By David Perloff / Portrait by Jeff "Turbo" Corrigan / Food photography by Brevin Blach
David Cohn is a family man. He owns and operates a collection of San Diego restaurants with his wife, Lesley, their children, Jessica and Jeremy, and Jessica's husband, Michael.
"The idea was, it's this family of restaurants, each with a unique personality, like family members," says Cohn, president of Cohn Restaurant Group (CRG). "I couldn't be more different than my two brothers and my sister, but we have similarities. So that was kind of our concept."
When PacificSD first covered the Cohns in November 2007, the family owned 11 restaurants. Today, they own 16 in San Diego and one in Hawaii. With three more coming down the pike in the next month or so, they'll hit 20 by the end of 2013.
While his success may seem apparent to onlookers, Cohn admits still feeling a degree of the uncertainty he experienced when opening his first restaurant with Lesley more than 30 years ago.
"As an entrepreneur, sometimes you'll wake up in the middle of the night and, number one, pinch yourself," he says. "And number two, kind of break out and in a cold sweat and say, 'What happens if it all falls apart tomorrow?' There's this fear, and I think that drives entrepreneurs in a way some people may say is unhealthy, but I think it's in a healthy way."
Despite what may go wrong, Cohn attributes what has gone right for CRG to the clan's shared passion and work ethic, qualities that appear to be contagious among the company's 1,400 employees, including new hire, Amiko Gubbins. (Gubbins official title - "Special Ops: Food and Flavor.")
"Amiko sent me a text last night at 1:30 a.m.," Cohn says. "She was making final tweaks to the BO-Beau menu, and that's exciting stuff."
PacificSD: And you responded?
Cohn is soft-spoken, but his excitement is palpable. When he's talking about work, there are barely breaks between his paragraphs, let alone sentences. And when he's on a roll, it's easy to get swept up in his words.
What thrills him most, he says, "...is the creative part of putting together these concepts and collaborating with the great people we work with to create these concepts and seeing so many people be able to go from server to manager to operations manager - I mean, just typical American dream sort of stuff."
In striving for his own piece of that dream, Cohn says his company has established a catch-phrase: "Absolutely." It's the word spray-painted at the entrance to the new CRG headquarters in Old Town, and what his staff is trained to say to patrons when they ask for something, anything.
Is the customer always right? "Absolutely." Is this interviewer? Apparently not, because even when pushed, Cohn refuses to indicate which one menu item from all of his restaurants he prefers above all the rest.
"Some day," he says, "if you have a number of children, you'll get the question: 'Who's your favorite?' I may have one, but I'm not going to say."
While Jessica and Jeremy consider which of them is their father's favorite, have a taste of some of Cohn's favorite dishes from his family of restaurants that help make San Diego one of America's finest cities to grab a bite.
Family of Fare
Cohn Restaurant Group Establishments, with David Cohn's descriptions and favorite menu items
1027 University Ave., Hillcrest
Concept: Euro comfort food in a cozy, candlelit rustic home with affordable wines.
Favorite menu item: Mary's oven-roasted chicken, slow-roasted in the oven and served with grilled zucchini in buttermilk dressing, creamy corn polenta with Andouille sausage and a champagne mustard sauce.
333 N. Pacific St., Oceanside
Concept: Seaside California elegance with a beautiful sunset patio and views of the Oceanside Pier.
Favorite menu item: Mixed grill for two - twin lobster tails and a 25-oz. bone-in rib-eye, seasonal mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans.
Analog (Co-owned by SDCM)
801 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp
Concept: Classic American neighborhood bar serving comfort food and strong drinks.
Favorite menu item: Ahi Poke salad with avocado, cucumber and taro chips.
Blue Point Coastal Cuisine
565 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp
Concept: Creating the freshest seafood dishes with supper club sophistication and award-winning style.
Favorite menu item: Seared Maine sea scallops with black truffle orzo, Italian kale and Romesco sauce.
BO-Beau Kitchen + Bar
4996 W. Point Loma Blvd., Ocean Beach
Concept: A casual, New World bistro in the heart of bohemian ("BO") Ocean Beach.
Favorite menu item: Brined pork chop with Swiss chard, caramelized peaches, white beans and bacon, served with black garlic Romesco sauce.
2965 Historic Decatur Rd., Liberty Station
Concept: A '50s throwback with sassy waitresses in poodle skirts and bouffant hair-dos - more than just a place to eat, it's a destination.
Favorite menu item: Rory burger with peanut butter, bacon, lettuce and mayo... and a chocolate peanut butter banana shake on the side.
Gaslamp Strip Club
340 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp
Concept: Sassy, grill-your-own steak and martini lounge, a 21-and-up Gaslamp favorite.
Favorite menu item: White truffle mac and cheese.
BO-Beau Kitchen + Garden
8384 La Mesa Blvd., La Mesa
Concept: Intimate and rustic décor with a local's feel, pet-friendly patio garden and kids' play area.
Favorite menu item: Slow-roasted pork shank with garlic mash and whole grain mustard, served with bacon-date chutney and broccolini.
1536 India St., Little Italy
Concept: Chef Deborah Scott's original creation, featuring San Diego's most unique cuisine.
Favorite menu item: Flat iron chimichurri - pico de gallo, black beans, arugula salad, cilantro vinaigrette and chili honey-glazed quesadilla.
Island Prime / C Level
880 Harbor Island Dr., Harbor Island
Concept: Resting on stilts overlooking San Diego Bay, the city skyline and Coronado; There's no better way to experience chef Deborah Scott's award-winning cuisine and service.
Favorite menu items: Island Prime: Pan-roasted day boat scallops with risotto cake, crispy prosciutto butternut squash and yuzu beurre blanc. C Level: Kobe filet burger on an onion Kaiser roll with garlic aioli, caramelized onions, smoked bacon and choice of blue cheese or cheddar; served with steak fries.
La Jolla Strip Club
4282 Esplanade Ct., UTC
Concept: Gaslamp Strip Club's 21-and-up sassy sister and sports bar.
Favorite menu item: Chicken and waffles with chili maple drizzle.
Pineapple Grill at Kapalua Resort
200 Kapalua Dr., Maui
Concept: Our island cousin with panoramic views of Lanai and the West Maui Mountain.
Favorite menu item: Pineapple upside-down cake with Roselani Tropics ice cream.
Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden
2215 Pan American Way, Balboa Park
Concept: Located at Balboa Park's Japanese Friendship Garden, serving traditional Japanese green and herbal teas as well as sushi, noodles, rice bowls, salads and snacks.
Favorite menu item: Soba noodle salad.
The Prado at Balboa Park
1549 El Prado, Ste. 12, Balboa Park
Concept: A beautiful setting, capturing the essence of world-famous Balboa Park and offering award-winning cuisine by chef Jonathan Hale.
Favorite menu item: Grilled 16-oz. bone-in rib-eye with truffle mac 'n' cheese and green peppercorn sauce.
Vin De Syrah (Co-owned by SDCM)
901 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp
Concept: An Alice in Wonderland underground adventure and wine bar.
Favorite menu item: Salami pesto Panini with whipped cream cheese, basil pesto and Italian dry cured salami.
1205 Auto Park Way, Escondido
Concept: At the penthouse level of The Centre at Lexus Escondido, Vintana offers fireside patio dining, entertainment and countryside views.
Favorite menu item: Macadamia and coconut-crusted sea bass with crispy sea beans and roasted pineapple salsa, served with mashed sweet potato and a lime/ginger beurre blanc.
ZigZag Pizza Pie
333 N. Meyers Street, Oceanside
Concept: Custom pizzas in less than four minutes, fresh chop salads and more than 50 beer selections.
Favorite menu item: You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - pizza with Italian sausage, mozzarella, green olives and tomato sauce.
More Cohn restaurants coming soon...
BO-Beau Kitchen + Rooftap (opening late 2013)
144 Pine St., Long Beach
Concept: The third BOBeau sibling, based on the original Ocean Beach menu and featuring a rooftop beer garden.
Coral (opening early 2015)
880 Harbor Island Dr., Harbor Island
Concept: Grand-scale waterfront dining and drinks, with a 4,500-squarefoot barge actually floating on the bay for weddings and other special events.
OB Warehouse (opening early 2014)
4839 Newport Ave., Ocean Beach
Concept: Second-floor escape, with design by Philippe Beltran and world-kitchen menu by Amiko Gubbins.
Sea180° Coastal Tavern (opening late 2013)
800 Seacoast Dr., Imperial Beach
Concept: A beachfront, casual restaurant with a Baja-Med menu by executive chef Ken Irvine.