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Three high-profile San Diego restaurants acquired by Las Vegas company

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Located on the corner of India and Date streets, the second-story Prepkitchen Little Italy is the largest of the three dining venues founded by Whisknladle Hospitality.

The Prepkitchen chain of three restaurants, which began life eight years ago as a small La Jolla storefront, has been sold to a newly formed Las Vegas hospitality company that hopes to inject new life into the well-known eateries.

In addition to La Jolla, Prepkitchen also has locations in Del Mar and Little Italy and touts its cuisine as refined, seasonal comfort food.

While the former owner, Whisknladle Hospitality, had not been looking to sell all three restaurants, the sale now allows the company to focus on its two other restaurants — Whisknladle and Catania — as well as the debut later this year of two new concepts, including a food hall.

It also relieves Whisknladle of having to sustain a dining venue in Little Italy, where competition has stiffened as new high-profile restaurants continue to open in the popular downtown neighborhood.

“We were originally looking to sell just Prepkitchen little Italy,” said David Balanson, chief operating officer for Whisknladle. “It’s become over-saturated in that area, and right before the group from Las Vegas came to us we had been considering rebranding the restaurant to just something new.

“When we opened there (in 2012), it was really just us and Craft and Commerce that were the non-Italian restaurants, and now there’s about 15 restaurants that are non-Italian so it’s become a much more competitive space.”

The purchase price was not disclosed, but new owners Deborah and David Krause of IAM Hospitality said it was in the seven-figure range. Balanson estimated that the Prepkitchens in Del Mar and Little Italy cost about $2.8 million to develop.

Deborah Krause, who has more than 20 years experience in the hospitality industry, including executive positions with Starwood Corporation, The Kimpton Group and Starbucks Coffee Company, has never owned a restaurant before. She’s hoping, though, that the Prepkitchen purchase will be the catalyst for more dining acquisitions in San Diego.

The newly created IAM firm will be a hospitality arm of its Las Vegas-based A5 Group, which over the last several years has invested in various companies, including a billboard firm and Pinkberry franchises.

California-born, Krause said she and her husband had become fans of Prepkitchen after dining there regularly on visits to San Diego from their home in the Las Vegas area.

“There’s still more to do with Prepkitchen. We want to take it into the next generation and that’s something I want to be a part of,” said Krause, 47. “In the first 30 days, we’re sensitive to our regular customers and staff members. We don’t want to walk in and flip them on their head so we’ve left the team intact.”

Plans, though, are in the works for a refresh of Prepkitchen in Little Italy, hopefully in the next two to three months, Krause said.

Meanwhile Whisknladle Hospitality is working on two ambitious concepts that will cater to office workers in the Sorrento Valley area. Together, the two projects represent a roughly $5.5 million investment, Balanson said.

First up is Park Commons, a planned 10,000-square-foot global food hall and special event space featuring a half-dozen food concepts, including Middle Eastern fare, street tacos, and poké. Targeted to open this summer, the new venue will be located on Scranton Road, steps away from the Karl Strauss Brewing Company.

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Rendering of Gravity Heights

Even more ambitious will be Gravity Heights, a collaboration of Whisknladle, brewmaster Skip Virgilio who co-founded Alesmith before selling it in 2005, and Ryan Trim, a home brewer.

Expected to make its debut in November just a half-mile away from Park Commons, Gravity Heights will be a brewery and restaurant with a 5,000-square-foot outdoor beer garden. It will be only a couple of miles away from yet another brewery, Green Flash.

“Both Karl Strauss and Gravity Heights will cater to the same area for lunch,” Balanson acknowledged. “You’re seeing in up-and-coming areas this new trend to have breweries and tasting rooms in industrial areas where office parks are located to cater to people once they get off work.”

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lori.weisberg@sduniontribune.com

(619) 293-2251

Twitter: @loriweisberg