Is it just me or does it seem like every month brings a more upscale and multifaceted venue to San Diego? Restaurants aren’t just restaurants these days; they’re part cocktail lounge and sports bar with a side of night club. Many of these new venues are bursting with variety, yet leave us customers a little bit confused.
On the other side of the spectrum is Jon Mangini, a man who truly embodies the phrase: Less is more. His venues include the flagship BASIC Urban Kitchen + Bar in East Village, the original URBN Coal Fired Pizza in Vista and the newest URBN location set to launch in North Park early 2010. This San Diego industry leader believes in a simple vision, great menu, consistent, quality service, and urban atmosphere. Based on his rapid business growth and community loyalty, we think he’s onto something.
From his top three tips for success to the strong foundation of his business model, a sneak peek at his new Asian concept to come and, of course, his go-to pizza combo, get to know Jon Mangini in this week's San Diego Industry Spotlight.
DiscoverSD: Why do you feel your simple and straight-up approach has been so well received in San Diego?
Jon: I think it is definitely different than what anyone else has done. San Diego was all about beach bars and sports bars and suddenly overnight the scene transformed into high-end nightclubs and lounges. I think somewhere along the line the middle of the road was missed.
We came in and did something that was laid back, industrial and urban but still trendy and fun. I think for San Diegans it was truly a refreshing change. Also, I think we came along during a time of economic downturn and we had a low price point with a simple menu. That was appealing to people.
DSD: What are your 3 must-know tips for success in the dining / nightlife industry?
J:The first tip is to keep it simple. When you keep your concept simple, it keeps it simple for your guests and makes it easy for them to recognize who you are and what you are doing.
One of the most important things is for your customers to get it. When they walk in your establishment they need to get it. You don#8217;t want them to say what is this place? Is it a sports bar, is it a lounge? I want them to come in and just get it.
The other thing is to know your food. It is true our industry is all about restaurant hospitality and guest services but at the end of the day, people are coming in to eat and drink and you have to give people a great product.
Finally you have to hire a great staff. You can say that customer service is important and you can say that hospitality is your number one priority but the fact is, every time a customer comes in I#8217;m not the one that is talking to them. You have to hire people that you know are going to represent you well and represent the establishment well. You want people who will treat customers the way you would treat them. I want people who will talk to our guests, laugh with them and make sure they are having a damn good time.
DSD: We#8217;ve seen a lot of restaurants and bars come and go. What are the 3 most common and/or significant mistakes you see owners and managers make?
J:One of the mistakes I see is opening up the right place in the wrong area. It#8217;s all about location, location, location.
The other is that at times the restaurant business gets a bad rap. What people don#8217;t tell you about this business is that there are not a lot of barriers to entry. If you have a little bit of money to invest you can get in. There are a lot of people who want to get in the restaurant and bar industry and they think it#8217;s going to be a big party and they end up coming in to it with false hope. It is a hard business. It puts a lot of stress on your personal life. It#8217;s not a 9-5. It#8217;s a 24-hour job. There are a lot of people who get in that should be more educated and/or get more training. 5 years ago there were a lot of people getting in the business who could make it because there was so much money going around. All of a sudden when the economy sinks, the customer gets sharp. They want fantastic service and excellent food in a quality establishment.
Something else that others may over look is the menu and quality of food. You can#8217;t neglect one of the most important things about opening a restaurant #8211; you have to have a great product. You can have everything else but if your food is not great people are not going to like their experience and they are not going to like your restaurant.
DSD: How is URBN different from BASIC?
J:URBN is very much like BASIC, just on a smaller scale. It is a little simpler. It is a similar menu however URBN serves coal-fired pizza as opposed to brick oven. It has more of a neighborhood restaurant and bar feel to it. While BASIC appeals both to the locals and to the East Village nightlife crowd, URBN is specifically targeted at the locals. It is definitely a neighborhood joint. BASIC is one of a kind and we can#8217;t get that feel just anywhere. URBN gives us the flexibility to appeal to a variety of different neighborhoods.
DSD: What is your method for choosing venue locations? Following East Village and Vista, how did you end up with the new URBN in North Park?
J:We chose North Park because it is a hot and upcoming area. It is a little farther along than the East Village was when we picked it 4 years ago. It has a more urban feel than a suburban feel and honestly, looking forward, anything I do will have an urban feel. In searching for new locations I usually scope out 5-10 locations a month. I have to feel it out and see if it would be a good fit.
DSD: What is your favorite pizza combination?
J:My go-to is usually a white pizza with spinach, chicken, fresh mozzarella and a little ricotta. I also like to add a lot of grated parmesan. I always switch it around but that one is definitely one of my favorites.
DSD: When you#8217;re not working, where can we find you?
J: When I#8217;m not working I#8217;m with my kids. Whether it#8217;s the football field or the rugby fields or snowboarding. I can always be found with kids and my wife. When I#8217;m not working it#8217;s what I enjoy. Obviously I love going to restaurants as well. I like Sushi Ota in PB, Zenbu in La Jolla, and Cowboy Star in the East Village.
DSD: What expansion plans lie ahead in 2010?
J:The most important goal right now is to get North Park open. After that the next step will be hitting the pavement to open up the Asian concept that we have in the works. I#8217;m in the process of checking out locations for that concept. Stay tuned.