Move over Little Italy, Westfield UTC is emerging as San Diego’s next “It” dining destination.
Retro-hip Great Maple, upscale-healthy True Food Kitchen and celebrated global dumpling house Din Tai Fung are among the new restaurants opening at the mall this fall as part of its $585 million expansion.
The list of new eateries - added to the already-announced additions of cult-trendy Shake Shack, the country club-ish Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar and the high-end Javier’s Finest Food of Mexico - comes as department stores continue to struggle and shopping malls increasingly evolve beyond retail, into so-called lifestyle experiences.
“It’s not just about the shopping anymore,” said John Alderson, Westfield UTC’s vice president of development.
Alderson said that while shopping remains the company’s integral focus, “we look at food just like we look at merchandising. ... Food is a really fantastic way to express ourselves in what the customers want and how they want it.”
Those customers are affluent area residents looking for high-quality dining options for day or night, preferably ones with local ties, according to Mike Spilky, president of the Del Mar-based restaurant brokerage firm Location Matters.
“In UTC in general, there’s quite a demand for better restaurants. And it comes down to supply and demand - Westfield controls the retail availability in the area. They’re very good at what they do,” Spilky said.
And while Fashion Valley mall has a lock on the premium luxury shopping niche, with such boutiques as Prada, Jimmy Choo, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, its culinary choices are more limited.
“In terms of malls and looking to upgrade their restaurant offerings, there has to be a community that supports it. Mission Valley is a great area, it draws a lot of traffic,” Spilky said, “but to do a high-end, big check, night life (place), it’s not the same demographics. UTC is more like Fashion Island (in Newport Beach), there’s more affluence. It’s La Jolla. And there are lots of townhomes, condos and apartments right there.”
Clientele isn’t the only thing UTC and Fashion Island have in common: Both True Food Kitchen and Great Maple will now have locations at both. (True Food is also at Fashion Valley.)
The new restaurants at UTC include:
- Din Tai Fung: The Taiwan-based, wildly popular mega-chain offers a variety of dumplings and noodles at locations throughout Asia, from mainland China to Japan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Shanghai, as well as Dubai, Sydney, Seattle, Santa Clara, LA and Orange County.
- Arbor: A sister restaurant to Little Italy’s stylish, Kiwi-centric Queenstown Public House, Arbor will offer shareable plates, organic sandwiches, burgers, wine and craft beer for lunch and dinner.
- Smokeyard BBQ and Chop House: A South African-flavored steakhouse with casual touches, such as BBQ Potato Chips and pulled pork sandwiches. There is also a Smokeyard location in Mammoth Lakes.
- True Food Kitchen: With a menu guided by holistic health guru Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, True Food offers vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options in a chic setting. The restaurant will have and indoor/outdoor bar and two patios.
- Great Maple: Offering high-quality modern American fare in a mid-century modern atmosphere, Great Maple has been packing in the hipster crowds at the Hillcrest location since it opened in 2013. Brunch is as popular as the maple bacon donuts that are served at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Mark David, Great Maple’s co-founder and chairman, said while the mall might seem anathema to the bourbon cocktail-sipping scenesters at the Washington Street restaurant, deciding to open the restaurant’s second San Diego location there - which was based on consumer data as well as the property’s direct street access - made sense.
“To a certain extent, the center of gravity for business and our demographics is moving toward that (UTC) area, as opposed to downtown,” David said.
“Our Torrance location (at the Del Amo Fashion Center) is outwardly facing - and we do a big brunch businesses, as well as lunch and dinner - and we felt if we were in the interior of a mall, it might not be conducive to our brunch business.”
At UTC, Great Maple will also face the street, benefiting from both mall foot traffic and local visibility, he said.
“I’m thinking we get the best of both worlds,” he said.
Malls, David said, are finding their way in a changing retail climate, and restaurants are a big part of that future.
“The trend is obvious: Retail has moved somewhat , away from brick and mortar to the internet but you can’t do that with the restaurant experience, people are always going to want to socialize,” he said.
That goes especially for millennials, he said.
“They value experiences, whether it’s a restaurant or a trip, more than they do owning a house or even a car."
Westfield’s Alderson said the mall will be unveiling more dining options in the near future. Spilky said he is representing one of San Diego’s trendiest hospitality groups in its effort to open a cocktail-based establishment at UTC. He didn’t want the group’s name to be public until the the deal was finalized.
The potential tenant represents the kind of experience UTC is striving to offer.
“Is the world changing and affecting retail? Yes,” said David. "Is this the death knell for malls? I don’t think the people at Westfield would be spending all this money. They’re not crazy.”
What: The mall’s $585 million “resort-inspired transformation” is expected to completed by October. The expansion will add 250,000-square-feet of retail, dining, event spaces, a new valet drop-off area and modern arrival lounge.
Where: 4545 La Jolla Village Dr., San Diego; (858) 546-8858