“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Raul Martinez-Salinas III of owning and operating Wong’s Bodega. Though until April 2020, his sole focus had been his work with nonprofits as a lawyer. The historic space at the Wong Grocery Company Building became available in October 2019 and he knew this was his chance to add something of value to his immediate neighborhood.
Raul stands near a stand full of local produce
Raul explains his love of local coffee roasters to Centro Senior Main Street Navigator Linda Stone
Our Senior Main Street Navigator reached out to Raul to learn how his business is doing in the current economy. Raul opened the store just after the onset of the global pandemic. “I was trying to be a resource,” he explains. People in the area were relieved they had a spot to purchase essentials during such an uncertain time. Word of the bodega spread quickly. People were walking in from the immediate area and driving in to experience Wong’s selection of local offerings.
Raul emphasizes healthy living as part of his business model. He offers a diverse array of vegan offerings, from frozen pizza to fresh local produce. He works with local vendors to source organic meat as well. It’s a point of pride for him that he offers most of the local coffee roasters. (He wants to offer all of them, so if you have a lead, hit him up.)
“We want to provide a space where people can come in and fulfill that creative desire."
The shop hosts a vegan food truck just outside, a drop off point for compost, and recycling for glass and aluminum. To honor this holistic experience, Raul has teamed up with the Ecumenical Center to offer mental health resources to his employees. He also provides opportunities to local artists. “We want to provide a space where people can come in and fulfill that creative desire,” he explains. Artist Alain Gakwaya’s powerful work adorns an entire side of the store.
Painting by artist Alain Gakwaya
The entire Wong Grocery Company Building has been curated to be a health and wellness center. It hosts an acupuncturist, Masseur, and Smoothie Bar among others. This is a callback to the buildings’ importance nearly a century ago. In the 1920’s, the Wong family immigrated to San Antonio from China. They purchased the building from a German family and set about creating a grocery store that served as a linchpin for the surrounding community.
Art on the wall featuring images of the historic Wong family.
Though many aspects of San Antonio’s past inevitably faded away, Raul wants to honor and preserve the legacy of the Wong family. He proudly displays an original scale and grocery cart as a testament to the power of community gathering places. When it is safe and appropriate again, he hopes to host artists, musicians, community library, coffee shop, and local vendors to build up a place where anyone in the community can feel safe to hang around and socialize.
“The whole idea of the bodega is that you get to know your neighbors.” - Raul Martinez-Salinas III We’re glad to be able to help our neighbor by connecting him with resources to help build his business. Centro’s Main Street Program strives to be a good neighbor to all downtown businesses.
“The whole idea of the bodega is that you get to know
Centro San Antonio's Main Street Economic Development Program is part of the City of San Antonio’s Recovery and Resiliency Plan. The Main Street Navigator team conducts outreach to micro and small businesses to provide support and connect them to critical capital and business development resources. If you own a business downtown, contact us at MainStreet@downtownsa.org. For more Main Street resources, please visit centrosanantonio.org