This article originally was published in the March issue of West Coaster San Diego; available online.
Southbay Uprising #Southbayuprising
By. Gonzalo J. Quintero, Ed.D.
National City, Chula Vista, and Imperial Beach. For years these towns along the shores of San Diego’s Southbay have been mostly devoid of craft beer options. With a population of over 300,000 people that is (according to SANDAG) predominantly young, increasingly educated, and upwardly mobile as well as Latino and Filipino, it would appear that this region has an emerging consumer demographic that is to be desired. With misconceptions of a landscape filled with taco shops selling macro Mexican lagers shaping perceptions it would seem that a new group of visionaries is taking a leap of faith and changing the craft beer scene in the Southbay through actualizing craft beer breweries, bars, and restaurants in a renaissance that some are dubbing #southbayuprising. West Coaster spoke to Morise Gusmao, General Partner at a massive brewery in planning NOVO Brazil Brewing Company located in Eastlake – East Chula Vista as well as Ron Chapman cofounder of Coronado brewing company which recently opened a brewery restaurant in Imperial Beach which houses 16 taps serving Coronado’s locally brewed beer. In addition to these brewery owners we also spoke to publicans Eddie Trejo at National City’s first craft beer bar “Machete” located on Highland Ave. as well as Matt Cieslak new owner of a revamped Chula Vista mainstay “The Manhattan” located on Broadway and Tony Raso III who is building out Biere Cafe Southbay on 3rd Ave. in historic downtown Chula Vista.
Why is this Southbay craft beer renaissance happening now?
The revolution of the beer industry has played a major role in the economic progress of San Diego. Residents and governments of the county have taken notice, and see it not only as an opportunity to revitalize an economy, but also to revitalize the community. The craft beer community tends to pay attention to the origins and quality of what they consume, such as food, beer and culture and it fosters collaborative efforts to build and work for the community. The Southbay Uprising has been a long time coming. With such amazing things brewing in the surrounding areas, such as the multiple award-winning breweries directly to the North (San Diego and North County) and South (Baja California), it was only a matter of time until the beer revolution made its way into the southern communities in such a strong way. The craft beer community also serves as a platform to further bridge cultures, as it offers a welcoming convention of minds and taste buds. After all, isn’t beer a universal language?
Matt (The Manhattan):
There are a lot of people that come from the Southbay or live in the Southbay that are so passionate about craft beer. I have no idea why craft beer didn’t come to the Southbay sooner, but I think you are seeing a group of individuals now who are not only passionate, but have the confidence and desire to go out on their own and take the risk of being “the first” and debunk the myths about Chula and National City: too poor, too Mexican whatever it may have been. I also think that there is a strong desire by people who love craft beer to share that love with their community. For us, that community is the Southbay and the opportunity to develop a strong craft beer culture where we live outweighs whatever risks are associated with being on the front lines.
In looking for a location for our brewery we found that Eastlake in Chula Vista has a lot of craft beer enthusiasts, but not many options. Our collective group has a great deal of expertise with recipes that have already been proven on the world stage, now we are happy to integrate them with traditional American craft beer recipes and integrating with the well-respected and award-winning breweries of San Diego. That’s what the Southbay was missing. We can tell by the vibe of the people looking into the brewery that they are thirsty. This will be good for Eastlake, the City of Chula vista, the Southbay community.
The interest in craft beer by Southbay residents has been there for a while. Places like La Bella’s were really in Chula Vista were the only ones serving craft beer in an underserved market. I had been looking for a place for myself to go to in the Southbay, particularly Imperial Beach where there is almost no presence of craft beer, and we found an ideal spot. The Coronado IB location, I love, I’m there every day. There’s a lot of room for growth in this community. We didn’t roll the dice, this was a calculated decision based on demographics and the lack of craft beer. We started with 16 handles and I wish we had more. the growler refills alone clearly show excellent sales, support, and growth .
Tony (Biere Cafe):
I don’t know if I would call the new craft beer focused bars, and my current project, a Southbay renaissance quite yet. I am very excited about the opportunity to run my own place, and I hope other beer drinkers will also enjoy the space. I’m just not convinced that three or four different craft beer concepts can turn around the reputation of multiple neighboring communities, although it is a great start. I believe there is space within the communities of Imperial Beach and South San Diego as well. The Southbay really is a huge area geographically, and the population is huge. Hopefully, by the time that my partners and I get Biere Cafe Southbay open, there will be other concepts that have a passion for craft beer operating as well, nearby us, or even right next to us in the village of downtown Chula Vista. I go to East Village, Little Italy, South Park, North Park and other communities usually because of all of the great places within close proximity to each other, so I believe clustering works. Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach and other communities have a long way to go before we get overly saturated, if that is even possible. Is there a renaissance in the Southbay right now? I am not sure, some may call it that eventually, but it is definitely heating up.
What will your business bring to the Southbay, and the craft beer community at large?
Morise (MOVO): We are Brazilian. Brazilians are a fun, festive, and passionate bunch. we want to bring that attitude and atmosphere to the U.S. and stay true to that culture. At the same time, however, we want to stay true to the existing craft beer culture in San Diego by integrating into the community. NOVO is comprised of a group of industry professionals from Brazil with years of experience and success in brewing, managing restaurants, as well as bars, brewpubs, and distribution. Our recipes all have a Brazilian spin. Our equipment is state of the art and made to the highest international standard by Brazilian based manufacturer Egisa, but we definitely recognize the relevance and caliber of San Diego beer and the many award-winning breweries who brew them. We want to take traditional American styles and give it our Brazilian touch by using Brazilian techniques and ingredients while pleasing and integrating with the existing craft beer community.
Tony (Biere Cafe):
I have grown up working in the service industry. My entire life, my job has been to make people happy. Although that is probably the key to success with any business, it is going to be especially true for Biere Cafe Southbay. The service will need to be perfect. The entire community needs to feel welcome. I know that my beer and wine programs are going to be very different than what people are used to in San Diego. If the service is off even a little, people just won’t get it. Since it’s my bar, I’m going to be pouring what I love to drink. If I don’t feel it’s world-class, I won’t buy it. It just wouldn’t be fair to the craft beer drinkers that demand exceptional quality, and it wouldn’t be fair to the brewers that are consistently taking care of business. When you are rotating kegs and cleaning lines every day, people tend to get a little lost with some of the rapidly appearing choices. Especially when some of those beers are not local. We are going to be devoting much of our time to educating the guests about the beer. We might be discussing the flavors they are experiencing, or describing the history behind the beer – possibly even describing the process that created those flavors. Our job will be to tell the story behind the brew really. I have always felt that welcoming service and education are the two biggest tools in growing craft beer within the community.
Craft beer went from a hobby to something I became truly passionate about. I worked with Brewery Tours of San Diego, and later in sales and distribution with California Craft Distributors. With Brewery Tours of San Diego I worked with all types of people, even those that were not fans of beer. I made it my purpose to challenge myself to find a craft beer for every person to enjoy. Later, this spirit of service served me well in my duties of sales and distribution. As for Machete, I grew up watching my dad run his own business and had that entrepreneurial spirit engrained in me. That desire couple with my experience in craft beer sales and distribution this was a natural progression. My partner of 13 years JoAnn Cornejo was born and raised in National City and has strong ties to the community. Though these cultural and emotional attachments were factors involved when choosing this as the location for Machete, it was clear that National City was lacking in craft beer. I truly feel that this project is for the community. Machete will change the dynamics of the community by focusing on a unique craft experience.
Matt (The Manhattan):
I have nearly a decade of operations experience of corporate America coupled with years of managing grass roots craft beer organizations Pizza Port and Blind Lady Ale House which lead me to this opportunity in the Southbay. I have always had a love affair with dive bars. They have so much character and history. When my wife Vanessa and I decided that we wanted to open a spot in Chula Vista, we knew that we wanted to marry everything that is awesome about the neighborhood bar with our love for craft beer and the San Diego craft beer community. We were lucky enough to find a bar for sale that is the perfect blend of old dive with great bones for a craft beer bar namely direct draw and a large cold box. With the Manhattan we want to give people a comfortable spot to get the absolute best craft beer they can find. Light and sessionable, hop bombs, rare and limited beers on draft and in bottle as well as a great spirits selection in an environment where there is always something going on…live music, pool, console games etc. We are the neighborhood “dive” bar with a surprisingly good beer selection. I want to debunk the myths, misconceptions, and really the unawareness about the Southbay. This isn’t a gimmick, we are serious about this and we hope to be taken seriously.
There was, and still is, a need for more family-friendly craft beer restaurants in the Southbay. Even with the proximity of our Coronado and Imperial Beach locations the demographics of our fans are different. It is clear that the Imperial beach location is attracting people from throughout the Southbay. That’s the future, the Southbay will grow by leaps and bounds. In fact, Coronado is looking for more spots in the Southbay and I am personally encouraging other brewery, brewpub, and restaurant owners to do the same. The Southbay has unlimited, untapped potential.
Gonzalo J. Quintero, Ed.D.