Less than a year after losing Sam the Cooking Guy as a new Seaport Village tenant, the Port of San Diego has signed a lease to bring a restaurant and sports bar known as Cork & Batter to San Diego’s bayfront.
The relatively new concept, which opened just this month near SoFi Stadium, the home of the Chargers and Rams, will be designed as a bungalow-themed space that will include a 622-square-foot wraparound patio, seating in a 2,800 square-foot courtyard, and 8,000 square feet of indoor dining.
The operator of Cork & Batter expects to start building out the new restaurant space early next year, with a tentative opening planned for next summer.
Los Angeles-based BNG Hospitality Group, which owns and operates a number of Southern California venues, including the Yamashiro restaurant in Hollywood and the Sugar Factory brasserie in downtown San Diego, said it was attracted to Seaport’s waterfront location. The company also said it was impressed by the port’s efforts to inject new life into the aging center by attracting a number of new food and beverage venues over the last several years.
“With the rise of Little Italy and what’s happened there, we think it’s going to be the next phase of San Diego, with all these great tenants that the port has been able to get,” said Freddy Braidi, a managing partner with BNG. “Overall, we love the area, especially the water and that kind of view, it’s a plus for any location.
“We wouldn’t have known about (the Seaport vacancy) if it wasn’t for the port’s broker. We really weren’t looking in that area but when they came to us we were very excited to get that opportunity.”
Eats by Sam, named after TV personality Sam Zien — better known as Sam the Cooking Guy — was originally destined to occupy the former Buster’s Beach House space on the eastern side of Seaport. But in late February, Grain & Grit Collective, the San Diego hospitality group promoting the project, requested to terminate its lease for the two-story space that fronts San Diego Bay at 807 West Harbor Drive.
Braidi said BNG expects to spend $2 million to $3 million on building out the new restaurant. As part of the 10-year lease approved by San Diego port commissioners, the new operator will get an allowance of $750,000 for tenant improvements. Port officials are forecasting lease revenue of $2.3 million over a 10-year period.
BNG describes the feel of the new restaurant as homey and comfortable, kind of like a bungalow at the beach. The menu will have pub-style fare like burgers and wings, but also more exotic items like spicy tuna crispy rice and Aztec steak pizza. In addition to San Diego, the company is planning another location in Simi Valley, is in negotiations for a lease in Boston near the TD Garden arena where the Celtics play, and is exploring potential sites in Arizona and Dallas.
It also operates a Hollywood restaurant called 3rd Base that the company hopes to eventually rebrand as Cork & Batter.
The port’s approval of Seaport’s latest tenant comes as commissioners are scheduled next month to weigh preliminary approval of a $3.6 billion plan to remake the Central Embarcadero area that includes Seaport Village. It remains unclear how far off actual redevelopment is. The developer, 1HWY1, has an exclusive negotiating agreement that has been extended a number of times and now runs through October 2024.
The lease with Cork & Batter does include a provision that allows the port to terminate the lease in year five and possibly relocate the restaurant, although it would be responsible for certain expenses.
“We like long-term deals, and it’s such a great area so we went with it because we felt we could make a stamp there ” said Braidi. “We think we can ingrain ourselves in the community even if there was a pause after five years. The broker we worked with has other options in the area that we could relocate to. Five years is a long time, and we want to get this open and do the best we can.”
Among the other high-profile restaurant leases the port has signed at Seaport are Malibu Farm, Shorebird, Gladstone’s, Mike Hess Brewing, and Mr. Moto Pizza. Port spokeswoman Brianne Mundy Page noted that there eventually will be a transition plan included as part of the redevelopment of Seaport.
“The transition plan may include construction phasing and retention of businesses from the existing Seaport Village for Seaport San Diego,” she said. “The Seaport San Diego proposal includes retail and public market components that could provide future opportunities for these businesses. The 1HWY1 team has stated that discussions with the existing businesses have been ongoing and they are working toward developing a retention plan to be shared with the Port and the businesses at a later date.”