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2 San Antonio companies clock in among top employers in Texas, says Forbes

Climbing the corporate ladder

Photo courtesy of H-E-B

It doesn’t take too much number crunching to figure out that San Antonio is home to two of the Lone Star State’s most admired employers. And now, they are both getting a pat on the back for a job well done.

According to Forbes magazine, which just released its lists of the country’s best large employers and best startup employers, San Antonio boasts two of the best in the U.S.

New rankings from Forbes put San Antonio-based H-E-B at No. 38 on its list of the best large employers in the U.S. Additionally, San Antonio banking and insurance giant USAA cashes in with a No. 135 ranking on the best large employers list.

USAA employs some 36,000 workers and has routinely earned a spot on Forbes’ variety of employer-focused best of lists. Likewise, H-E-B, most Texans’ top choice of grocer, also regularly makes the cut on Forbes’ best of employer lists, and employs about 100,000 workers.

Though plenty of startups in Texas made the Forbes list of the best startup employers in the country, no San Antonio companies did.

Other Texas employers ranked among the best large employers in the U.S. are:

  • No. 9 — University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas
  • No. 10 — MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston
  • No. 16 — Bestow, Dallas
  • No. 37 — Houston Methodist, Houston
  • No. 49 — RealPage, Richardson
  • No. 56 — Southwest Airlines, Dallas
  • No. 140 — Keller Williams Realty, Austin
  • No. 143 — Dell Technologies, Round Rock
  • No. 214 — Texas Tech University, Lubbock
  • No. 245 — Waste Management, Houston
  • No. 253 — Toyota North America, Plano
  • No. 279 — University of Texas at Austin
  • No. 314 — Sysco, Houston
  • No. 318 — Daikin Industries, Waller
  • No. 324 — Whole Foods Market, Austin
  • No. 361 — Shell Oil, Houston
  • No. 370 — Cinemark, Plano
  • No. 375 — Jacobs, Dallas
  • No. 389 — Halliburton, Houston
  • No. 394 — Topgolf, Dallas
  • No. 399 — Primoris Services, Dallas
  • No. 403 — Schlumberger, Houston
  • No. 422 — Fluor, Irving
  • No. 423 — CBRE, Dallas
  • No. 429 — McKesson, Irving
  • No. 440 — ExxonMobil, Houston
  • No. 446 — American Airlines, Fort Worth
  • No. 483 — Keurig Dr Pepper, Plano
  • No. 487 — BP, Houston (North American headquarters)

What follows are the Texas employers ranked among the best startup employers in the country.

Austin

No. 104 — Apty
No. 121 — Homeward
No. 169 — SparkCognition
No. 186 — Outdoor Voices
No. 255 — Outdoorsy
No. 323 — ICON
No. 324 — The Zebra
No. 330 — TrustRadius
No. 335 — Innovetive Petcare (Cedar Park)
No. 387 — AlertMedia
No. 400 — Iris Telehealth
No. 410 — Wheel
No. 455 — Billd
No. 460 — Aceable
No. 470 — Shipwell

Dallas

No. 16 — Bestow
No. 290 — Slync.io

Houston

No. 120 — Imbuit
No. 310 — Code Ninjas (Pearland)
No. 353 — Axiom Space
No. 462 — Liongard

Forbes teamed up with data and research company Statista to develop the rankings of the best large employers and best startup employers.

Photo courtesy of H-E-B

H-E-B bags a top spot on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies

Here, everything’s bigger

San Antonio-based H-E-B holds a special place in the hearts of Texas grocery shoppers. It also holds a special place among the country’s privately owned companies.

H-E-B ranks fifth on Forbes’ new list of the country’s largest privately owned companies based on annual revenue. According to Forbes, the grocery chain’s annual revenue is $32.8 billion, making it the largest private company in Texas. On its website, H-E-B reports annual sales of $32 billion.

Meanwhile, trade publication Progressive Grocer lists H-E-B’s 2020 revenue at $36.8 billion, which puts it in 13th place among North America’s largest grocery retailers. And trade publication Supermarket News pegs H-E-B’s 2020-21 revenue at nearly $31.8 billion, which gives it the No. 15 ranking among the biggest food and grocery retailers in the U.S. and Canada.

H-E-B’s financial success can be tied in large part to its popularity among Texas grocery shoppers.

This year, Amazon knocked H-E-B off its No. 1 perch as America’s best grocery retailer in a survey by market research company Dunnhumby. H-E-B fell to No. 2 this year. H-E-B had grabbed the top spot from Trader Joe’s in Dunnhumby’s 2020 survey.

Trade publication Grocery Dive noted that H-E-B’s No. 1 ranking in last year’s Dunnhumby survey reflected the chain’s “efforts to cultivate a strong customer base among Texans with customer service, local products, and unique experiences in each store.”

The only other San Antonio company on the Forbes list is construction engineering company Zachry Group. It ranks 225th, with annual revenue of $2 billion.

Nearly all of the other Texas companies in the Forbes ranking are based in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas. Thirteen DFW companies and five Houston companies show up on the list.

Dallas-Fort Worth

  • Grand Prairie-based alcohol and wine distributor Republic National Distributing, No. 25, $11.9 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based conglomerate Sammons Enterprises, No. 70, $5.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • McKinney-based roofing distributor SRS Distribution, No. 80, $5.4 billion in annual revenue.
  • Irving-based arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels, No. 81, $5.3 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based luxury retailer Neiman Marcus, No. 101, $4.7 billion in annual revenue.
  • Irving-based electrical systems and equipment maker Consolidated Electrical Distributors, No. 103, $4.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Fort Worth-based food and beverage distributor Ben E. Keith, No. 107, $4.2 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based oil and gas explorer Hunt Consolidated, No. 113, $4 billion in annual revenue.
  • Frisco-based transportation and logistics software provider Transplace, No. 127, $3.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Addison-based cosmetics retailer Mary Kay, No. 164, $2.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • Plano-based senior healthcare provider Golden Living, No. 178, $2.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based general contractor Austin Industries, No. 217, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based transportation and logistics company Mode Transportation, No. 220, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.

Houston

  • Car dealership group Gulf States Toyota, No. 45, $8.3 billion in annual revenue.
  • Energy company Calpine, No. 48, $8 billion in annual revenue.
  • Petroleum and petrochemical products marketer Tauber Oil, No. 61, $6.7 billion in annual revenue.
  • Casino, restaurant, and sports conglomerate Fertitta Entertainment, No. 166, $2.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • BMC Software, No. 219, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.

One other company on the Forbes list, New Jersey-based IT company SHI International Corp., has a strong connection to Texas. Austin billionaire Thai Lee, with a net worth estimated at $4.1 billion, is co-founder, president, and CEO of SHI. The company ranks 28th on the Forbes list, with annual revenue of $11.1 billion.

Dozens of Texas billionaires cash in on Forbes list of richest Americans

Lone Star loaded

The latest Forbes 400 list, which ranks the richest Americans, shows that the Lone Star State may be the real breadwinner, with dozens of Texans noted as some of the wealthiest people in the country.

Though no San Antonians made the cut for the list, Texas does boast the second-richest American, according to Forbes: Tesla and SpaceX guru Elon Musk, who also lands at No. 1 among the richest Texans. No shocker there.

What is shocking, however, is how much Musk’s net worth skyrocketed from 2020 to 2021. Hint: It’s more than $100 billion.

This year, the Forbes 400 estimates his net worth stood at $190.5 billion as of September 3. Last year, Musk’s estimated net worth was $68 billion. This means that from 2020 to 2021, his net worth exploded by $122.5 billion, or 180 percent.

Among the richest Americans, only Amazon’s Jeff Bezos beats Musk — but not by much. The Forbes 400 pegs Bezos’ net worth at $201 billion as of September 3, up from $179 billion at the same time last year.

Forbes lists Musk’s residence as Austin, although he has said he spends much of his time in Boca Chica. The Texas Gulf Coast community hosts Starbase, a launch site for SpaceX rockets. Regardless of precisely where he lives, Musk does spend a lot of time in the Austin area, where Tesla is building a $1.1 billion vehicle manufacturing plant. Musk relocated to Texas last year.

Before Musk arrived in the Lone Star State, Walmart heir Alice Walton of Fort Worth ranked as the richest person in Texas. She’s now in second place, with a net worth estimated at $67.9 billion. Walton ranks as the 12th richest American and richest American woman on this year’s Forbes 400.

Aside from Musk, here’s how billionaires from major metros in Texas fared on the Forbes 400 list:

Austin

Michael Dell, founder, chairman, and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies has an estimated net worth of $50.1 billion. He was ranked No. 3. in Texas and No. 18 in the U.S.

Robert Smith, founder, chairman, and CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners has an estimated net worth of $6.7 billion. He was ranked No. 9. in Texas and No. 141 in the U.S.

Vodka titan Bert “Tito” Beveridge. His estimated net worth is $4.8 billion, putting him at No. 18. in Texas and No. 224 (tie) in the country.

IT entrepreneur Thai Lee, who has an estimated net worth of $4.1 billion, with a Texas rank of No. 27 (tie) and a U.S. ranking at No. 273 (tie).

Software entrepreneur Joe Liemandt. His estimated net worth is $3 billion. He ranked No. 33 (tie) in Texas and No. 377 (tie) in the country.

Jim Bryer, founder and CEO of venture capital firm Bryer Capital. His estimated net worth is $2.9 billion, which ranks him at No. 35 (tie) in Texas and No. 389 (tie) in the U.S.

Dallas-Fort Worth

Banking and real estate mogul Andy Beal of Dallas holds the No. 5 spot in Texas and No. 78 nationally. His estimated net worth is $9.9 billion.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones of Dallas sits at No. 7 in Texas and No. 86 nationally with an estimated net worth of $9.1 billion.

Money manager Ken Fisher of Dallas ranks 10th in Texas and 151st nationally with an estimated net worth of $6.4 billion.

Oil and real estate titan Ray Lee Hunt of Dallas ranks 16th in Texas and ties for 188th nationally with an estimated net worth of $5.7 billion.

Oil and investment mogul Robert Bass of Fort Worth ranks 17th in Texas and ties for 212th nationally with an estimated net worth of $5 billion.

Private equity kingpin David Bonderman of Fort Worth ties for 21st in Texas and ties for 247th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Media magnate and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of Dallas ties for 21st in Texas and ties for 247th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Oil and gas honcho Trevor Rees-Jones of Dallas ties for 21st in Texas and ties for 247th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Hotel and investment guru Robert Rowling of Dallas ranks 25th in Texas and ties for 261st nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.3 billion.

Margot Birmingham Perot of Dallas, widow of tech and real estate entrepreneur H. Ross Perot Sr., ties for 27th in Texas and ties for 273rd nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.1 billion.

Oil and gas tycoon Kelcy Warren of Dallas ranks 29th in Texas and ties for 289th nationally with an estimated net worth of $3.9 billion.

Real estate bigwig H. Ross Perot Jr. of Dallas ranks 32nd in Texas and 363rd nationally with an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion.

Homebuilder Donald Horton and family of Fort Worth tie for 35th in Texas and tie for 389th nationally with an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion.

Oil baron W. Herbert Hunt of Dallas ties for 35th in Texas and ties for 389th nationally with an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion.

Houston

Pipeline magnate Richard Kinder of Houston ranks eighth in Texas and 128th nationally with an estimated net worth of $7.1 billion.

Hospitality king and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta of Houston ranks 11th in Texas and 158th nationally with an estimated net worth of $6.3 billion.

Houston pipeline heirs Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, Milane Frantz, and Randa Duncan Williams tie for 12th place in Texas and tie for 161st nationally. Each has an estimated net worth of $6.2 billion.

Software entrepreneur Robert Brockman of Houston ranks 19th in Texas and ties for 229th nationally with a net worth of $4.7 billion.

Oil mogul Jeffery Hildebrand of Houston ranks 20th in Texas and ties for 240th nationally with a net worth of $4.6 billion.

Toyota mega-dealer Dan Friedkin of Houston ranks 24th in Texas and ties for 253rd with an estimated net worth of $4.4 billion.

Houston Texans owner Janice McNair of Houston ranks 26th in Texas and ties for 269th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion.

Hedge fund honcho John Arnold of Houston ties for 30th in Texas and ties for 358th nationally with an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion.

Forbes

San Antonio salsa baron spices up Forbes' new list of world billionaires

Pace yourself

It pays to be in the salsa biz. Or rather, it pays when you sell your $1 billion salsa biz to a major food company. That's what landed San Antonian Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury on Forbes' recent list of the world's billionaires, along with several other Alamo City capitalists.

On April 6, Forbes released its 2021 list of the world’s billionaires, which includes Goldsbury, who sold his Pace Foods to Campbell Soup for $1.12 billion in 1994 and later backed the revitalization of the Pearl through his Silver Ventures private equity firm. Forbes ranked Goldsbury as No. 1,833 on its billionaires list, estimating his net worth at $1.7 billion.

Other San Antonians making the list include James Leininger, aka Dr. Jim, founder of medical-device company Kinetic Concepts. He landed at No. 2,035 on the list, with an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion. Coming in at No. 2,035, with an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion was car dealership and telecommunications tycoon Red McCombs.

Eclectic entrepreneur (and supposed recent Austin transplant) Elon Musk holds the list's top billionaire in Texas spot, officially knocking Walmart heiress Alice Walton of Fort Worth off her longtime perch as the richest person in Texas. Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, landed at No. 2 globally with a net worth of $151 billion. He sat at No. 31 in last year’s ranking. Forbes lists Musk’s place of residence as Austin, although he hasn’t confirmed where in Texas he settled last year.

Now at No. 2 in Texas is Walton, whose net worth is $61.8 billion. That puts her at No. 17 on the global list. Walton is the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton; as of December 2020, the Walton family still reigned as the richest family in the U.S., with Alice Walton's wealth accounting for a little over one-fourth of the family fortune.

The only other Texan who comes close to Musk and Walton in the Forbes ranking is longtime Austin-area billionaire Michael Dell. The chairman and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies boasts a net worth of $45.1 billion. That places him at No. 30 on the global list and No. 3 in Texas.

In all, the Forbes list features 64 Texas billionaires collectively worth $460.1 billion. (What pandemic?) Among the state’s metro areas, Dallas-Fort Worth leads with 27 billionaires, followed by Houston (17), Austin (10), and San Antonio (three).

What follows is a breakdown of Texas billionaires in other cities, including their global ranking, source of wealth, and estimated net worth.

Austin:

  • Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX, No. 2, $151 billion
  • Michael Dell, technology, No. 30, $45.1 billion
  • Robert F. Smith, private equity, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Bert “Tito” Beveridge, vodka, No. 622, $4.6 billion
  • Thai Lee, information technology, No. 956, $3.2 billion
  • Joe Liemandt, software, No. 1,008, $3 billion
  • John Paul DeJoria, hair care and tequila, No. 1,174, $2.7 billion
  • Jim Breyer, venture capital, No. 1,249, $2.5 billion
  • David Booth, mutual funds, No. 1,750, $1.8 billion
  • Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble dating app, No. 2,263, $1.3 billion

Dallas:

  • Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys owner, No. 264, $8.9 billion
  • Andy Beal, banking and real estate, No. 311, $7.9 billion
  • Mark Cuban, online media and Dallas Mavericks owner, No. 655, $4.4 billion
  • Ray Lee Hunt, oil and real estate, No. 680, $4.2 billion
  • Margot Birmingham Perot, technology and real estate, No. 705, $4.1 billion
  • Trevor Rees-Jones, oil and gas, No. 727, $4 billion
  • Robert Rowling, Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym, No. 752, $3.9 billion
  • Kelcy Warren, pipelines, No. 891, $3.4 billion
  • H. Ross Perot Jr., real estate, No. 1,174, $2.7 billion
  • Gerald Ford, banking, No. 1,249, $2.5 billion
  • Ray Davis, pipelines, No. 1,517, $2.1 billion
  • W. Herbert Hunt, oil, No. 1,580, $2 billion
  • Todd Wagner, online media, No. 1,664, $1.9 billion
  • Stephen Winn, real estate services, No. 1,664, $1.9 billion
  • Kenny Troutt, telecom, No. 2,035, $1.5 billion
  • Darwin Deason, software, No. 2,141, $1.4 billion
  • Timothy Headington, oil and gas/investments, No. 2,141, $1.4 billion
  • A. Jayson Adair, car salvage business, No. 2,674, $1 billion

Houston:

  • Richard Kinder, pipelines, No. 369, $7 billion
  • Dannine Avara, pipelines, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Robert Brockman, software, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Scott Duncan, pipelines, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Milane Frantz, pipelines, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Randa Duncan Williams, pipelines, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Tilman Fertitta, Houston Rockets owner/food/entertainment, No. 622, $4.6 billion
  • Dan Friedkin, Toyota dealerships, No. 705, $4.1 billion
  • Janice McNair, Houston Texans owner and energy, No. 705, $4.1 billion
  • John Arnold, hedge funds, No. 925, $3.3 billion
  • Jeffery Hildebrand, oil, No. 1,580, $2 billion
  • Leslie Alexander, former Houston Rockets owner, No. 1,750, $1.8 billion
  • Fayez Sarofim, money management, No. 2,035, $1.5 billion
  • Jim Crane, Houston Astros owner and logistics, No. 2,141, $1.4 billion
  • Wilbur “Ed” Bosarge Jr., high-speed trading, No. 2,674, $1 billion

Two billionaires in the Houston suburbs also show up on the list:

  • Leo Koguan of Sugar Land, information technology services, No. 1,444, $2.2 billion
  • George Bishop of The Woodlands, oil and gas, No. 1,517, $2.1 billion

Aside from Walton, Fort Worth billionaires on the list are:

  • Robert Bass, oil and investments, No. 550, $5.1 billion
  • David Bonderman, private equity, No. 705, $4.1 billion
  • Sid Bass, oil and investments, No. 1,064 $2.9 billion
  • Donald Horton, homebuilding, No. 1,299, $2.4 billion
  • Edward Bass, oil and investments, No. 1,444, $2.2 billion
  • Lee Bass, oil and investments, No. 1,664, $1.9 billion
  • John Goff, real estate, No. 2,263, $1.3 billion

Grand San Antonio hotel and spa earns four-star ratings from prestigious travel guide

High-end honor

Two hotels and one spa in San Antonio have checked in among the best in the world.

The Forbes Travel Guide revealed February 16 that a local hotel —Mokara Hotel & Spa — received four-star ratings for both its hotel and spa facilities. Hotel Emma also received a nod, earning a recommended rating. The Forbes Travel Guide awards five stars to its highest-rated properties.

In assessing hotels, Forbes Travel Guide inspectors stay at every property for three days and two nights, posing as regular guests and paying their own way. They judge each one on 900 standards, such as whether food and beverage choices are health-conscious, how nice the décor is, and how well the staff’s uniforms are designed.

This isn't the only recent accolade the Mokara Hotel & Spa has earned lately. In February, U.S. News & World Report named it one of the 2021 Best Hotels, giving it a Gold Badge rating.

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin's Archer Hotel Austin, Four Seasons Hotel Austin, and Fairmont Austin also earned four-star ratings. The Four Seasons spa also garnered four stars. One other property, Hotel Granduca Austin, received a “recommended” rating.

Houston, meanwhile had two spas and six hotels on the list, one of which — The Post Oak Hotel — earned five-star ratings. Dallas also had two spas and six hotels in the edition of the guide, with the Ritz-Carlton Dallas earning the city's sole five-star rating.

Photo courtesy of Texas State History Museum Foundation

This San Antonio clan cashes in on Forbes' list of richest American families

Family fortune

In 2020, no company racked up better publicity that H-E-B, but that's not the only thing they earned.

H-E-B owners and namesake, the Butt family, is among the richest families in the U.S., according to a ranking released December 17 by Forbes.

At No. 15 among the country’s wealthiest families, the Butts have a net worth of $17.8 billion. Charles Butt is chairman and CEO of the H-E-B grocery chain, based in San Antonio. Butt, grandson of H-E-B founder Florence Butt, and three relatives — sister Mary Butt Crook and two nephews — own the grocery giant. The company’s annual sales are around $28 billion.

But it's the Walton family of Fort Worth that once again reigns as the richest family in the U.S. Their net worth: $247 billion. That sum represents close to half of Walmart’s annual revenue and is equivalent to the size of Chile’s economy.

The net worth of Fort Worth billionaire Alice Walton, the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, accounts for a little over one-fourth of the family fortune. Forbes estimates she’s worth about $68 billion, making her the richest resident of Texas and the richest Walton heir. If Alice Walton were a family unto herself, she’d rank as the fourth wealthiest clan in the country.

Descendants of Sam Walton and brother Bud Walton own about half of Walmart’s stock. Forbes says the stock generates more than $700 million in annual dividend income for the family.

Alice Walton isn’t the only Texan who’s a member of the Walton dynasty. Ann Walton Kroenke, one of the two daughters of Bud Walton, lives on a 535,000-acre ranch about 50 miles northwest of Wichita Falls. She is worth about $9.1 billion and is married to sports and entertainment titan Stan Kroenke, who’s worth an estimated $8.3 billion.

The Butts and the Waltons aren't the only wealth families in the Lone Star State.

Houston’s Duncan family, with a net worth of $22 billion, appears at No. 11 on the Forbes list. The four children of pipeline mogul Dan Duncan — Randa Duncan Williams, Milane Frantz, Dannine Duncan Avara, and Scott Duncan — inherited a $10 billion estate from their father when he died in 2010. The net worth of each heir exceeds $5 billion.

Randa enjoys the highest profile among the four Duncan siblings. She is chairwoman of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline giant founded by her father, and owns Austin-based Texas Monthly magazine.

The Hunt family, whose members are descendants of oil wildcatter H.L. Hunt, sit at No. 18 on the Forbes list with a net worth of $15.5 billion. The richest among them are billionaires Ray Lee Hunt and W. Herbert Hunt, both of Dallas.

Rounding out the Texas contingent on the Forbes list are members of Fort Worth’s Bass family. The Basses hold down the No. 30 spot with a net worth of $10.8 billion. The four Bass brothers — Sid, Edward, Robert, and Lee — each inherited $2.8 billion from their oil tycoon uncle Sid Richardson after his death in 1959. Robert is the wealthiest of the foursome.

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San Antonio Missions hit home run with new owners, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. San Antonio's minor league baseball team scores new owners, including Texas sports legends. San Antonio's minor league baseball team is back to being locally owned — by some big names.

2. H-E-B unveils new line of merchandise for super fans, available exclusively at this store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise, in celebration of its 117th anniversary and in honor of its first store.

3. San Antonio market continues to see prices going up and sales going down. San Antonio home sales dropped 19 percent from October 2021.

4. San Antonio Rodeo wrangles even more musical acts for star-studded 2023. Turnpike Troubadours joined the already impressive lineup for the 2023 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

5. San Antonio children's theater adapts timeless children's book for the holidays. Magik Theatre celebrates The Velveteen Rabbit as a Christmas story, with inclusive special performances.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

New self-guided tour showcases iconic Fort Worth Stockyards' many Hollywood ties

Tinseltown in Cowtown

A new self-guided tour showcasing the Fort Worth Stockyards’ many star-studded appearances in cinema throughout the years recently debuted in time for the 16th annual Lone Star Film Festival, which took place earlier this month in the Stockyards for the first time.

Called Stars of the Stockyards, the eight-stop, go-at-your-own pace walking tour guides folks to famous film sites where celebrities have stepped foot in front of Hollywood cameras. Visitors to the Stockyards can access the PDF tour map on their smart phones via QR codes (no app required) posted throughout the district, namely at hotels and tour kiosks.

"The Stockyards is a historic and celebrated destination for many reasons, but one that may be lesser known is its popularity as a filming location for some of our favorite movies and TV series," said Ethan Cartwright, VP of marketing for Stockyards Heritage Development Co.

The tour and corresponding QR codes are a permanent addition to the district, he said.

Stops on the map include the iconic White Elephant Saloon, a hotbed for Hollywood performances including several by legendary actor and martial artist Chuck Norris in the longtime TV series, Walker, Texas Ranger when the watering hole was portrayed as the fictional CD Bar. The White Elephant was also graced by country music superstar Tim McGraw and Academy Award-winning actor Billy Bob Thornton for their appearances in Paramount Plus’ hit series 1883.

Also in 1883 and featured on the tour is Hookers Grill, hidden in the less flashy West side of Exchange Ave. The burger shack transformed into a gambling den in the show called The Texas House of Liquor & Sport. It’s the only building in the Stockyards that preserved the façade constructed by 1883’s production team. During operating hours, customers can order at the outdoor burger window and dine at patio tables within the two-story structure.

Cowtown Coliseum is marked on the map for its appearances in the 1983 film Tough Enough, where actor Dennis Quaid played an amateur boxer. It’s also the home of the final rodeo scene in the 1992 movie Pure Country starring country music legend George Strait.

Billy Bob’s Texas, the Stockyards Hotel, and even unassuming historic cattle pens also make the list on the tour, along with notations for the Texas Trail of Fame, which features more than 240 bronze markers honoring contributors for preserving and perpetuating the Western way of life.

Veteran actors Sam Elliot and Robert Duvall, both stars in the megahit TV series Yellowstone, are among the most recent Texas Trail of Fame inductees.

For more information and to get started on the tour, go here.