UPDATE: First La Plaza La Jolla tenant revealed: Whisknladle’s ‘Catania’

By Pat Sherman

Whisknladle Hospitality, the team behind La Jolla’s Whisknladle restaurant and three Prepkitchen locations (including one on Fay Avenue) are opening a third La Jolla eatery, Catania, in the new La Plaza La Jolla boutique shopping complex at the corner of Wall Street and Girard Avenue.

The news makes them the first tenant to announce their inclusion in the La Plaza retail project.

Owner Arturo Kassel told

La Jolla Light

he has signed a 10-year lease with options to renew for up to 20 years. Pending approval of all city permits, Kassel said he hopes to open Catania in early 2015.

“When we build restaurants, we’re in it for the long haul,” Kassel said. “You have to be pretty confident and secure in your choice to commit to 10 years, but we feel great about it.”

Jon Williams, CEO of Davlyn Investments, which owns the building, said “Catania’s Italian coastal menu and atmosphere will be the perfect dining complement to the upscale shopping and services that La Plaza will provide to the Village of La Jolla.”

The 3,750-square-foot restaurant will open in the top floor corner space of the La Plaza building, which formerly housed Jack’s restaurant and nightclub. Jack’s closed in July 2009 in the wake of a down economy and employee embezzlement scandal. It has remained largely vacant to date.

“Pretty much ever since they went under I’ve kind of had my eyes set on one day maybe doing something there,” Kassel said. “It’s the right location, the right concept at the right time. … Had this opportunity come about a year ago, we probably wouldn’t have been ready to take it. Everything just sort of lined up.”

Cantania was inspired by a two-week, 1,400-mile road trip through Italy that Kassel and Whisknladle Hospitality executive chef/partner Ryan Johnston took six years ago. The kitchen will include a wood-burning oven, wood-burning rotisserie and grill.

Bluemotif Architecture is designing the space, which Kassel said would be warm, but less “kitschy and crafty” than the décor at Whisknladle, a block away on Girard Avenue.

“Restaurants over the last couple years have started to look more and more alike, I’d even say homogenous — reclaimed wood, Edison light bulbs,” Kassel said. “We are going to challenge ourselves and our design team to break away from that and do something drastically different. … The building itself is going to have some beautiful Spanish or coastal Italian architecture, which will make it very easy for us to play off it.”

Kassel and his business partners purchased Fresh Seafood Restaurant and Bar at 1044 Wall St. in 2006, reopening it as Whisknladle in 2008. They opened the first Prepkitchen in La Jolla in May 2009, and locations in Del Mar and Little Italy afterward.