A pair of delicate tables and chairs, shaded from the afternoon sun, suggest a leisurely glass of wine and a sidewalk chat. No, you’re not in Paris. You’re on South Alamo Street, right here in San Antonio. La Frite, the French-Belgian restaurant founded four years ago by Damien Watel and specializing in moules frites, has a new owner, and so the bistro-ification of Southtown marches on.
“First people got really scared,” said Icy Donnelly, the new owner. “But basically all we wanted to change was the parking situation and to make it more friendly.”
Friendly is not a word most would associate with anything Francophone. But an equally unlikely pairing of authentic French atmosphere and South San Antonio is thriving.
“I think we are an elite item because nowhere else in Texas can you walk in and feel like you’re in a Parisian bistro,” said Icy’s son, Miles. “It’s like you’re in a whole different world.”
Before this venture, the Donnellys had experience in business generally, but never with restaurants. Icy ran an interior-design business, where she also marketed art. Miles recently graduated from Texas A&M with, of all things, a biology degree. The two are working side-by-side in their new venture.
“We are quite a dynamic duo,” Miles said. “You would think — because I’m 24 and she’s whatever age —”
“We really get along well,” Icy interjected.
What the new owners wish to keep about La Frite is the philosophy: excellent food at a reasonable prices in a warm atmosphere.
“We do not want the expensive, $150-for-a-meal experience,” Icy said. “We want everyone to be able to enjoy what’s going on.”
The ingredients are also paramount. The seafood is overnighted to La Frite three times a week, if not more, Icey said, and the produce is constantly replenished.
“It was a little hard for me at first. I’m going, gosh, are we ordering again today? But everything is fresh,” Icy said. She recounted gleefully how days before our interview, a vendor came in trying to sell them instant mashed potatoes. “We just told him to get out of here!”
“It’s called integrity,” Miles added.
The Donnellys insist that while the atmosphere is European (read: sophisticated), patrons can dress their experience up or down to their taste.
“If you went to a black-tie event and came here afterwards in a ball gown, I think you’d feel just fine,” Icy said, straight-faced.
As the weather grows warmer, Icy said she wants to make the bistro’s bar an attraction of its own, with afternoon specials, more happy-hour offerings, and Belgian beer on draft.
“We’ll start with a Chimay White, then a Blanche de Bruxelles, and then a Maredsous,” Miles said of the beers they plan to serve on tap.
Other ideas the Donnellys have in mind are art openings on Thursdays, catering directly to the First Friday crowd, and wine pairings to accompany each day’s specials.
“We already have a great ambience, but it can be tightened up,” Icy said.
While running a restaurant is obviously a lot of work, the mother and son are so far enjoying the experiment.
“As I told Miles, the minute it’s not fun, we’re out of this,” Icy said. “Because life should be fun.” •