UT San Diego: Dine in style while shopping for a car
SAN DIEGO (January 2012) Care for a lobster mac ‘n cheese with that Lexus?
By early next year, the prolific Cohn Restaurant Group expects to debut a 10,000-square-foot dining spot it is developing within the massive three-level Lexus Centre in Escondido that also houses the upscale car dealership.
When the nearly $30 million facility opened in late 2009, the plan had been to incorporate a restaurant into the more than 300,000-square-foot complex. However, it wasn’t until the center’s owner began talking to the Cohn group more than a year ago that the dining concept finally began to take shape. A couple of other restaurant proposals, including a steakhouse, had been considered, but both ultimately fell through.
Although the concept of integrating a dining establishment within an auto dealership is not a new one, it is a first in San Diego County, In fact, much about the Lexus Centre, from its palm-lined reflective pool and dancing waters fountain (not yet completed) to its planned retail mall and outdoor fire pits, is unconventional.
“I’d heard about this project over time and thought oh, this doesn’t make sense,” recalled David Cohn, whose collection of restaurants is up to more than a dozen. “We finally received a call from the owner who asked that we take a look at the space. We figured we’d go up, take a look and turn around and go home, but were truly wowed by it. We thought, this is just amazing, and we were hooked.”
Eager to explore what he says are areas of the county lacking in diverse dining options, Cohn and his wife Lesley, in partnership with chef Deborah Scott, decided that the Escondido location would be ideal for serving the Interstate 15 corridor communities.
Downtown and the Gaslamp Quarter, the beach communities and gentrifying areas like North Park already have become saturated with hip eateries, said Cohn, so it made sense to seek out a locale that had more of an untapped potential.
Scheduled to open by the first quarter of 2012, the Escondido project, just west of I-15, also encompasses close to 20,000 square feet of outdoor event space flanking the restaurant that the Cohns will operate for private functions. An additional 8,500 square feet of meeting and banquet space on the second level will also be under their control.
Together, the Cohns and Lexus Centre owner Judy Jones-Cone are investing $2.5 million to build out the restaurant space, which will take advantage of expansive city and mountain views from 17-foot-high windows and will also include a retail wine shop. And diners will arrive in style via a glass elevator.
The restaurant’s name, Vintana, takes its inspiration from ventana, the Spanish word for window, and vin, a reference to the eatery’s focus on wines. Cohn declined to say how much money his restaurant group is putting into the new dining venture.
Scott, who said she intends to price entrees at under $25, described the menu as one that will focus on California-style cuisine, in keeping with a décor will have a contemporary, casual vibe.
“We don’t want it to feel pretentious even though it’s in this gorgeous dealership with a glass elevator,” said Scott, who has been at the helm of Indigo Grill, Kemo Sabe and Island Prime. “We want it to just be a nice neighborhood restaurant for people in Escondido and the surrounding area.”
Although the Lexus complex opened in the middle of a deep recession, Jones-Cone said she was undeterred and remains committed to building out the second level of the center to accommodate niche retail outlets that will be a good complement to the dealership. So far, there is just one tenant, a gift and design shop, but she said she hopes to attract more retailers in the coming months, like clothing boutiques, a gourmet foods store, a tailor or perhaps a day spa.
“We are seeing the automotive industry, especially the luxury name brands, reach out into other amenities and services to make the automotive servicing experience more convenient and pleasant for them. Some offer more amenities like exercise facilities and places to have your nails done. And you’ll see lots of cafes in dealerships, but I think it’s rather nice to have such a beautiful concept as a full-service restaurant like Vintana.
I think it will bring the experience to Lexus and non-Lexus owners alike up a notch in terms of their enjoyment.”