New cafe heads to Pannikin’s old spot in La Jolla as former proprietors start again
Pannikin La Jolla may be gone, but its former owners have replanted roughly two blocks away while a new cafe, Il Giardino di Lilli (Italian for “Lilli’s Garden”), prepares to take root at its former home.
Flower Pot Cafe and Bakery
Amanda Morrow, her wife, Gloria Serna, and Dan Grunow operated the decades-old Pannikin La Jolla at 7467 Girard Ave. until April 24. But Morrow and Serna have packed up and begun shaping their new venture, Flower Pot Cafe and Bakery, at 7530 Fay Ave., the former site of Rubio’s Coastal Grill.
Grunow isn’t making the move, saying he was “ready not to be a part of this industry anymore,” Morrow said.
However, the rest of the former Pannikin staff has moved to the Flower Pot.
While the site is under construction, Flower Pot is operating a pop-up cafe with coffee drinks and pastries at The Lot La Jolla, 7611 Fay Ave. Morrow said she hopes to open the permanent location in early July.
Morrow, a coffee roaster by trade, said she also will open a separate, as-yet-unnamed coffee roasting company at the Flower Pot space with financial assistance from businessman and La Jolla resident Ajay Thakore, who also goes by the name Ace Rogers.
She said a portion of the coffee roasting proceeds will be donated to dog rescue organizations.
Il Giardino di Lilli
Meanwhile, Edoardo Ciulli, Stefania Sciomachen and Giuseppe Scognamiglio have taken over the former Pannikin location and are sprucing up the property for Il Giardino di Lilli’s opening, which they also hope will be in early July.
Il Giardino di Lilli will be a place for coffee, pastries and lunch “with an Italian influence,” Scognamiglio said.
Ciulli said he hopes to also be open for dinner in the future.
Scognamiglio said the cafe’s name comes from Sciomachen’s grandmother Lilliana, who died a few months ago at age 95.
It will reflect Sciomachen’s memories of Lilliana’s garden while replicating “the feeling of being in … Italy,” Scognamiglio said.
All three owners are native Italians: Scognamiglio from Naples, Sciomachen from Bologna and Ciulli from Florence.
“We always had the idea of doing this project together,” Scognamiglio said, noting that he and Ciulli have extensive experience in the restaurant industry. He said the two have been trying to find a location for their cafe since mid-2020.
Scognamiglio and Ciulli said they would meet daily at Pannikin, a midpoint between their respective homes in downtown San Diego and Del Mar.
When they heard Pannikin was closing, they inquired about the site, which led to a 15-year lease.
“We took this opportunity to keep this place as it is and build our idea,” Scognamiglio said. The timing and location felt fortuitous, he added.
Further tying together the site’s past and future, Il Giardino di Lilli will serve coffee from Barrio Logan’s Cafe Moto, which was founded by Bob Sinclair, who opened the original Pannikin Coffee & Tea on Prospect Street in La Jolla in 1968. He moved it to the Girard Avenue spot in 1971.
Ciulli said the layout of the cafe will remain the same, though the patio floor is being replaced, the awning and paint are being spruced up and many more trees and plants are being added.
Ahead of its opening, Il Giardino di Lilli will offer coffee and pastries on its sidewalk Friday, June 10, Scognamiglio said.
Over at The Lot, Morrow said “it’s amazing to be open” with the Flower Pot pop-up, with many longtime Pannikin customers seated at the tables. “It’s been a hectic couple of weeks.”
She said the cafe’s new name came from her and Serna’s love of gardening and the garden feel they cultivated at their former location.
Morrow said she had licensed the Pannikin name from the owner of the brand, PCT&S Inc., since taking ownership of the cafe in 2007 after working there for years.
The rights to license the name expired as the cafe’s lease was being terminated, though Morrow said she isn’t sure whether the two were related.
Dempsey Holder, owner of PCT&S, confirmed that the license expired during the lease termination process.
“I’m happy Amanda is in business for herself, and we had a great relationship with her while we were licensing partners,” Holder said.
Morrow received 30 days’ notice of lease termination in mid-March from the Clem Abrams Trust, which owns the Girard Avenue property.
Abrams was a La Jolla developer who died in December 2018. His wife, Lydia “Dia” Abrams, went missing in June 2020 from her 117-acre ranch in Riverside County and has not been found.
Abrams’ trust is administered by his children, Clinton and Crisara Abrams. Crisara was making decisions regarding the Pannikin property, Clinton told theLight in March. Morrow and the landlord were unable to agree on new lease terms, according to Morrow, who called the situation “heartbreaking.” She did not offer details about the lease talks.
Clinton said he disagreed with the decision to evict Pannikin, calling it “an outrage.”
Neither Crisara nor her attorney, Janet Gertz, have responded to requests for comment.
Morrow said the new site at the former Rubio’s is much larger than the Girard location, which will enable her and Serna to have plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.
They want the transformation to have the feeling of “making it our own,” Morrow said, “bringing the same vibe into a bigger space.”
The construction will get help from $85,420 raised from a GoFundMe campaign administered by longtime local resident and La Jolla Town Council President James Rudolph. Morrow said she received the money recently.
Sharon Fastlicht, owner of The Lot, said she is excited to host the Flower Pot pop-up and hopes to continue partnering with the cafe after its move to the permanent location.
“It’s an opportunity to help the community,” Fastlicht said. ◆
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