After Just A Year, Gingham May Be Selling

LA MESA -- After just a year in business, it looks like Top Chef Brian Malarkey's foray into East County may be ending.

Regulars at Gingham Restaurant were being told to expect a sale, perhaps as early as this week, to the Cohn Restaurant Group, which operates a number of leading restaurants around San Diego including the Prado in Balboa Park and Island Prime on Harbor Island.

Gingham, which last week suffered a small, exterior fire, had reduced its hours in recently shifting to "winter hours" which eliminated a number of lunches. James Brennan, the partner of Chef Malarkey, in the Gingham location, told San Diego Magazine this week that he was in talks with the Cohn Group to sell the restaurant.

The magazine quoted Brennan as saying "The fire sparked the conversation between David [Cohn] and I, no pun intended. We're longtime friends, and I've always admired him. He'd always admired the space. Brian and I had talked for a while about needing to laser focus on our main growth vehicles. When the fire happened, David reached out. No paperwork's been drafted, but we've told our staff what might happen."

Managers at Gingham were refusing comment Sunday on the sale or its timing. The location's land lease holder also refused comment on the sale.

If the restaurant sells, it will mean it will have had three owners in less than two years. Gio's, which had opened after a massive renovation after years as the modest Village Garden restaurant was sold to Malarkey (pictured above right with Gingham lead chef Ryan Studebaker)  with much fanfare and expectations that come with a chef who had gained national attention on a TV reality show. His other fabric-named restaurants include Burlap in Del Mar and Gabardine in Point Loma.

Gingham started well and, according to other local restaurant owners, had helped spur more night life all along La Mesa Boulevard. Apparently, the upscale menu and higher price points were not attracting enough repeat business. The restaurant's marketing team had been reaching out to locals in recent weeks.

The investment of both the Gio and Gingham ownerships had been a bright spot in a Village that has struggled a bit through the recession to maintain businesses, particularly more upscale establishments. Of course, shifting from Brennan and Malarkey, hot restaurateurs but not with the size, scale or track record of the Cohn Group, could be seen as a move up in terms of business acumen and financial support.

The Cohns run a wide variety of high quality restaurants, from upscale and expensive, to more modest operations geared to fit with the unique local market. They own Gaslamp establishments as well as restaurants up and down the San Diego coastline and boast partnerships with some of San Diego's leading chefs, including Deborah Scott. Scott's Indigo Grill in Little Italy is among one of the most creative culinary operations in this region. From Scott's more cutting edge menus to the fun of the Corvette Diner, the Cohn restaurants are uniformly appreciated for being well-run and fitting with their markets.

Gingham, while vastly improving the physical layout that Gio's had left, offered an extremely rich, meat-lovers comfort food approach, that may have simply been a step behind the current trend of "locally sourced, farm to table'' restaurants that offer a wider array of healthier offerings.









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Tags: Balboa Park, Burlap Restaurant, Chef Brian Malarkey, Chef Malarkey, Cohn, Cohn Group, Cohn Restaurant Group, Corvette Diner, David Cohn, Deborah Scott, More…Del Mar, East County, Gabardine Restaurant, Gaslamp, Gingham, Gio's, Harbor Island, Indigo Grill, Island Prime, La Mesa, La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, La Mesa newspaper, Little Italy, Point Loma, San Diego, San Diego Magazine, The Prado


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Comment by David Smyle on December 18, 2012 at 1:41pm

It is all about the food!  Phils BBQ has lines out the door.  Las Cuatros Milpas has lines out the door.    Olive Garden has a waiting list all time.  Give the people good food at a reasonable price.  It is an easy recipe.  Atmosphere is overrated.

Comment by chris shea on December 17, 2012 at 8:02am
I will miss the people I have come to know at Gingham.
I will miss the burgers and the Fresno sauce.
My hope is that we find our La Mesa selves the happy
recipients of a restaurant company that doesn't try to cater to our
so-called East County-ness but opens a restaurant
with consistently excellent food and beverage we can't
help but come back for over and over again for years
to come. And when that happens, people will come from all over
San Diego county to dine in La Mesa.
Comment by Bob Battenfield on December 16, 2012 at 9:55pm

Gingham's food has been a little overpriced but I found that acceptable in light of Malarkey's reputation as a top chef.  For me, the problem is that name Gingham doesn't work. I have not been to Gabardine or Burlap but none of the names signify anything appealing in term of quality or value.  Plus the menu is too limited.  Not enough selections.  One more thing -- the industrial-looking metalwork on the street front communicates nothing of interest, it's not inviting.  

Comment by Stuart Strenger on December 16, 2012 at 6:33pm

Gingham was built on the aura of a chef's third-place finish on a TV food show.  What it lacked was outstanding food.  My party of three went there shortly after the restaurant's opening, when there was a lot of buzz about a new high-end restaurant in the Village.  The noise reverberation from hard surfaces was so high, it prevented any kind of conversation at our table.  Our dinners were okay, but "okay" isn't good enough.  I don't understand why restauranteurs open restaurants serving anything less than outstanding food.  Why would people be expected to come back?

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