Highly-Hyped El Jardin Closes In San Diego's Liberty Station For Concept Revamp Without Founding Chef

July 30, 2019

Despite a public relations-fueled hype campaign that included a glowing New York Time's review, a James Beard nod, and Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand recognition, El Jardin will suddenly shutter in San Diego's Liberty Station tonight after only a little over a year in business, aiming to revamp and reopen next month as a more traditional, casual Mexican restaurant.

Johan Engman's Rise and Shine Restaurant Group - the hospitality collective behind Fig Tree Cafe, Breakfast Republic, Feast & Fareway at Coronado Municipal Golf Course, as well as North Park Breakfast Company and others - unveiled his 8,800 square foot El Jardin last summer in San Diego's Liberty Station. The modern Mexican restaurant had a kitchen helmed by Executive Chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, a local San Diego and Tijuana chef that started her career as a pastry cook with stints at Sea180 in Imperial Beach and Jsix in East Village. Zepeda-Wilkins went on to be hired by acclaimed Tijuana Chef Javier Plascencia as the opening chef de cuisine of the now-defunct Bracero Cocina de Raiz in Little Italy in 2015. In 2017, Claudette competed in the second season of Top Chef Mexico, followed directly by appearing as a contestant on Season 15 of Bravo’s Top Chef, where she earned a less than savory reputation with her other cheftestants.

El Jardin will close today to undergo a month-long remodel to become El Jardin Cantina, a more approachable Mexican-American restaurant opening in late August without Chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins in the kitchen. Just recently, the restaurant annnounced a new summer menu set to debut next week so many are wondering what happened. There is no word yet on what is next for Chef Claudette, but without her, we can't imagine the El Jardin revamp will last long being that Rise & Shine already shuttered a previous casual Mexican eatery concept after a brief tenure. El Jardin's sudden closure is demonstrative evidence that no amount of paid public relations can save an inconsistent restaurant. 

For more information about El Jardin Cantina, visit eljardinrestaurantbar.com.

This is a developing story: We will update this post as we learn more.