Thursday, September 5, 2019 | Article by SDBJ
In the last three years, Kearny Mesa, specifically Convoy Street, has seen a surge in high-end restaurant openings.
In 2018, the neighborhood, tucked between state Route 52, Interstate 805 and the Interstate 15, got its first speakeasy by way of Realm of 52 Remedies, the Asian-inspired apothecary-styled craft drinks bar founded by the guys behind Common Theory Public House, the beer-focused eatery. Later the same year, Ramen Ryoma, the Sapporo ramen-focused food place, opened its doors. And, earlier this year, Hidden Fish, the first exclusively omakase (chef’s choice) sushi bar in San Diego found its home on Convoy street.
Community Plan Update?
As early as the end of this year, an update of the Kearny Mesa Community Plan, which has been underway for the last couple of years to determine how Kearny Mesa will develop in the future, go to vote. If it passes, it could mean the Convoy district would begin its transformation into a mixed-use commercial and residential neighborhood, with several new work-live, and play options.
While the Kearny Mesa Community Plan would be a momentous step in the conversion of the retail and industrial neighborhood toward becoming more of a complete work-live and play community, Convoy Street, aka Asian Restaurant Row, has been going through a transformation of its own already.
Advocating for these changes is the Convoy District Partnership, a nonprofit group that lobbies for the Kearny Mesa business owners and customers. Vince Vasquez, Director of Communications at the Convoy District Partnership, said the organization’s focus has been to expand the economic opportunity and the transformation of what he said the group believes is San Diego’s next great destination.
Little Italy Model
“Little Italy is our inspiration and we are closer to that than we have ever been,” said Vasquez. “We are focusing on the Convoy experience, particularly the gastronomical one, to make sure restaurateurs and business owners have the opportunity to grow and thrive on Convoy. That is certainly important to us.”
Vasquez said, for the last two years, the members of the Convoy District Partnership have been participating in meetings for the Kearny Mesa Community Plan update that may help revise land-use and zoning laws in Kearny Mesa, including 100% of the Convoy strip. The process is in the final steps and is being reviewed this year, he said, which means, ultimately, a vote can come as early as the end of this year or as early as next year.
In a nutshell, Vasquez said Convoy would transform into a “dynamic commercial and residential neighborhood,” with upward of thousands of housing units that can be approved, for a community “like downtown, where you can work, live and play. Convoy is a great place for folks to begin to consider developing and living to provide housing, more mixed-use opportunity, as well, where commercial tenants can be on the bottom floor and residents on the top floors.”
Vasquez added that the plan will also look to add more transportation options to and from Kearny Mesa, as well as expanded walkways, integrating bike lanes and a more rapid and relevant public transportation system altogether. In the future, this will also include a trolley station closer to Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
“Really exciting things are happening in Convoy,” he said. “In 20-30 years, we will see a dramatic transformation there. In the meantime, we are trying to make sure the voices of the business owners and customers are heard in the process.”
Cris Liang, founder of Realm of 52 Remedies and Common Theory, both on Convoy, said there has always been good food offerings in Kearny Mesa, but a shift took place two to three years ago, when newer, more modern and updated concepts began to pop up in the neighborhood.
“Convoy has always had amazing food, lots of great Asian restaurants to explore,” he said. “But on a broader spectrum (and) as a food destination for San Diego as a whole, I think the shift happened about two to three years ago. Mom-and-pop restaurants were the only driver for the neighborhood, but I feel like a second generation of business owners, the younger ones, started adding concepts with more of a modern touch. (They) paid more attention to interior design and service, along with great food and drinks, putting a focus on the overall experience.”
Liang said this was certainly a focus for him when it came to opening his own restaurants. “We push harder on public relations and social media, trying other ways to get our word out and I think that helps with drawing eyes to our neighborhood.”
John Hong (aka Chef Kappa), head chef and owner of Hidden Fish, said he believes what will continue to drive the growth of Convoy is the demand for new and exciting Asian cuisines. This, in part, was why he opened the first omakase-only restaurant in San Diego right on Convoy — not only was the area lacking good sushi, he said, but Convoy is also the center of San Diego, making it easy for most to get there.
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