Earlier this year, after roughly a year of mismanagement and passable but lackluster-by-San-Diego-standards beer, El Cajon Brewing Company closed its doors, leaving behind a rather appealing skeleton. With a good-sized dining room, serviceable kitchen, and a shiny brewhouse—all of which are nearly good as new—I figured it was highly unlikely entrepreneurs looking to get some skin in the craft beer game would let East County vultures pick at those lovely bones for long. And I was right. Today, a deal was inked for URBN Restaurant Inc. to take over El Cajon Brewing Company (110 N. Magnolia Avenue, El Cajon).
URBN’s current holdings include URBN Coal-Fired Pizza in North Park and Vista as well as BASIC in downtown’s East Village. All of these venues serve craft beer, but in going into this venture, they tabbed a notable name in the San Diego suds industry to take care of the food aspect of the business, Alex Carballo. Carballo has served as the executive chef and, at times, general manager for Stone Brewing Co.’s farm-to-table restaurant, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido. In taking on this project, and part ownership in it, he will leave his current post near the end of July.
The City of El Cajon heavily funded El Cajon Brewing Company’s establishment and were eager to see new owners take over the space. With experience in restaurant management and running successful businesses focused on adult beverages as well as food with wide ranging appeal, this would seem a good fit. A lot will depend on who the group selects to be their head brewer. The group has met with several prospective candidates, none of which can be disclosed at press time.
For now, what is known is the basic direction the group would like to go where brewing is concerned. Having observed the industry and local palates from a key vantage point during his time at Stone, Carballo knows that a brewery must have a high quality India pale ale to hang with the plethora of San Diego breweries that offer high quality hoppy ales. However, he doesn’t see the need to try and compete on that level with multiple IPAs, stating having one great house IPA is sufficient and, more importantly, will allow his brewer to focus on making a wide variety of styles to appeal to El Cajon Brewing Company’s full clientele.
On the food side, the eatery figures to feature the New Haven-style coal-fire pizza that URBN made a name behind. In addition to blistered, black-cornered pies, expect basic, family-friendly food like sandwiches, wings, and a burger. Like the IPA, Carballo is more concerned with developing one incredible burger instead of a dozen themed variations on the American classic. Finding a good marriage between his food and his brewer’s beer is also of great importance to the chef.
Most of all, Carballo, a La Mesa resident, is looking forward to bringing the type of dining experience that doesn’t exist in East County (save for suddenly brewery-saturated Santee) to his stomping grounds, stating he hopes to “bring a lot of good things to a lot of good people.”
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