Gingham restaurant, less than a month old, can seat 140 now, but operators are shooting to more than double occupancy by March 1—in advance of an “official grand opening” on St. Patrick’s Day.
Brian Malarkey, the celebrity chef behind the growing chain of fabric-named restaurants, said Tuesday night that expansion into the outdoor patio would allow the “Feast in the East” to accommodate 300.
“The town has welcomed us with open arms,” Malarkey said during a kitchen tour, part of a media dinner event. “We’ve got regulars already. We’re 3 weeks old. And we don’t have enough room to take care of the people that want to come in here.
“So we’re actively pursuing getting that patio done as soon as we can.”
Malarkey and partner James Brennan are leasing the building that once held Gio’s. Decor elements are still being added, including a sheep’s head on the second floor brought in by a diner (in exchange for $300 in Gingham credits). A cow will soon be perched on a landing, said one publicist.
But Malarkey, standing with Gingham general manager Mike Mitchell, was hesitant to express an opinion on the spiciest issue in The Village—the proposed property tax increase via the PBID (property-based business improvement district).
“We haven’t been around [long enough] to make a decision,” Malarkey said. “We’re just learning about it.”
Village politics was far from the minds of others gathered for the first of two media dinners, however. Among a dozen people sampling main and side dishes, specialty drinks and desserts were Ann Wycoff of San Diego Magazine, editor Pam Crooks of the monthly La Mesa Courier and editor Chris Lavin of La Mesa Today.
U-T San Diego was represented by life and entertainment topic editor Michele Parente and critic at large Karla Peterson, who writes the Test Driving San Diego column.
Younger than all of them was Ryan Studebaker, Gingham’s 26-year-old chef de cuisine—who entertained writers with his story of growing up in tiny Midland, MI, where he started washing dishes in his father’s restaurant before graduating to cooking at age 16 and a move to San Diego at 19. He worked at the iconic Mr. A’s for three years, he said, and later Prep Kitchen Del Mar.
“Where I grew up was no bigger than La Mesa,” Studebaker said. “It’s nice to see that stuff like this exists,” referring to the small-town vibe amid metropolitan San Diego.
With little formal schooling, Studebaker is in charge of creating many of the “meat market” dishes at Gingham, including an “oil boil” whole catfish, which was served with head attached (along with three dipping sauces and crispy flatbread).
The catfish are raised to Gingham specifications (1 to 1½ pounds) in Idaho, Studebaker said, and shipped to La Mesa, packed in ice.
“They’re ordered on Tuesday and arrive Friday,” he said. A second delivery comes Monday.
With purple plugs in stretched earlobes, a tattooed Studebaker fit in with much of the youthful crowd and told of plans to mix more with the customers, despite being “kind of shy” at earlier gigs.
He says he’s looking forward to special dinner-for-two nights when he’ll deliver the dishes himself, so he can “hear if it’s good or bad. I’d rather hear the bad, so we can get better. I’d rather hear the truth.”
He said he appreciated Malarkey’s trust in him to “do it right, as long as we work within the box,” or theme, Malarkey has created.
“The ability to grow is huge,” he said.