Dish It Up: ‘We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re doing nice tires’

Sheep Riley of Big Front Door talks about the importance of being a regular at independent restaurants; the rising costs of labor and rent impacting small businesses; his new digs in University Heights and more.


For Sheep Riley, “it’s been an almost kind of year.”

Riley, who lives in Mission Hills, moved to San Diego in 2000. Previously, he was the general manager at Kensington Grill (now Cucina Sorella), as well as worked at Indigo Grill in Little Italy and Firehouse in Pacific Beach, among others. He describes himself as a hybrid, having spent an equal amount of time in the front and back of house.

Now he co-owns the restaurant Big Front Door with his wife, Laura, in University Heights. The duo opened the sandwich shop’s doors in University Heights in 2012, and then later expanded to a satellite location inside Bottlecraft in Solana Beach.

Like many small business owners — especially in the restaurant industry — they have faced many struggles over the years, including rising costs of labor and rent. Last year they were left without a home when they were kicked out of their original location on Park Blvd. due to landlord issues.

Luckily, they were offered the opportunity to stay in the University Heights neighborhood — just down the block on Park Blvd. and Polk Ave. After being in the new digs for about seven months, Riley said it’s “just starting to feel like home.”

Riley stopped by the PACIFIC magazine offices to record an episode of Dish It Up, and here’s what he and host Edwin Real talked about in the podcast:

  • How Big Front Door ended up in University Heights
  • Changes happening in the neighborhood
  • What business owners can do to deal with landlord issues
  • Cultivating partnerships with local businesses
  • Sourcing ingredients versus making them in-house
  • The rise of the informed and educated eater
  • Increasing costs of rent and wages
  • The possibility of tip credit in California
  • Restaurant jobs shifting from pick-up gigs to professional careers
  • How good service can sometimes make up for bad food
  • The importance of being a regular at a restaurant
  • Developing a relationship with Bottlecraft
  • Solana Beach’s beer community
  • Riley’s favorite places to eat and drink in San Diego
  • Unspoken secrets of Mexican restaurants
  • “The Snooze Effect” conundrum
  • Why his restaurant has had “an almost kind of year”
  • The future of Big Front Door

Dish It Up is a collaboration between PACIFIC and Facebook group EDSD.

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