On this episode of our Scene in San Diego podcast, we take a look at a couple of small, homegrown eateries offering everything from savory to sweet and how they came onto our local dining scene. How are they surviving the pandemic?
Joining the conversation today is Bradrick Cooper, owner of Coops West Texas Barbecue in Lemon Grove and Maya Madsen, owner of Maya’s Cookies in the Grantville area. They share their stories of entrepreneurship with us, plus the dedication and love they each put behind their menus.
We also look at a few San Diego restaurants that have somehow managed to debut – or, in some cases, even expand – during the coronavirus pandemic.
Listen to Episode 16 Here:
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Guest Interview: Bradrick Cooper, Owner of Coop's West Texas Barbecue
Bradrick Cooper owns Coop’s West Texas Barbecue at 2625 Lemon Grove Ave., which is open for lunchtime, Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Inspired by his father’s authentic, Texas-style cooking, Cooper opened his restaurant in San Diego 11 years ago. Cooper said Texas-style barbecue wasn’t really a “thing” in San Diego yet.
His father told him, “If you learn how to do this, you will never be a broke man.”
In the mid-1990s, Cooper was in nursing school in San Diego, practicing the art of barbecue on the side. He would cook pulled pork and brisket for his fellow nursing students and, later, for his colleagues at Kaiser.
Then, the opportunity to open Coop’s came.
Cooper said he wanted to create something to keep in the family. And he wanted to teach San Diego about Texas-style barbecue.
“When people would come, they would be upset with me because I wouldn’t put barbecue sauce on the meat,” he said.
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Instead, Cooper said the sauce comes on the side, so people can really, truly taste and appreciate the slow-smoked flavor of the meat.
“It took a while for people to catch on to it,” he said.
Cooper spoke with us about how the pandemic has impacted his business. Takeout has been a lifeline, as well as the 50 seats outside at the Chicken Coop, just across the street. His daughter – who helps him run the restaurant, day in and day out – has been his biggest support system.
Cooper also shared details of what he sees in store for Coop’s in the future – including possibly branching out and training others on the art of Texas-style barbecue.
Guest Interview: Maya Madsen, Owner of Maya's Cookies
Longtime San Diego resident Maya Madsen founded Maya’s Cookies in 2015, a gourmet, vegan cookie shop. The business began as a way for Madsen to bring in some extra income to help get her sons through college.
Madsen began selling her treats at farmers markets, then built a website to sell her treats online. Shipping became the foundation of her business.
But, in 2020, everything changed.
The pandemic temporarily shut down farmers markets, so selling her cookies that way wasn't an option. She had to cut down her staff to a skeleton crew.
At the same time, the nation’s focus on social justice gave way to more support of Black-owned businesses.
In June 2020, Maya’s Cookies boomed.
Madsen shared her story of her business’ rapid rise; it was challenging, scary, stressful, and wonderful all at the same time.
"Go to bed, wake up and there are 3,000 orders in the queue," Madsen explained. "That's when the panic set in because I knew I didn't have staff, I didn't have enough supplies, I didn't have boxes -- I didn't have anything."
Madsen and her crew rolled up their sleeves and got to working overtime.
It was hard -- but it was worth it.
"There are layers and layers of mountains and set-backs to climb when you go from being an online retailer that fulfills 20 orders a day to trying to do 500 orders a day," she said.
In November 2020, Madsen was able to expand her facility on Mission Gorge in San Diego’s Grantville area into a tiny storefront. Now, she sells cookies to customers in-person, too, and that’s a real treat for the business owner.
Maya’s Cookies sells vegan versions of classic treats like chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies – but also offers creative takes on more decadent desserts. Madsen has also created a Black History Month collection of cookies inspired by powerful figures in Black history, including Hank Aaron and poet Amanda Gorman.
Madsen shared how those recipes came to life in her bakery and why they’re so important to her. Love is certainly an ingredient.
Madsen also talked about how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted her cookie shop; shipping remains the bulk of her business, and she’s grateful for that.
Some San Diego Restaurants That Have Opened During the Pandemic
Despite the challenges brought forth by the coronavirus pandemic, San Diego’s dining scene is still finding ways to grow.
Eater San Diego has been keeping track of restaurants that have somehow managed to debut during the pandemic here.
One of those is a new brunch cafe and ice cream shop from Metl Bar & Restaurant set to open next month in North Park.
Last year, Metl co-owner Jenna Elskamp joined our podcast to talk about the spin-off business she had created, Metl Cocktail Creamery, a little shop that sells booze-infused ice cream. The creamery has boomed during the pandemic and now, the Elskamps are able to branch off into this café in North Park.
You can listen to our podcast episode about Metl Cocktail Creamer here (Episode 10: Boozy Ice Cream? San Diego Bar Finds Sweet Spot in Middle of Pandemic).
Other new eateries on the list that we also talk about are:
- Prager Brothers Artisan Breads, a well-known North County bakery now expanding to Hillcrest
- El Tianguis, a rolled taco specialist with shops in North Park and Chula Vista, now headed to National City and later this year, also to Mission Valley
Finally, we also briefly touch on the story of Sunnie’s in Ocean Beach, a taco shop and Mexican café owned by former Chargers player Israel Stanley. Sunnie’s isn’t new – it’s been around for four years – but it is a homegrown, small restaurant with a heartfelt backstory. You can read about Sunnie’s here.
The Scene in San Diego Feat. Eater Podcast is hosted by NBC 7’s Monica Garske and Eater San Diego’s Candice Woo, and is produced by NBC 7’s Matthew Lewis.