Turns out the owners of those stylish fabric restaurants are in negotiations to sell one of their least flashy properties—that leak to San Diego Magazine was right.
“Our lawyers are already talking, but it’s by no means done,” said Gingham co-owner James Brennan. He shares the La Mesa restaurant’s keys with his Enlightened Hospitality Restaurant Group partner, Brian Malarkey.
“I would give (the sale) less than a 50-percent chance,” Brennan said. “We’re not in escrow, not even close.”
Gingham is decorated with cowhide and antlers and occupies sleepy La Mesa Boulevard. For almost a year it has supported East County’s meat-eating habits with slow-smoked baby back ribs and fried buttermilk chicken.
On Dec. 9 the restaurant had an early morning fire, suffering damage mainly to its exterior. The “meat market in La Mesa,” as it's billed, quickly reopened Dec. 13.
Brennan said the idea to sell Gingham was not fire driven.
A Cohn proposition
Brennan recited some standard Business 101 as he talked about Gingham’s potential sale, saying there are things he can and can’t say when he’s in the middle of a deal.
Still he said he was personally approached by David Cohn, the principal behind a family of 15 local restaurants. (Maybe you’ve heard of Corvette Diner? The Prado at Balboa Park? Island Prime? The new 100 Wines? All part of the Cohn Restaurant Group, whose reps did confirm negotiations about Gingham.)
Brennan said Cohn had his eye on Gingham's building and recently brought up the buy out. “This isn’t something where we marketed (Gingham) or put it up for sale. It sounded like the number was right and it made sense for our outlook, as far as the future goes, (to take) one of the balls out of the air.”
A drag on the fabric brand?
The face of the restaurant group that currently owns Gingham is Brian Malarkey-- a “Top Chef” finalist (with an upcoming TV gig with Anthony Bourdain on ABC called “The Taste”).
Together with Brennan, Malarkey cooked up entertainment-as-dining spots countywide. Searsucker plugged into the Gaslamp in 2010 and got national acclaim for its "social dining" concept.
Burlap made the Carmel Valley/Del Mar scene in 2011.
This year Searsucker got cloned and sent to Scottsdale, Arizona. Next April a Searsucker gets installed in Austin, Texas.
There are plans to duplicate Herringbone, the seafood-restaurant concept that Food & Wine Magazine just called one of the best from a “Top Chef.” Herringbone part two will roll out next year, but Brennan would not reveal where. There are lease negotiations for a Los Angeles location, but Brennan would not disclose which fabric would be duplicated there.
Update to this story: There's some dispute about who approached whom about selling/buying Gingham, whether the current owners solicited or the Cohn Restaurant group offered first. Which doesn't seem to matter. Sources on the Cohn's side say a deal is now unlikely. -- Keli Dailey, U-T
Read Keli Dailey's full story, and check for updates, on utsandiego.com