After making a splash in the San Antonio dining scene this past year, the staff at Clementine isn’t going to start resting on their laurels now.
That would be too easy.
Instead, owners John and Elise Russ leaned into the hustle of it all, adding a second baby girl to the mix, while still maintaining their place as one of San Antonio’s premier eateries.
For John, that includes making sure the guest experience is exactly what they wanted it to be since day one. That includes catering to a different audience than they might have initially expected, especially after John and Elise’s days on the San Antonio Riverwalk in dining rooms such as Lüke and Biga on the Banks.
Instead, the Castle Hills audience is a discerning one that wants to pair incredible wines with equally jaw-dropping dishes.
“My struggle as a chef has been not playing to that card, and remembering they came in here in the beginning for a reason,” John said.
It’s easy enough to build those connections. John and Elise are both stationed at the entrance of their open kitchen, which serves as both stage and prep area.
“A lot of it is listening to our guests, watching what they order, and seeing how much — if any — comes back to get thrown out or boxed up,” John said.
Listening to their audience also means knowing when to pull back. Initially, the couple and general manager Patrick Frasier carried bottled and canned beers from across the state, along with a few HighWheel brews. But when sales pointed to a wine-drinking audience, Betty stayed where others did not.
“I traveled to Germany in 2006 for a few months and gained a solid 30 pounds because I was drinking kölsch and eating donner kebab,” John said. “When kölsch beers started coming out in America, I never found one that tasted like what I had in Köln, where kölsch beers are from until I had the Betty.”
He credits Dorćol Distilling + Brewing’s commitment to “making something right” for why he stuck with Dorćol’s Betty, and some of her rotating beer cousins.
“It’s not an interpretation, you’re not trying to recreate the wheel. You’re trying to get something perfect.”
John also knows he can rely on Dorćol’s staff.
“I can call them and ask for a keg, and it doesn’t mean I’ll definitely get it that night, but I know they’ll do whatever they can to get it done,” John said. “It’s not about getting paid, but about the relationship you create where there is integrity, respect and loyalty.”
Those tenets are extended to the Castle Hills neighborhood where Clementine opened its doors that’s home to several faiths. This April, Clementine offered a unique Passover menu with gluten-free options, and included kosher wines to their varied wine list.
Respect, integrity and loyalty also play a part in both front and back-of-the-house staffs, which have seen little change in the past year — even with John and Elise’s kitchen rules.
“We demand a lot. We do all of our prep and that kitchen is not big,” John said. “With our servers and food runners, we try to remind them the difference between being hospitable and being gracious, and we always want to be both.”
2195 NW Military Hwy., (210) 503-5121.