Upscale culinary shop Sur La Table opens in La Jolla Village


By Pat Sherman

La Jolla welcomed its newest addition to the Village design district Aug. 28, as Seattle-based culinary retailer Sur La Table greeted customers with free espresso and cappuccinos, as well as smoothies, mushroom pastries and chocolate-almond scones prepared in the store’s on-site kitchen.

“We want you to come in and feel like you’re coming to a party, into somebody’s home, feeling welcomed,” store manager Carola Christopherson said.

The 6,563-square-foot culinary shop (at 7643 Girard Ave.) offers everything from cutlery to food processors and specialty kitchen utensils, as well as a full range of on-site cooking classes.

The store currently employs 10 part-time sales associates, as well as a fulltime store manager, two assistant managers, one floor supervisor, a chef and kitchen assistant.

As employees stocked shelves during the week prior to opening, Christopherson said customers peered through the windows in anticipation, frequently knocking on the door.

Carma Royce of Palm Desert, who vacations in San Diego each summer with friends, was in La Jolla for the afternoon when she came upon the new Sur La Table.

“I love it!” Royce said, as she purchased a new grater-zester and a few other items. “And that kitchen — OMG!” she added, noting that she would likely be back to take a class.

A calendar of classes is available online at

and includes everything from “Lessons in French Pastry” to “Healthy Mediterranean Eating.”

“We’ll do fall soups and fall stews, artisan breads, and macaroons,” said Chef Andrew Young, who spent several years in the pastry department of the Four Seasons Aviara in Carlsbad (now Hyatt Park Aviara) before joining Sur La Table.

The classes start at $69, or customers can opt for a quick $5 demo in topics such as pizza preparation. Instruction is hands-on, allowing students to ask questions along the way.

“It’s a full-on, start-to-finish (experience) — you make it, you put it together, and then you enjoy the end result,” Young said. “It’s you cooking with the instructor, not sitting and watching the instructor cook.”

The courses also show how to use some of the items for sale at Sur La Table, from a Breville Sous Chef Food Processor to small gadgets such as a balloon whisk.

“I think we all know a blender can be used to make a margarita, but what else can it do?” Young said.

Dropping by the store on opening day, Phil Coller, owner of Everett-Stunz bath and linen boutique across Girard Avenue, said he was happy to see the store finally open, adding that he believes additional “destination retailers” like Sur La Table are ideal for La Jolla’s design district, and will further entice shoppers to the Village.

The retail chain has more than 100 stores. The La Jolla location is the third in San Diego County. Other locations are at the Forum Shops in Carlsbad and at Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego.

The Village vibe

“Street-front locations provide a unique way to serve our customers,” said Sur La Table’s Vice President of Real Estate, Mark Comstock. “Particularly in La Jolla, there is a very attractive and fun environment afforded on the street. The convenience of adjacent parking, great restaurants and shops all make La Jolla an exciting new location for us.

“With the existing mall store (Fashion Valley) and the lifestyle store (Forum Shops), opening on the street in La Jolla affords our customers the opportunity to choose the type of venue they like,” he added.

Mike Slattery of Cassidy Turley La Jolla Property Group, who handled the lease for Sur La Table, said opening stores in both malls and on “main streets” can help a company weather the economy. During downturns, people tend to shop closer to home, “rather than driving to the mall 10 or 15 miles away,” he said.

Slattery said Sur La Table was being offered considerable incentives to open in the UTC Westfield Mall, before they ultimately chose to locate in La Jolla Village.

Slattery, who also handled leases for Chico’s, The Gap and other national retailers in the Village, said it is challenging for independent property owners to compete with malls to secure national retail tenants, who are often wooed by the promise of reduced rent and free or deferred space improvement costs offered by malls.

The owners of the space Sur La Table occupies on Girard recently upgraded their space, including new air conditioning, plumping and roofing — all of which helped sweeten the deal, Slattery said.

“Tenants are very sensitive to spending a lot of money,” he said. “It’s very expensive for stores to build out. … You could be looking at over a million dollars.”