Christian Bernard offers patrons a convenient one-stop shop for both local deli favorites and international flavors at Urbana Market and Deli and Sugarbakers.
By: Jessica Dusek
Photos by: Dark Lab Photography
“I don’t know if I fell into it or if it was more so destined,” describes Christian Bernard of his lifelong career in the restaurant industry. The chef-turned-entrepreneur shares his colorful palette with Corpus locals, offering some European candor. In February 2017, he will open his second restaurant, Urbana Market and Deli in Corpus Christi on the corner of Chaparral and Schatzell. The specialty store will offer homemade premier deli options, including sandwiches, pastas, salads and individual pizzas made and baked onsite.
“Our goal is to carry organic chicken and beef – we are aiming to get as much organic and local as possible,” Bernard explains. Urbana Market will provide a new lunch spot, as well as supply households with party appetizers and hors d’oeuvres, including artisan cheeses and sausages to European crackers and jellies.
“We will have an estimated 80 craft beers throughout the store,” explains Bernard of the international beverage section. You can hear the excitement rise in his voice. Also carrying unique wine offerings for patrons, “We tried to put together a thoughtful and interesting list.”
Onsite, they will feature individual pizzas, ordered to-go. “The menu is designed to be quick and homemade,” Bernard says. Emphasizing the “homemade” and rustic feel of a pizza kitchen onsite, their oven has been built to mimic a traditional brick oven, reaching the same temperature (800 degrees) as a wood stove. With experience in French, Italian and even Caribbean style cuisine, Bernard is enthusiastic to bring these options to Corpus Christi locals.
In 2013, Bernard and his wife, Ashley, bought and remodeled Sugarbakers Bistro and Bakery, a local spot since the ‘90s that was opened an additional two times by the same person, and under two names after that. “The notion of change was more about expansion than change,” Bernard says. “There were six salads and eight sandwiches. We kept that core intact.”
They have grown the business annually, and have worked their way to a staff of 20 people. “The lady that started it was extremely talented with cakes, and she was way more interested in the cake business than the restaurant,” Bernard explains. “So when I took it over, I kind of flipped the script. My focus was on building the menu.”
Focusing on the entrée-style menu, the patron receives a choice of two sides with a main dish (beef, chicken or seafood). When asked about one of his favorites, Bernard says, “If you give me a good piece of beef tenderloin with a good demi sauce,” he smiles. Married with a red wine and portabella mushroom, it appears to be something to write home about – and it’s also available on the menu.
Bistros to Caribbean: Christian’s restaurant rendezvous
Growing up on the East Coast, Bernard had early exposure to the industry, as his grandmother and uncles all owned restaurants. He particularly gained early influence while working at a local respective French bistro. “I started to wash dishes in 1989,” he recalls. “I had just turned 14 and was in high school.”
It was his time here that caused him to become comfortable with all aspects of the business. The restaurant, Le Bistro, was located in a small Rhode Island coastal town, Newport. Moving up in duties, he was a bit of an apprentice to the owner. “I eventually became the sous chef and the pastry chef – helping the owner manage the restaurant.” With his eight years at Le Bistro, he learned and grew his culinary and management skills. “That was really my foundation, my experience there,” he explains.
Shifting the scenery, in 1997, he decided to take a breath of fresh air and headed West with a friend. His plan? “To go snowboarding,” he laughs. Gaining experience at West Coast chain, Chart House Steak and Seafood House, he quickly became a manager. His lens transferred from working in the kitchen to a real management position in Salt Lake City. However, business wasn’t growing upward steadily. “As the company went into a downward trajectory, I looked for something else.”
Landing a spot at Lone Star, also a steakhouse, his franchise lens ramped up, as he became the manager overseeing location openings. “Becoming the GM, it was my first opportunity to manage an operation,” he explains. Several storefront openings caused him to travel around the country to Little Rock, Daytona Beach, Louisiana and Salt Lake to launch each location.
“You learn a lot – the process of hiring and setting up at each location.” The time put in was grueling, yet rewarding. “There were some weeks during the Daytona Beach opening I was working 80 to 90-plus hours per week, but it was priceless information for me.” He describes of the four-year endeavor, “It was an exciting time – fun and hectic.”
Yet, his most exotic chef gig was soon to come. “By the summer, I got my spot on a yacht!” After getting rid of most of his belongings, he decided to jump on his motorcycle from Utah and ride cross-country back home to Newport, R.I. “I had a, well, early life crisis,” he says with some humor and sincerity. Homeward bound, he was determined to land a position off of the harbor. “Newport has a rich sailing history,” he explains. The restaurant I grew up working in was right in the middle of the harbor. There was no better place to go.”
Once landing in Newport, “I began bartending to make contacts,” he explains. Connecting with the next “right” opportunity, he became head chef on a 160-foot, 3-masted Schooner, “Arrabella,” traveling to and from the Virgin Islands. He would serve patrons traveling to and from St. Thomas, St. John and the British Virgin Islands.
He remembers a popular dish among patrons, with tantalizing flavors of fresh chicken, mango chutney, with a side of plantains. Preparing Caribbean island-style dishes, Bernard continued in this position for a year, preparing three meals per day, seven days a week for 25 to 35 passengers. Learning the business aspects, he had a 360-degree grasp on what made the business side function. “From a financial perspective and business operation, it’s really easy to sink a ship if you can’t control those two,” Bernard explains. No pun intended.
Landing in Corpus Christi, Bernard was able to fit right in at Joe’s Crab Shack. “My wife was working at the Joe’s Crab Shack at the time,” he explains. “We worked together for a year, and she resigned so we could start dating,” he chuckles. After getting married, the husband-and-wife team went on the hunt to liven a local spot with some menu additions.
“As much as I liked doing my own thing, we looked at doing something that was established, instead of doing a startup,” he explains. “To me, [Sugarbakers] looked like a great opportunity – had tons of room for growth.”
With Urbana Market and Deli, the Bernards hope to heighten the pallet and taste buds of patrons with their carefully selected local deli options and international flavors with a convenient one-stop shop.