Since opening the first Fig Tree Café in Pacific Beach in 2008, Johan Engman, owner of Rise & Shine Restaurant Group, has been relentless in trying to take over San Diego's breakfast scene. Now, Fig Tree Café has locations in Hillcrest and Liberty Station, and Engman's latest venture, Breakfast Republic, opened in North Park in 2015 and recently expanded to Liberty Station as well. Engman also has three more Breakfast Republic locations in the works: Encinitas (opening November 1), Carmel Valley (opening planned for March 2017) and a yet-to-be-announced downtown location.
"To me, San Diego is such a cool breakfast town and catering to that crowd came naturally," Engman said. "I still think breakfast is a very underserved market." He moved to San Diego from his native Sweden in 1997 and made his way through the restaurant industry, working for various restaurants as a dishwasher, busboy and waiter, until opening Fig Tree Café with its menu of creative twists on breakfast favorites. Although the restaurant struggled at first, Engman picked up two jobs in addition to running the restaurant and stubbornly refused to close until the concept caught on with San Diegans.
Rise & Shine Restaurant Group's Director of Operations, Grant Price, and Corporate Chef, Cesar Garcia, created another experience based around quality food and service, unique menu items and quirky design touches (including a cheeky rooster mascot)-and this time, it instantly became North Park's newest must-try breakfast spot. The new location at Liberty Station offers the same menu with some additional craft cocktails and happy hour from 3 to 8 p.m. with a condensed food menu. If it's your first time at either Breakfast Republic location, Engman recommends the breakfast jambalaya, shrimp & grits or pancake flight (choose any three of their drool-worthy pancakes).
Beyond Fig Tree Café and expanding Breakfast Republic, Engman has just a few other projects in the works. He's opening Como Ceviche! with his friend William Lopez on October 1. The fast-casual restaurant will feature ceviche variations inspired by the cuisines of Peru, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. North Park Breakfast Company will open in March 2017 with "a more contemporary design, with craft cocktails and a second floor mezzanine," according to Engman. Following that, he's planning to open Pizza Republic next to Breakfast Republic in North Park, featuring Neapolitan-style pizza, house-made pasta and a private label wine. And in late 2017, look for a large Baja-style Mexican restaurant-with additional details coming soon.
Engman attributed the success of Rise & Shine restaurants to his focus on employee morale and quality over profits. "When food and service quality is consistently taken care of, profits will come," he said.
Anything else from Engman? "I'm developing a fun, small hotel in North Park that will be very tied into Breakfast Republic and Pizza Republic," he teased. Does this mean S'mores French Toast and Breakfast Bacon Mac 'n Cheese from room service? We'll have to wait and see what he has up his sleeve.