Trust Restaurant Group No Longer Involved In Operations At University Heights' Small Bar

October 30, 2019

This past February, news broke that University Heights' decade-old Small Bar was partnering with San Diego's rapidly expanding Trust Restaurant Group to completely overhaul the bar and restaurant, including revising the food menu, adding a list of craft cocktail, and renovating the interior and exterior of the space. After only 8 months together, the partnership has ended.

Founded by Hamilton's owner Scot Blair with then-wife Karen Barnett in September 2009, Small Bar has been a neighborhood staple in San Diego's University Heights for a decade, traditionally known for its extensive craft beer program, delicious tavern fare, and neighborhood-focused vibe. After partnering with Trust earlier this year, many regulars were turned off by the changes that resulted in the one-time dive bar transitioning into a more upscale cocktail lounge and eatery. To further the disappointment of frequent patrons, Small Bar management also let go of many of its longtime staffers before it reopened with its new look.

"The simple fact is, I was on the verge of closing Small Bar," said Karen Barnett in a statement posted on Reddit San Diego this past February. "My debts are high and the revenue just wasn’t stretching far enough to keep things afloat, let alone cover the cost to repair my leaky roof, holes in my restaurant floor, or equipment breaking down. I met with many people who wanted to buy my business, partner with me, or invest. I weighed all my options very carefully for many months and ultimately made a decision to bring the Trust Restaurant Group on board to help get Small Bar back on track and survive."

We received word that owner Karen Barnett announced to employees this week that Small Bar had ceased its relationship with Trust Restaurant Group. There is no word on what impact this will have on the business's operations, although we do know that former general manager Frank McGrath has left Small Bar and is now the new beverage director for Trust Group. We reached out by email to Small Bar and Trust management for comment but did not receive a substantive response by the time of publishing.

Trust Restaurant Group is currently in the process of an expansion that includes an all-day Italian restaurant and market, as well as rebranding Hundred Proof into a steakhouse. Founded in early 2016 with the opening of Trust Restaurant within design guru Jonathan Segal's Mr. Robinson Building on the outskirts of Hillcrest, the restaurant group is made up of alums of San Diego-based Eat.Drink.Sleep (JRDN, Decoy Dockside Dining), including Co-Owner/Chef Brad Wise, GM/Co-Owner Steve Schwob, and Pastry Chef Jeremy Harville. Trust immediately received rave reviews and became one of San Diego's most popular dining destinations, resulting in the team expanding in 2017 with the opening of Hundred Proof - a more casual bar & restaurant located four blocks North of Trust. In January of this year, the team unveiled the 3,400+ square foot Fort Oak within Jonathan Segal's The Fort mixed-use building in Mission Hills. News also broke this summer that Trust Restaurant Group had taken over the Mission Hills space that last housed Brooklyn Girl Eatery for the opening of Cardellino, an all-day restaurant, bakery, ice cream shop, and marketplace. The company also closed its Hundred Proof concept this past summer with plans to reconceptualize it into a classic steakhouse called Rare Society.

Small Bar is located at 4628 Park Boulevard in San Diego's University Heights. For more information, visit