by Ben Schooley
Paula VM Photography
Veronica Brown, owner of Salvador Dobbs and part of the family ownership team of Little Gretel grew up in Boerne, and works some seriously hard hours to maintain the roots that she and her family have established. Managing and operating Little Gretel with her parents Jimmy and Denise Mazal, Brown also fully owns and manages one of Boerne’s only full bars with the help of her great staff. From the exhausting day-to-day frustrations of operating hospitality businesses…all the way through COVID lockdowns and everything in between, Brown has fast established her own mark on her hometown and takes it more than a little seriously.
Brown, talking from the patio of her bar Salavador Dobbs on a quiet Tuesday morning, begins, “I graduated BHS in ’01. I was big into volleyball, high jump, athletics in general. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, though. I knew I wanted to go to college, but I couldn’t figure out a plan, and I decided to go my dad’s route with his international business, British American Instrumental Corporation. They sold medical and robotic equipment so I suppose I just figured I would take over for him at some point. Who knows, it was just an idea. However, he lost the company around ’01 so I had to figure out a new plan.”
However, her new plan was without much direction. With parents that couldn’t fund her college aspirations, Brown entered the workforce working part time at the Fair Oaks Country Club while attending UTSA for Publication Relations / Marketing. As she neared graduation in 2006, Brown was again left wondering what the next chapter would be for her, and ultimately, it included Boerne again.
She continues, “My parents had opened Tricots was opened in ’89, which became Ewe and Eye (current Salvador Dobbs location). Mom wanted to be close to us at school when we were young and she was a knitter so it was centered on that. She was a published knitter and was quite well known. It ultimately transferred to a toy shop – European old world toy shoppe and she loved it. Her secret passion was cooking and she always wanted a restaurant but she had us young kids running around and that would have been impossible. Then my parents bought the Little Gretel property in ’99 which was opened as K-Bird’s shortly after and then Capers on the River. At the time I needed another job – the part time work at Fair Oaks wasn’t cutting it so I got a waitressing job at Capers with Stuart Perlitz.”
A new graduate, Brown also had the opportunity to assist fellow restauranteur, Keith Moore , who was preparing to open The Dodging Duck. She explains, “I’m in my early ‘20s and I loved working in the industry. I loved being in Boerne again, the people were great, and it was so much fun. I felt like I had ownership of the Duck and I was so proud of what we did there. New faces and new relationships were created and many of those relationships still exist today.”
Back at the Little Gretel properly, several restaurants had come and gone in the ensuing years, and the most recent one had broken the lease and put the family into a tough financial situation. “My parents were stressed pretty badly about that situation. I was in my mom’s toy shoppe and I said “Why don’t we open a restaurant? You’re an amazing chef. Dad could do the accounting.” And that was the beginning of the adventures, which I suppose was the fall of ’07.”
Perhaps with some naivety, the family began to consider this potential project. “I was having such fun in the restaurant business so I figured maybe it was time to run my own business in the industry. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As a family we sat down and started thinking about how it would actually work and who would do what. We wanted to do something great with a new restaurant, but it was also to fix the issues the broken lease caused them. It was very stressful but we were excited at the possibilities. Mom wanted her dream, the kids were grown, and I could help her make that happen.”
The building, constructed in ’99 was purposefully built to reflect the German heritage of Boerne. When Denise called the architect and said the family was going to construct a restaurant in the building, he said playfully “Oh, the Hansel and Gretel building?” and she said “Yes – the Little Gretel”…and the name stuck.
With a name, a layout designed, and a united family, the journey had begun. Brown continues, “I just enjoyed the planning process. I learned how to do everything from the ground up, codes, construction, rules, and the things necessary to get something off the ground. We gutted the building when we designed it and it was a blast. The details were important to me. We have the coolest bathrooms in town. The décor. The art. The colors. The silverware. The bar creation was so fun for me. Mom was in charge of the kitchen, but dad and I really worked so hard on all the other details and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
So, in January of 2009, the Little Gretel opened. And things went as hoped.
She continues, “Once we officially opened, it was amazing. We created something that hadn’t been done locally. Extremely passionate chef, staff, family…and we worked so very hard. The next few years were just perfect. We weren’t overly busy, and we weren’t dead. Figuring out the staffing was hard, but it was just so fun to learn as things grew. It was perfectly planned and I am very proud of those opening years.”
With her own young family at this point, Brown understood the strain that a young family can put on one’s life, especially as a single parent. She explains, “I’ve always wanted a bar and always thought Boerne needed a real bar. I used to love getting off work at Gretel and going to Ye Kendall Inn and having a cocktail. Listening to live music. Seeing my friends, and Boerne didn’t really have that. I always thought there’s no way I could run a bar because I had 2 kids at the time and knew it couldn’t happen. In 2016 I found myself with some money issues. I was struggling with the hours at the restaurant and my needs to make income. I looked at taking on a 2nd job but I knew it wasn’t realistic…. ultimately I started kicking around an idea to take over Ewe and Eye and turning it into a bar. Finally, dad said that if I could get a loan, go for it. I knew that Boerne needed a bar, and I knew in my heart that it would work. Eliot was 7, Juliet was 4…. i knew it wouldn’t be impossible. I had managerial help and I knew it would be tough with the kids, but I knew I could do it. It was scary, but I was excited.”
Brown also had a vision for her bar, and who might enjoy it. “I wanted everybody to be able to walk into the bar and enjoy it. People would ask me “What’s your target market?” and I would just say “Boerne – I want them all to feel comfortable at Dobbs. The younger folks. The working guys. An older couple coming to dance to music in the evening. The professionals. The Moms. I wanted all of them. I wanted everyone to enjoy it – and I fucking did it man. I get the birthday parties. The ladies’ night out. Singles looking for dates. 70 year-old couple. Professional guys having a meeting. They are all welcome here and they’ll feel like they belong and that’s perhaps my favorite part.”
As for the name of Salvador Dobbs, that has familial roots as well. She explains, “I wanted a family name and a good story for the name. My dad’s uncle, Salvador Mazal owned Dobbs Hat Company out of New York City in the ’20 s and 30s. I called it Dobbs Bar for a while, but I wanted more of a story behind it, so I quizzed dad on all the family and their histories, and then the name hit me – Salvador Dobbs. I was sitting on the patio at Gretel with a bar napkin writing down names, and I wrote out Salvador Dobbs, and I knew that was it.”
Brown, true to her roots and relationships, sat down with local builder and contractor Shelly Condra (STXC Construction) who had known one another since high school, and friend Don Reiter as a restaurant consultant, and the designs began to come together. “We had an architect so I brought some prelim plans to Shelly and we just sat there and Don Reiter was with us and he was helping as a consultant as one of my friends. We sat around and made sketches and moved things around and it started to come along. Once we figured out the bar location, we started knocking down walls on paper and started figuring out where the stage was going and all the changes we were going to make. It was super stressful, but I had a blast. Measure twice and cut once – it was a tough process to meet the timelines, handle the bank, the City and their requirements…but it was so much fun.”
And with that, Salvador Dobbs was then opened in January of 2018. “Having Little Gretel, all I did was work. They told me that if I opened a 2nd location you’d work less. I didn’t believe that. But you learn how to delegate and stop being in a location 24/7 and how to trust others. I learned how to run it, find staff, and have more time with my family. And that’s what I found. I fixed my finances, and it stabilized me to be around more for the kids.”
The learning curve was fast and furious for Brown as well. With 2 businesses to manage, time was a premium that had to be sorted out quickly. “I learned that I can’t do it all. I did it all at Little Gretel and I had to learn that I just couldn’t do it on my own. I had to learn how to organize my time, how to trust employees, and how to hire better people. I was walked all over when I was at Little Gretel by staffing, and I learned how to manage those situations better and figure it out. The first year and a half at Dobbs was tough and I didn’t stop. I would be at the restaurant all day, at the bar all night, go home at 2am and be back at 8am. It was rough but that’s what it took to make things successful.”
Since then, Brown’s life has stabilized a bit and she’s found the balance she has long wanted. “It’s gone fabulous. The support I got from the community from the shutdown from COVID was unreal. I was devastated and scared – how would I make it through that? My banker helped me, the community, and my staff saved us. They lived off unemployment and came back the second we could open our doors. During the shutdown, the love from everyone was just amazing. And my staff keeping their spirits up and we were closed for 7 total months, which is just impossible. It’s done what I wanted it to do – all walks of life coming through the door. These musicians bring life to people and seeing people come back to normal and having an escape in this town is just so valuable to me. I love watching people just be safe and cordial and personable and experience life. It makes my heart so happy. It’s been extremely successful and it’s like a party from one day to the next.”
As for her successes, Brown credits the majority of it to two groups of people: the population of Kendall County in general, and her staff. “I’ve grown up here, and I love this town. It’s growing like mad, but I couldn’t do what I do without the support of this community. The support over the years has been humbling. People came into our restaurant and have told us that they are going to move here because of the restaurant. During the shutdown, we had to pay our extortion fee to re-open Dobbs and we had to serve food. So we sold canned goods that people could buy to keep our doors open. We had people walking in and just buying dozens of cans so we could get our revenues up, and we would then donate the purchased goods into local charities. We had one guy call in from Chicago and donate $300 in canned goods and we then donated that back. That support was insane – we were able to receive the support and then simultaneously give back to the community.
My staff also – I simply can’t speak highly enough of them. Really. These industries are so difficult management wise, and I have been blessed with a staff that I genuinely just love as human beings and their help and support from day one until today has been invaluable. We’re all friends even though we’re co-workers, and the blood, sweat, and tears that they put into these businesses is simply so humbling. They’ve been there to lift me up at my darkest moments and to cheer as a group at our successes and I would talk about them for an hour if you’d let me. And I hope they read this and know truly how I feel about them!” she laughs.
As she wraps up, Brown comes back to her family roots with her projects, and speaks briefly about what they mean to her as well. She finishes, “Working with family can be tough, and yeah, we get into fights…but that’s family, right? It’s been great working with my mother and she’s such the talented inspirational chef and my dad has taught me so much. They have been extremely supportive of all I’ve done, though we all butt heads from time to time, but it’s the only people you can really trust. At the end of the day, we’re family and I’m so grateful for them. Also my fiancee Kevin has been crucial in all of this as he has helped me stay focused and help with the kids. So I couldn’t do it without him, either” So basically, these people around me are my biggest blessings and I’m so thankful for all of them.”