By Kathy Day
If Brian Malarkey and James Brennan hadn’t found just right building, their new restaurant Herringbone might not be coming to La Jolla, the Top Chef finalist and owner of two other area restaurants, said recently.
“That beautiful building became available” and that was it, Malarkey said of the 1930’s era structure at 7837 Herschel Ave. “It has a story. For 25 years it’s been unoccupied.”
Building in the 1930s to house an Oldsmobile dealership that operated until after World War II, the property includes 7,500 square feet of space and adjacent parking — a valuable commodity in the Village. Carol Olten, historian for the La Jolla Historical Society, said it was then taken over by late Helen Alvarez Smith and sat vacant for years. In the early 1970s, she noted, Smith’s son opened a high-end wine business there but it didn’t last long.
After Smith’s death last year, an estate auction was held in the building and the old coolers were still there.
“It’s a wonderful space with its high ceiling and open floor plan,” Olten said.
That’s part of what attracted Malarkey and Brennan, who are partners in Downtown San Diego’s Searsucker and Del Mar Highlands’ Burlap.
While they looked at other buildings, Brennan said, they liked the “rich character” of the Smith property and felt that they could cure what has been “an eyesore in the neighborhood for years.”
Brennan, who also owns the Stingaree downtown, is no stranger to La Jolla.
A north Pacific Beach resident who said he’s “in the neighborhood a lot,” he recently settled a dispute over his role in the ownership of the Top of the Cove property on Prospect Street.
Calling that an “old-world deal” that didn’t work primarily because of the economy, he’s moved on and is ready to tackle the newest La Jolla venture with Malarkey as they scale up to 15 restaurants in the next five years in cities such as Seattle, Denver, Atlanta and Houston.
La Jolla will be the third concept in their efforts, this time focused around “playing with the ocean — surf and turf,” Malarkey said.
Searsucker is described as “New American Cuisine” and Burlap as “Asian Cowboy.”
The trio will be what they take to other cities, Brennan said.
All are built on what they call the “social dining experience” where people can come for a fun experience and can have fun into the evening.
“It’s not a club, but a place to meet with kid ands and grandkids … to have a cocktail, light bites, dinner or and after-dinner drink,” Malarkey added.
Brennan said La Jolla already has plenty of places aimed at the tourist and seasonal diners, but that what he wants to see is a place where “the local La Jollans, people who live here” feel comfortable.
They plan on retaining the building’s physical character, but are again calling on Thomas Schoos of West Hollywood-based Schoos Design, who is known for his work in the hospitality industry as well as private homes for Hollywood celebrities.
Schoos recently met with the duo at the property to get a feel for the building, Malarkey said.
They hope to open by mid-April and expect to announce their Herringbone management team after the first of the year. Initially they plan to serve only dinner.