The community-focused TownHall Public House will open Sept. 10 with lower-priced, faster-prep shared-plates menu
This week will be last call for Vista’s Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen, the Southern-inspired family-owned restaurant that opened four years ago on South Santa Fe Avenue.
Owners Aaron and Roger “Roddy” Browning say the concept they brought over from their still-thriving Flying Pig restaurant in Oceanside didn’t work as well with diners in Vista. So on Sept. 2, they’ll close the 5,500-square-foot Vista restaurant for an eight-day revamp and will reopen on Sept. 10 as the new TownHall Public House. The new, more-casual restaurant will offer lower prices, faster food preparation, more shared plates, a children’s play are and table games and more live music on the weekends.
“It’s time to give Vista it’s own ‘Cheers'-style restaurant where everybody knows your name. It will very much be a community gathering spot for people to come for celebrations and conversations,” said Roddy, 46, who lives in Vista with his wife, Aaron, 47, and their 7-year-old daughter, Josey.
The couple points to several reasons the Flying Pig concept didn’t succeed in Vista. One is that diners perceived the prices as too high. The Brownings attributed this to the large portions they serve and their sourcing of high-end market-fresh meats and produce. Another diner complaint was that wait times could be long because everything, including the sauces, was cooked to order.
Chef Mark DePlasco, who has cooked at the Vista restaurant for the past year and will transfer back to the Oceanside location next week, said the restaurant in Oceanside has a long-established and unique clientele.
“The Oceanside restaurant is more intimate, it’s near the beach. The diners come there for the full-menu dining experience and they don’t mind waiting for their meals to be prepared to order. It’s just 13 miles between here and Oceanside but it’s like two different culinary worlds,” DePlasco said.
The Brownings say the business at their Vista location also suffered from the slow-moving road construction project on South Santa Fe between Vista Village and Civic Center drives. For more than four years the road has been intermittently torn up and reduced to two lanes as the city installs roundabouts, sidewalks, parks and, soon, diagonal parking. Roddy Browning said during some heavier portions of the construction, business fell off by as much as 30 percent.
“We call it the orange barrel syndrome,” Roddy said. “We’re not a necessity. You choose to go out to eat. So if it’s difficult to get here, people go somewhere else. We had customers in Vista tell us they’d rather drive to our Oceanside location than deal with this here.”
There is also a growing homeless population downtown and a group of regulars sleep every night in the Flying Pig parking lot. The men and women usually pack up and move on before the restaurant opens for business each day, but the Brownings said the group has been using the landscaping around the restaurant as a bathroom.
Finally, there’s a name recognition problem. Last year, Vista’s long-established When Pigs Fly BBQ restaurant moved from its original location in northeast Vista to a new location downtown, just a block away from Flying Pig. Adding to the confusion is the restaurants have similar street addresses. Flying Pig is at 230 S. Santa Fe Ave. and When Pigs Fly is at 230 Main St. Aaron said she regularly has customers coming in to pick up barbecue orders and she presumes the same is true down the street.
Several weeks ago, they Brownings began talking about either closing the restaurant or reselling the property, which they own. Instead, they decided to start over.
“We watched this poor restaurant suffer so much over the past year. We couldn’t watch it suffer anymore,” Aaron said.
Fortunately, the Brownings have a trusted hand returning to the fold as the new chef/partner at TownHall Public House. Mario Moser was the founding chef at Oceanside’s Flying Pig in 2011 and left the company early last year to move to Colorado. He and his family are moving back next week where he will help launch the new Vista restaurant and serve as executive chef. Moser is known for his housemade bacon, pastas, foccaccia, chili and gazpacho, all of which may turn up on the new restaurant’s menu.
TownHall Public House will serve an all-day Southern-inspired gastropub menu with a few nightly specials. The quality of the ingredients won’t change but portions will be slightly smaller. The menu items will be more playful and whimsical in style and dish preparations will be adapted so food arrives more quickly at tables.
Menu prices will be reduced by $2 to $3 per item. Diners will have the choice of waited table service in the 89-seat dining room, or walk-up bar service if they sit at the bar or on the firepit patio. Cloth napkins and serve-yourself silverware will replace utensils rolled in cloth napkins. And there will no longer be a hostess stand.
At the bar, the cocktail menu will be revamped and the selection of beers will grow. Bottled beers and pitchers of beer will now be offered, and the number of beers on tap will rise from 23 to 30. The restaurant will also extend its hours. For now, Flying Pig is only open for daily dinner and a Sunday brunch. TownHall Public House will open for lunch at 11 a.m. every day and will stay open as late as 11 p.m. on weekends. But for the first two weeks, the restaurant will be open for dinner only, opening daily at 3:30 p.m.
During the refreshing project next week, the interior will be slightly redecorated and an unused patio on the south side of the restaurant will get new picnic tables. A children’s play area is being added, as well as two shuffleboard tables, more televisions for sports fans and new lounge chairs in the garden patio. Live music, now offered just two Sundays a month, will be expanded to every weekend.
Since announcing plans to revamp the restaurant on Facebook this past week, Aaron said public response has been strong and more than 30 volunteers have stepped up to help paint, redecorate and re-landscape the eatery during its brief closure.
“A lot of people are telling us they can’t wait,” Aaron said. “That feels really good.”
TownHall Public House
Grand opening: 3:30 p.m. Sept. 10
Hours: For the first two weeks, restaurant will open at 3:30 p.m. daily. After that: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Satudays. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Where: 230 S. Santa Fe Ave., Vista