Chef Brian Malarkey and nightlife guru, James Brennan, the duo behind Enlightened Hospitality Group (EHG), have been popping up restaurants like they're going out of style, but are they spreading themselves too thin? In a span of three years, the group has opened five San Diego restaurants (Searsucker, Burlap, Gingham, Gabardine & Herringbone), as well as two out-of-state Searsucker locations in the past year (Scottsdale and Austin). But growth doesn't mask struggles. Two weeks ago, Gingham closed and was sold to the Cohn Restaurant Group. Last week, Burlap shut its doors to reopen in July as another Searsucker restaurant. Gabardine is struggling and is resorting to online deals and extravagant specials, and this week alone EHG lost its three star chefs: Herringbone Executive Chef and Top Chef alum Amanda Baumgarten, EHG's pastry chef Rachel King, and Burlap's Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay. We get to the bottom of the chef exodus and pontificate over the future of the fabric named restaurants.
So far, despite attempts to get a comment, we haven't heard back from Chef Amanda Baumgarten regarding her Herringbone departure, but we spoke with Chefs Anthony Sinsay and Rachel King, who have already lined up cozy new gigs at other San Diego restaurants - and were very positive about their time with Brian Malarkey and EHG.
La Villa Restaurant & Bar in Little Italy; but don't expect Sinsay's influences on the menu for at least a month, as the innovative chef plans to learn the operation before attempting to build on it. On moving from 'Asian Cowboy' to Italian food, Sinsay clarified, "It is not necessarily Italian cuisine, more Mediterranean, which was my forte before being pigeon-holed into Asian Cuisine. La Villa's food has a lot of Italian influence, but it is exciting to do something totally different than what I was doing at Burlap."
Sinsay took over Burlap when it was struggling and looks fondly about his short tenure at the Del Mar eatery: "What we did at Burlap in a year and a month was absolutely phenomenal. The staff was amazing. Obviously, leaving was not an easy decision, but I really think this is a good opportunity where I'll have carte blanche and not be under the Malarkey umbrella."
He clarified that Brian Malarkey was encouraging when Sinsay discussed leaving: "Being able to run my own show and not be overshadowed was definitely a factor. Brian was all for it when I approached him with this opportunity."
NINE-TEN, which is headed by executive chef Jason Knibb and has consistently received rave reviews from San Diego critics.
"I have had an amazing run with this company [EHG]. Three years ago Brian [Malarkey] took a chance on me and hired me to open Searsucker," King explained to SanDiegoVille staff. "Since then he has given me the opportunity to help open all of the group’s restaurants and have free reign over all of the dessert programs. He put his trust in me and I am grateful to him and James for all of the opportunities they have provided me. They allowed me incredible growth and independence. I have met some incredible people, formed many friendships, and had a great platform to showcase my desserts."
Regarding her departure from EHG, King commented, "I have decided at this point that it is time for me to move on. I am looking forward to doing something different. I am excited to be joining the team at Nine-Ten and working with Jason. This will be a change of directions and a welcome challenge."
Rumors continue to circulate regarding the future of EHG's fabric brand. We've heard of plans to open Searsuckers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, of another Herringbone opening in LA, and of all the restaurants being converted to Searsucker, but who knows what the future holds? Either way, cheers to new beginnings, delicious food and more than enough for everybody!