This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of West Coaster San Diego.
You can download West Coaster Magazine for FREE by Clicking Here
San Diego County may be the craft beer capital of the world, but there is a city within the county lines that is almost completely devoid of craft beer. It’s not a city hidden in the mountains, or at the edge of the desert. The city that I am referring to is National City. A city that is home to nearly 60,000 residents, located 5 miles south of downtown San Diego, on San Diego Bay in southern San Diego County, and 10 miles north of Baja California, Mexico. The City is bordered by San Diego to the north and east, Chula Vista to the south, the unincorporated areas of Lincoln Acres and Bonita to the south and southeast, and San Diego Bay to the west. The City is centrally located, within 20 minutes travel time of over 1.4 million people. This accessibility is comparable to Downtown San Diego’s.” Recently, city leaders have taken the initiative and made a call to arms “Bring craft beer to National City!” What does that mean for the future of San Diego’s second oldest city? I recently had a chance to visit city hall in the City of National City to discuss the future of craft beer in the community with the Honorable Ron Morrison, Mayor of National City.
Why craft beer, and why now?
“The timing is just about perfect. Our city is on an upswing. It is revitalizing. It’s not only revitalizing, but reenergizing. A lot of reenergizing with new and returning citizens with new outlooks. Young people, young families, artisans, people looking for a good clean night life, these are the people reenergizing the city. For a long time we had a bad reputation for having a seedy nightlife along National City Blvd. “the mile of bars” it was called. That’s a thing of the past and something is no longer a part of our community. The thing about craft beer, is that it is a contagious type of thing. It excites people, brings diverse crowds, and a kind of customer that expects more. In our downtown area (8th St./National City Blvd.) we are starting to see physical redevelopment of the streets, sidewalks, and landscaping. We are also seeing our residents, such as “Big Ben’s Market” offering craft beer and other items and cornering the market as it develops. Also, our close relationship with the Navy. There are tens of thousands of Navy personnel right at our doorstep every day at 32nd St. Naval Base. This is a new Navy, one composed of a bunch of young and sophisticated people. They are looking for craft beer, organic food, and a night life. Craft beer can be a part of that.”
What are the competitive advantages of the city?
“National City is an open market. We are a very accepting community. We have a base of customers with very few options to get craft beer. Additionally, National City leaders, and the local government as a whole, are actively encouraging business development to revitalize our downtown area. Also, geographically, there is easy access to National city. The I-5 borders us on the Wast, the 805 borders us on the East, and we have 2 trolley stops, one at 8th St. and one at 24th St. There is a huge audience passing by on the freeways, passing through on the trolley. We are improving the walkability of our streets to attract this huge audience into our easily accessible city.”
Can craft beer be family oriented?
“I have been to a number of breweries here in San Diego that you could mistake for a family restaurant. Not to mention brewpubs, and craft beer-centric restaurants. These types of places attract people from far and wide. They can be a great destination point. It’s a very special niche in people’s minds, they meet a great need – which is good wholesome adult and family-oriented entertainment. Families should be able to do more at night than watch television. What form would you personally want to see craft beer take in National City? “If we have people from within our city that have the expertise and ability to do it, that would be great. Adding that local flavor and niche, in any business, would make it easier. It would also be easier for existing businesses to make that change. We would encourage this.”
How do you think the citizens of National City would react to an influx of craft beer businesses?
“National City is a very unique community. It is just that, community. There is a huge sense of identity. Whether you live here, lived here, or are from here, once you have you will always be from National City. There is a real sense of place, of community, of ownership. Knowing history and being a part of it can lead some to wanting to maintain it, but here you find an openness and acceptance to change. Involvement is huge here. People love to be involved, informed, and be a part of the process as well as solutions. an attitude of acceptance comes from realizing we have a great city, a great history, and a great future because of the community here.”
National City isn’t tackling the issue of community revitalization and business development alone. Recently, the city partnered with San Diego State University (SDSU) and the Sage Project. I spoke with Dr. Jessica Barlow, professor at SDSU and Director of the Sage Project, to learn more about how SDSU and National City developed this new and unique partnership.
What is The Sage Project?
“The Sage Project is a partnership between San Diego State University and a city. Faculty and students tackle projects identified by the city partner that address their smart growth, quality of life, and sustainability goals through their coursework. The Sage Project is modeled after the University of Oregon’s Sustainable City Year Program. The success of this model is that students participate in high-impact educational activities that allow them to develop creative designs, solutions, and ideas for existing projects in their own community. The students also engage in community service with the city partner. In this way, the students see that their work is valued and can make a real contribution to their community. The city also benefits from the large number of students investing thousands of hours in these projects. Our current city partner for this, our pilot year, and for next academic year (2014-15) is National City. In the future, we hope to partner with other cities throughout the county.”
How did SDSU and National City decide to partner?
“In February 2013, Geoff Chase, Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Director of the Center for Regional Sustainability, invited Marc Schlossberg from the University of Oregon to SDSU’s campus for a presentation of the model to faculty, administrators, and city staff and elected officials from throughout San Diego County. Two representatives from National City attended, and from that day forward, National City showed the greatest interest in and dedication to getting a partnership going. In April, two of us from SDSU and Brad Raulston, Executive Director of Development for the City of National City, attended a workshop at University of Oregon to learn more about the model and how to implement the program at SDSU. We started brainstorming what projects to tackle, which disciplines would be appropriate, and what faculty members we thought best matched with those projects. This put us on the fast track to get the program up and running by Fall 2013.”
What classes are a part of the Sage/National City project?
“In Fall 2013, we had 14 classes (14 faculty members, approximately 500 students) participating from a range of disciplines: anthropology, city planning, engineering, geography, graphic design, international securities and conflict resolution, homeland security, and public administration. This Spring, we have 15 classes (19 faculty members, approximately 500 students) from audiology, city planning, communication, engineering, graphic design, international securities and conflict resolution, marketing, political science, public health, real estate and finance, speech-language-hearing sciences, and, most relevant to this interview, the business of craft beer certificate program. To give you just a small example of the impact we have, one class alone has provided over 400 hours of community service to the senior and nutrition centers in National City.”
I know National City is trying to attract craft beer to its community. The Professional Certificate in The Business of Craft Beer is a part of this, what are they doing to help the city reach their goal?
“We’re so glad the certificate program is involved with this! Students in a few of the courses from the certificate program are involved in determining the best approach for bringing the industry down to National City. The marketing class is identifying specifically what would be the best approach for increasing interest in craft beer by considering such factors as increasing the number of craft beer handles at local restaurants, planning a beer-focused event such as a festival, opening up some tasting rooms, or establishing a microbrewery. As well, they are considering how to make National City a destination for craft beer in the South Bay, perhaps along the lines of what North Park is for the City of San Diego. The brewery start-up class will be evaluating specific locations throughout National City that might be best suited for such venues.”
The prospects are already popping up. In fact, one venue has already taken the initiative to bring Craft Beer. Recently remodeled market “Big Ben’s” has been a part of the city for many years. Over the last 13 years it has been under the ownership of local businessman Nick Salem. I had a chance to speak to Mr. Salem on the outdoor patio of the grill restaurant attached to the market.
“I have owned liquor stores, grocery stores, and gas stations in San Diego since 1992. During that time I have seen the rise of craft beer in San Diego. Seeing how craft has grown, how customers desires have changed I had the idea that National City better. Craft Beer. Biodynamic wines. Better looking stores. Better ideas. So, we took charge and started this.” (Gesturing to the newly remodeled market) Bad luck hit the Salem family in July of 2013 when a fire engulfed the store. “I had a choice.” Said Mr. Salem, who continued. “We could rebuild or we could grow. Instead of rebuilding we decided to go first class. We have been in business long enough to know the concept would work, so, we put our money where our mouth is. The concept, aside from having craft beer and biodynamic wines, is to have a place in National City where people can buy organic produce, groceries, dairy, grass fed beef, healthy products. It is a one stop shop for people who want natural and organic products, the first of its kind in National City. We learned the value of these products, we teach our staff about the value of these products, and our customers learn the value of the products. We believe that if we accomplish this we will help people to learn and understand how what we are doing is good for them.”
The final question I had for Mr. Salem was simple ‘Why put craft beer on the shelves?’
“Having craft beer on the shelf helps get people in. They get excited about the beer, have access to it, come in for it, and then they look around and see what else we have. I’m excited because I’m my own customer. I want organic food, craft beer, healthy options. I want people to have access to what I would expect for myself and my family.” With an open minded community, supportive leadership, the interest of a world class educational institute, and initiative being taken by local business people National City is on the verge of a renaissance. What shape will it take? It is too soon to know. What is known, however, is that it is an untapped resource where opportunities abound. Given the emerging trends the real question, at this point in time, is this: who will take that leap of faith and bring craft beer to National City in a big way?
Gonzalo J. Quintero, Ed.D.
Columnist – West Coaster San Diego
©2014 West Coaster San Diego