San Chez shifts café across the hall

When San Chez opened its doors 23 years ago the Heartside District was not exactly a thriving hub for grub.

“In 1992 the Heartside District was very rundown, there were empty buildings,” said San Chez owner Cindy Schneider. “There were not many people moving around downtown. It’s definitely much better now.”

While the neighborhood itself has transformed, San Chez, 38 Fulton St W, has also continued to evolve over the years, while serving up its signature tapas and cuisine.

“One thing is we always keep changing,” Schneider said. “We have allergy menus now, you can walk in and say, ‘I’m gluten free’ and we’ll hand you your own separate menu.”

The latest undertaking for San Chez happened last month when the dining areas were consolidated into the larger room – the café side will now be rented for special events. “We have brought all three meals into the Bistro to help us serve our guests better,” Schneider said. “The merge for us is just a little bit difficult because it feels like you’re working in a new restaurant but the atmosphere and culture of everything in that room is very electric, it’s very fun.”

Schneider said she’s aware of the café’s beloved vibe and the company invested in construction work to help preserve that atmosphere in the larger room. “We didn’t want to lose the café culture,” she said. “So we brought the booths over and brightened the walls,” she said. “With that, we wanted to also create a better bar culture, so we designed a wall to divide the two spaces. There’s now a separate area for our takeout and coffee service, too.”

As for the menu, regulars need not worry. The move across the hall won’t affect its popular menu items, like the Blue Cheese Fritters and Garlic Shrimp Tapas.

“There’s not much difference in the food, just some new additions,” Schneider said. “For instance, we brought back the Classic Cuban Panini sandwiches and we’ve added some new items in breakfast and lunch – but we’ve maintained all of our favorites, like the Cinnamon French Toast and the Traditional Breakfast.”

Aside from the big move across the hall, San Chez’s other focus has remained on being remarkably green. “We’re much more focused on locally grown, locally sourced,” Schneider said. “We’re a farm to table, table to farm restaurant. Not only do we use local farmers, but we turn around and compost. We are 97.4 percent green. We have very little actual trash because we recycle and compost. It’s those types of things that got us where we are today.”