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Little Italy Food Hall

Grain & Grit Rises to Challenges of Growth

San Diego-based hospitality group, Grain & Grit Collective, has grown by leaps and bounds, and a familiar face fronting the company has a lot to do with it

Courtesy of Grain and Grit Collective Inc.

In 2019, Grain & Grit Collective Inc., a San Diego-based hospitality group, served over three-quarters of a million guests throughout its then seven restaurants, according to the company. Its revenue that year was $9.1 million.

In 2020, with the opening of at least three more restaurants later this year, including a yet-to-be-named “Sam the Cooking Guy” concept in Seaport Village, Grain & Grit CEO Michael Joseph DiNorscia said he forecasts the company’s revenue will reach $15 million.

“On average, we can serve between 2,500 and 10,000 guests per week at each establishment based on concept type and seasonality,” said DiNorscia, who launched the Little Italy-headquartered group in 2018 — it has approximately 137 local employees. “My vision is to create a nationally recognized hospitality group that is purpose-driven, innovative, and committed to developing top industry talent.”

New Ingredients

This is what prompted the management team behind Seaport Village to reach out to Grain & Grit and offer them the opportunity to replace Buster’s Beach House as part of the Port of San Diego’s continued efforts to revitalize the area.

“The success of Grain & Grit Collective combined with the popularity of ‘Sam the Cooking Guy’ has the potential to transform and enhance the experience for Seaport Village visitors and tenants,” said Ann Moore, chair of the San Diego Board of Port Commissioners. “We are feeling a fresh energy with several new shops already open and a variety of site enhancements, entertainment and events. These new tenants, plus others also coming soon, will bring even more excitement.”

The Grain & Grit location at Seaport Village, anticipated to open summer 2020, will be in the Lighthouse District and will “provide entertainment and special events in the adjacent courtyard and surrounding walkway for the enjoyment of guests and the general public,” according to a news release.

Other Seaport Village leases that have been approved alongside the Grain and Grit project include Seaport Market, a convenience store that will offer snacks, prepared salads and sandwiches, wine, beer and more; Mike Hess Brewing, with a beer tasting room and a patio area with full-service restaurant; Mr. Moto Pizza, which serves New York-style pizza by the slice or pie; and Spill the Beans, a coffee and bagel shop that launched in the Gaslamp Quarter in 2017. All of these food and beverage spots have either opened already this year or are slated to open later this year, according to the Port of San Diego.

With the opening of the Seaport Village project and Graze by Sam the Cooking Guy in the Little Italy Food Hall scheduled for later this month, Grain & Grit will own and manage a total of 10 restaurants by the end of 2020, according to the company.

That includes three Broken Yolk Cafes, two Carnitas’ Snack Shacks, the Little Italy Food Hall and the Little Italy Food Hall Bar, and three Sam the Cooking Guy eateries: Not Not Tacos, also in the Little Italy Food Hall, the upcoming Graze and the unnamed Seaport Village spot.

The 'Best Real Estate'

“Our success starts with our abilities to scout and secure the best real estate in Southern California,” he said. “As far as the ideas go, we absolutely have a secret weapon in Sam Zien, aka ‘Sam the Cooking Guy.’ Sam always gets us thinking outside the box and inspires us with his culinary abilities and visions.”

DiNorscia started his career in San Diego as a partner in a commercial real estate firm that focused on restaurant tenant representation, leasing and sales, he said.

In 2009, when the market began to decline, DiNorscia created a company, Sweet 100, that would focus on investments in fast-casual and upscale casual restaurant brands. Following local investments in Burger Lounge, Cucina Enoteca and Carnitas’ Snack Shack, DiNorscia said he made an investment in Broken Yolk Café, becoming a franchisee in 2013.

Little Italy Food Hall

“My passion for the restaurant business (had) only grown stronger and I wanted to take the opportunity to officially step into the space as an operator,” he said.

In 2017, DiNorscia and Sweet 100 were hired by H.G. Fenton Co. to consult on the leasing of its available restaurant space at the new Piazza della Famiglia project in Little Italy, he said.

It was through that relationship that DiNorscia was able to make his vision of opening a food hall, within which he could open, own and operate various food concepts, a reality. Sweet 100 and H.G. Fenton partnered to develop the Little Italy Food Hall, opened mid-2018.

And that’s when the idea to create the Grain & Grit hospitality group came about.

The company “is a San Diego-based hospitality group dedicated to providing Southern California with the most compelling guest experience possible,” said DiNorscia, and “The food hall was a springboard for the creation of Grain & Grit Collective… Our goal at G&G is simple: to create a positive impact on as many people as possible. I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of my colleagues in the industry, but I believe that our conviction to our ‘collective’ approach is what makes us different. That is our core belief: that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Funding Strategy

To fund Grain & Grit, DiNorscia said he originally used investor capital. But, as the company has grown, he said he’s been able to leverage its success and create a funding strategy around a “more balanced capital stack.”

Growth aside, the hardest part of running Grain & Grit Collective, according to DiNorscia, is not having enough time in the day. Building a growth-oriented business means everyone on the team has to be capable and willing to carry a full plate, he said.

Currently, Grain & Grit is focused on the hiring process and leadership development, said DiNorscia. With three new restaurants opening in the next six months, he said he and his team are committed to maintaining its value system and continuing to grow the company culture.

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