a very supportive family and staff. Most of my staff has been with me for over a year. I have a little army behind me that I can call for help with catering and special events too.
What drives you to continue cooking and creating?
If you’re going to make something, it needs to be good. I don’t want to waste food or people’s time. Every bite needs to be the best bite it can be. We’re not cheap, but we make everything from scratch and in-house.
Talk about how you give back to the community.
You get what you give. If you [create] positive things, you get that in return. We’ve worked events for Lighthouse for the Blind, the Taste of the Northside, Culinaria. … We give out a lot of samples and get creative. We also do events with a lot of schools, giving a small percentage back.
What are the biggest challenges facing your industry right now?
Rent keeps going up, but restaurants are so much more expensive to maintain. I see a lot of businesses closing. We are blessed and we work hard for it, but we have incredible support. We’ve worked hard for those five-star reviews. It all comes with attention to detail.
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