INCOMING: Green Acre

Brian Malarkey and James Brennan redefine work-food with Green Acre

Brian Malarkey and James Brennan’s next super-gastro design bonanza? After their success with Searsucker, Burlap and Herringbone, they’re bringing San Diego… a campus lunch spot.


Green Acre will not be a place to see-and-be-seen—unless you’re a Nobel Prize candidate. Like Google has proven—the workplace is no longer a vending-machine and plastic-wrapped sandwiches kind of world. Top-notch employees demand top-notch restaurants.

"We're pretty good at making restaurants," says Malarkey. "But I'm really excited about this thing."

Green Acre is essentially a healthy, organic food oasis for workers at the Leed Silver-certified campus known as Nautilus, where big-brains hunker to crack the most vexing dilemmas of chemistry, physics, life. The public is, however, permitted to go mingle with the Mensa—whether over ping-pong on the back patio or swapping double-helix theories at the Acai bar. (Note: I'm making up this stereotypical science parlance as I go—sure it's completely off-target and getting laughed at in Green Acre as we speak.)

Malarkey: "James was on the road through Europe, and he came back saying, 'Oh my god—there are all these healthy cafes and restaurants there where kids are lining up outside to get some good, organic, healthy food—we've got to do something like that.' I told him, 'While you were gone, I built it.'"

Designed by Bluemotif Architecture (Cowboy Star, Solace & The Moonlight Lounge), Green Acre will be overseen by chef Joel Cammett (ex-Gingham), serving breakfast (paninis, plus that Acai bar), lunch (sandos, salads, wraps, brick-oven pizzas) and dinner (rotisserie chicken, organic soups, etc.). As much produce as possible will be yanked from its adjacent 3,800 square-foot organic farm/glorified garden. "This project came with its own gardener," says Malarkey. "Joel will design his menu for the season, and the gardener will grow it." The backyard will boast an outdoor kitchen, ping-pong and lounge area. Dinner can be ordered for pickup from 2:30-5:30PM each day.

Alexandria Real Estate Equities, who operates Nautilus and other campuses in San Diego, wanted to do something unique that would inspire the top-level scientists they were pulling in. They tapped Malarkey and Bluemotif owner Matthew Ellis to take a look at their current cafe.

"They had it all done. We walked in there and it was just sterile and anti what we wanted to do," says Malarkey. "It felt like we were still in the badly lit office. This should be the place for people to step out and reenergize and refocus. Fun and lighthearted. So Matthew put grass over the display case. He put grass over this ugly water filtration system.

"The food had to be more for energy and less for slowing you down. we're making our own frescas—watermelon, strawberry-lime, etc. There's a market where people can buy snacks to go in mason jars. They return the mason jars, we wash 'em, and refill 'em."

Add to that a "Flower Exchange Program." Each week a wall of flowers in jars will be put out. Scientists can take a jar, put 'em on their desk for a week, then return the jar upon wiltage. They'll be refilled with new flowers every Monday. And Cammett, having worked at BBQ-heavy Gingham in La Mesa, will throw a BBQ the last Friday of each month for the tenants out in the courtyard.

The whole idea may sound odd, but Torrey Pines’ genius corridor has long attracted the top names in architecture and design, whether at Salk Institute, UCSD or the Neurosciences Institute. Now they just snagged SD’s white-hot restaurant duo. Future plans include a pickling station where you can pick your own produce, have it jarred in Malarkey’s magic pickle juice, and take it home. Apparently geniuses can make atoms do their bidding, but putting cauliflower in a jar with vinegar is some complicated voodoo.

"I looked at it like the Google campus—they've got an amazing restaurant and place to hang out in between work," says Malarkey.

Rumor has it Alexandria Group wants to replicate the Green Acre concept on multiple campuses. That would make Torrey's Green Acre the prototype for a whole new model of the Malarkey-Brennan enterprise.

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