At Herb + Eatery, a trendy Little Italy marketplace, you can order a righteously healthy beet, quinoa, kale and Humboldt Fog salad and buy a bar of “Detox” soap, made from activated charcoal and French green clay.
A few blocks away at the sweets super-emporium Extraordinary Desserts, there are three versions of macarons: books to read about the colorful French treats; dainty, playful macaron earrings to wear; and of course, the actual cookies to eat.
And at Cucina Sorella, the popular neighborhood eatery in Kensington, before or after grazing through the Cal-Ital offerings, you can pick up some scented candles, kitchen towels or party supplies.
At these and a number of upscale restaurants around San Diego County, eating and shopping are both on the menu as retail components become an increasingly popular way to expand or enhance brand identity, elevate the dining experience and provide a modest boost to the bottom line.
Gastro-commerce leans toward the artisan, unique and somewhat pricey, with merchandise that’s mostly curated by the chefs/owners themselves and, accordingly, are an extension of their personalities, design sense and global inspirations.
“Right now it’s everything I’m into - Hawaii, beer, yoga,” said Karen Krasne, pointing to the walls at Extraordinary Desserts lined with shelves holding Balinese ceramics, diffusers with scents from the islands, novelty socks, greeting cards, makeup bags, cookbooks and barware.
“When my daughter was a baby, half the store was for babies. Now she’s 13 and we shop together - we found those macaron earrings while we were on vacation in the south of France.”
Allowing customers to try to replicate the high-end creations of the bakery/cafe at home, Krasne sells an extensive line of Extraordinary Desserts-branded food items, from baking chocolate to organic teas, jams, sauces and refrigerated cookie dough. (Good luck, though, with achieving the decorating heights the shop has become famous for; there’s no guide to that for sale.
Herb + Eatery, meanwhile, sells a slice of mystique.
“People really want that cool chef lifestyle, that bar mixologist lifestyle,” said Brian Malarkey, the chef/owner of Herb + Eatery.
The restaurant’s name is stamped on a few things, like wooden salad servers, soaps and enamel camping cups, but the majority of the inventory is - like the celebrity chef behind it - a quirky, eclectic mix of the cheeky (a $6 unicorn-shaped corkscrew), practical ($14, three-piece salad serving set), stylish (a $101 custom-designed cook’s apron) and the true foodie ($59.95 boxed set of Laguiole pearlized cake forks from France).
Malarkey estimated that retail sales make up between 15 to 20 percent of Herb + Eatery’s revenue. His wife, Chantelle, is the principal buyer for the store.
“I know how to cook, she knows how to shop,” Malarkey said with a laugh. “We only buy products that you can’t find at Williams-Sonoma or Whole Foods; we want it to be special.”
In addition to the gifts and household items, Herb + Eatery, a gateway into Malarkey’s sprawling fine-dining restaurant Herb + Wood, has a wide selection of prepared food, wine, gelato, meats, cheeses, pastas and baked goods.
“The idea behind it is, it’s a chef’s market - with things like duck fat, things a chef would want or a really good home cook can grab.”
And yet, there’s a white horse’s head pencil holder, a classic alarm clock, scented candles, ice tongs, cocktail shakers and an ebonized cherry wood salad bowl with matching serving spoons.
“It’s almost like Disneyland,” Malarkey said. “You walk in the gift shop on the way in, and you walk through the gift shop on the way out.”
While the restaurant retail trend has proliferated in the past few years, it isn’t new. One of the first to sell artisan products was Tracy Borkum at Kensington Grill, in the 1990s.
“Many guests loved the idea of walking into a retail space and shopping before or after dinner. Others thought it was very strange and couldn’t get their head around it,” Borkum said.
Today, all five Cucina restaurants in San Diego and Orange County that make up the
Urban Kitchen Group
have retail components of varying size. And the restaurateur has taken shopping to a new level - offering everything for sale, down to the eclectic, second-hand chic lighting and table and chairs in the dining room.
“Incorporating the shop into our Cucina spaces,” Borkum said, “came from guest feedback - they always asked where do you get this and that. We often hear ‘I’d like to live in this space’. So why not give them an opportunity to purchase a little something that we love for their own homes?”
The Cucinas in Del Mar, Kensington and Newport Beach have the largest displays of merchandise, from candles, the top seller, to serving bowls and platters, vintage artifacts, herb-growing kits and greeting cards.
Don’t see what you want or want more? Borkum’s online marketplace, Urban Kitchen Shop, sells bar stools, hand-screened aprons, vintage chicken feeders and more.
“Everything is hand-selected by myself and (Urban Kitchen Group designer and retail buyer) Monika Crawford. We work with local crafts people as well as meet with reps and choose lines that work for our” aesthetic, she said. Price point is important, she added, because the retail component is a secondary focus, behind food and beverage.
“The percentage of sales compared to the restaurant is minuscule, however we believe it is another layer of our brand that guests can take home with them,” Borkum said.
“We want to sprinkle Cucina dust wherever we can.”
$10 cord taco
The shopping and eating trend isn’t confined to traditional restaurants.
The Curious Fork, a gluten-free bakery, cafe and cooking school in Solana Beach has perhaps the most focused retail collection.
There you can find everything from platters and plates to cookbooks, fondue sets, a multitude of utensils, handmade wooden cutting boards, salt and pepper shakers and mortar and pestles, along with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, English muffins, baguettes, bagels and waffles.
Everything is geared toward the home chef and baker, which isn’t surprising since the store is curated by Katherine Emmenegger, who runs The Curious Fork’s cooking school. Emmenegger formerly was the executive chef at Great News!, the longtime, beloved Pacific Beach cookware shop that closed in 2015.
On the opposite side of the shopping spectrum are the wares at
Provisional, the sophisticated restaurant at
The Pendry, a new, up-market boutique hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter. Enclosed in a black wrought-iron, open-air greenhouse-style structure in the eatery’s entryway, the sleek shop is an offshoot of
Alchemy Works, the hip L.A.-based design store.
Provisional’s capsule collection of retail goods appears to be going for a free-spending, cocktail sipping, tech-savvy, world-traveling, masculine vibe - think Don Draper crossed with Elon Musk - with its big-ticket barware (starting at around $75) and handcrafted, leather travel bags costing hundreds of dollars. (The biggest bargain, with the best name, is the $10 “cord taco,” a folding leather round that keeps your earbuds from tangling.)
Liberty Public Market, in Point Loma’s Liberty Station, people come mostly to eat at the two dozen or so mini-restaurants and food stands.
But often, they’re browsing, while deciding where to go. Which makes retail there a natural, said David Spatafore, whose
Blue Bridge Hospitality
co-developed and runs the market.
Liberty Public Market opened with a handful of retail-only vendors, including Pacific Provisions (barbecue sauces, seasonings), Howlistic (pet supplies) and Olive & Baker (olive oils and vinegars). Slowly, Spatafore has been adding day carts around the market, with local artisans selling everything from jewelry to hemp products, clothing and art. Retail sales constitute between 10 and 20 percent of the market’s revenue.“People are window shopping when they come here,” he said. “They carve out a bit of time when they come. It’s kind of an social time, people aren’t on a hard schedule, so it’s not like they have to say ‘we’re hungry, we have a 7:30 reservation, we have to get a drink and go.’ ”