With beer leading the way, America’s Finest City has now become a hub for delicious food.
San Diego chefs and restaurant owners gathered on Tuesday morning to discuss changes and trends in the local restaurant business. Good news? Consumers have more power than ever to build a powerful foodie community. Thanks to social media and sites with user-generated content, chefs and owners are constantly trying to improve.
Five notorious San Diego personalities were panelists at the 6 Degrees Breakfast Speaker Series. Seasoned veteran Chef Deborah Scott talked alongside hipster restaurateur extraordinaire Arsalun Tafazoli – both whom own multiple eateries throughout the county. Exuberant Brian Malarkey of Top Chef-fame sat next to the surfer dude owner of Prepkitchen, Arturo Kassel. And rounding out the panel was soft spoken Matt Gordon, best known for his tasty grub at Urban Solace.
All of the panelists are well-acquainted with success; each of them owns at least two restaurants well-known to locals. Malarkey alone owns five restaurants and a catering business, and is expanding his empire to Scottsdale, Ariz. this fall. And despite being competitors, the panelists were all very chummy.
NBC 7 San Diego’s money adviser George Chamberlin moderated the event and asked the five foodie pros about what’s next for the San Diego restaurant scene.
“It’s been an exciting few years for San Diego,” said Gordon. “The forward growth of the industry has really put San Diego on the map culinarily.”
But the food services industry isn’t’ an easy one. The group maintained that during tough economic times, people are more discerning of how they spend their money.
“Customers will pay closer attention to quality and the value they get for the dollar,” said Kassel.
The panelists also admitted to other struggles within the restaurant industry, one of them being the popular reviewing site Yelp. Users are able to post just about whatever they want about a business, which many restaurant owners have come to detest.
“I have a love-hate relationship with Yelp,” said Kassel. “It’s changed the way a lot of people dine.”
Scott said she would read every review and Malarkey maintained that “a lot of people are just haters” when it comes to Yelping. Nonetheless, the five owners agreed the site has given them an opportunity to improve their business simply by reading online reviews, making it a very powerful tool.
Beer maven Greg Koch, owner of Stone Brewing Co., also made an appearance at the event and sat with Consortium Holdings partners Tafazoli and Nate Stanton. He left shortly before the moderator dismissed the crowd.
Koch, Stanton and Tafazoli all have one thing in common: They refuse to serve certain products. In a land where people expect that the customer is always right, this trio has a way of telling the customer “No.” Stone Brewing Co.’s owner scoffs at “yellow fizzy beer” and people won’t find any ketchup or vodka in any Consortium Holdings establishments.
But they get away with it. Their businesses are wildly successful and have consistently garner positive reviews.
One theme that remained constant throughout the discussion was that of providing an all-around good experience to the customer. Kassel said to do that, sometimes owners have to stay focused on their values.
“Businesses come and go,” he said. “But what hasn’t changed is restaurants will always strive to have good food, great alcohol and great people.”