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FIRST LOOK: Bo-Beau Hillcrest

Cohn Restaurant Group's big Hillcrest idea, including S.D.'s first non-profit taco shop


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Reinvention has never been more necessary in the restaurant world. Used to be you only had to come up with a good concept, and diners would be very comfortable patronizing it for a couple decades. Now the cult of new is driving every American experience—from retail to restaurants to tech to dating. Diners used to find “their spot” and go back again and again until they got a plaque on a seat somewhere. Now the new “regular spot” is whatever spot is new.

Not saying the need for renewal was what drove Cohn Restaurant Group (CRG) to re-brand 100 Wines in Hillcrest, but re-brand they have. And ambitiously. With the help of their designer Philippe Beltran, the spot (1027 University Ave.) has been recast in three different ways. It almost echoes the multi-concept trend diners have come to love at places like Eataly (New York) or Liberty Public Market (Point Loma).

The first part of the reinvention isn’t new, per se. It’s arguably CRG’s most beloved concept, Bo-Beau Kitchen, a California-French bistro built on knock-out brussels sprouts and sepia-toned mood lighting. It’s next door where CRG is really spreading its wings.

The major news is Libertad, San Diego’s first not-for-profit taco shop. The joke, of course, knowing the industry’s notoriously small margins, is: Aren't all restaurants non-profits?

The for-charity restaurant is actually a trend that’s been slowly emerging across America, from Portland’s Oregon Public House to Troop Café in Milwaukee. At Libertad, 100 percent of the profits will go to charities. An advisory committee of five San Diegans will choose the charities, which will rotate every month. No advisory committee members will be part of CRG, and CRG will not have a role in choosing the charities. Even if Tacos Libertad loses money, CRG is guaranteeing at least $3,000 to that charity. When it comes to “profits,” CRG is just accounting day-to-day operations of the restaurant (food costs, employee wages, etc.) before paying out the charities. They’re not trying to recoup any of the build-out costs, cost of home office support or marketing from CRG, or designer Philippe Beltran’s work.

Seems to be a big win-win for Hillcrest and CRG. The company is accepting applications from charities online. If chosen, the charities are encouraged to promote in every which way they can, naturally, and sell as many tacos as they can. The customers buying a taco benefit from giving back and getting a meal. The Cohns have lived in Hillcrest for years, so they’re giving back to their own neighborhood. And as these charities promote and drive traffic every month, Libertad customers will no doubt see Bo-Beau Hillcrest. They may even decide to get a drink at the third part of this remodel—a “speakeasy” called caché.

Caché will be a small, 19th century-inspired Parisian craft cocktail and wine bar hidden behind Libertad, with vintage chandeliers, a Toulouse Lautrec-era mural, wax paper-lined walls, living trees, etc.

Enough with the talk. The concepts open doors in Hillcrest this week. Take a look at the first known photos in the universe.

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