First Mate was once the king of seafood in San Antonio

More than five decades ago, San Antonio furniture man Jay S. Honigblum had the most unlikely idea. He believed that the people of San Anton were secretly hungry for fish.

Old Town Cow Town’s civic appetite had already been rooted in decades of Mexican cuisine.

But Honingblum had this hunch, which for a short time in the 1970s turned out to be a resounding success: the people of San Anton also wanted fried fish and shrimp.

Honigblum built a riverboat-like restaurant at Buena Vista and South Zarzamora streets, hired cooks and crew, and on April 6, 1970, opened the hatches of “First Mate”.

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The first restaurant looked like an “updated river barge” painted red, white and blue, according to a San Antonio Express article.

The 10-foot chimney “emitted steam in conjunction with lights flashing the three themed colors,” the newspaper reported. “To enter the building, customers had to take a walkway. The sound of the “ship” horn will sound from time to time. »

A 1975 First Mate ad that ran in the San Antonio Express.

San Antonio Express Archive

Fifteen months after the first restaurant opened, First Mate had five stores and a processing plant in San Antonio. The chain – which served fried fish, corn on the cob, shrimp gumbo, fried pies and strawberry shortcakes – planned to have 10 stores in the town of Alamo by the fall of 1971 and was working to expand to Houston.

At first, the chain brought a steady supply of fresh and salt water fish and oysters inland from Port Aransas and Galveston.

The Hearst newspaper archives, which include the San Antonio Express, Morning News and Light newspapers, are full of job postings, sales stages and restaurant openings.

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In 1975, the chain’s menu expanded to feature Southern fried chicken with “flavors to chuckle” and a submarine sandwich worth “diving into,” according to an ad in the San Antonio. Express.

Dubbed “Earthland Specialties,” the expanded menu was meant to be a “great tasty alternative for Earthlings and Seals,” according to the ad.

But First Mate’s expanded menu and early success didn’t last long.

By September 1977, First Mate had closed all ten seafood restaurants in Alamo City and gone bankrupt.

Ray Ellison, the company’s financial adviser, told reporters they closed because they weren’t making enough money to satisfy the chain’s owners.

Years after First Mate closed, other nautical-themed restaurants opened in San Antonio and South Texas, including Spanish Galleon, a seafood restaurant designed to look like a large, multi-deck ship used by Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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