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THE SHED: Malarkey To Cut Gingham

James Brennan and Brian Malarkey look to sell Gingham to Cohn Group


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UPDATE: Per representatives on Dec. 18, Cohn Restaurant Group is no longer in talks to buy Gingham. Per Brennan's statements below, however, selling Gingham is in the plan. Next suitor?

Last week it caught fire. Now news of its sale is doing the same. Though no paperwork's been drawn, James Brennan has confirmed that he and chef Brian Malarkey are in talks to sell their La Mesa restaurant Gingham to the Cohn Restaurant Group.

"The fire sparked the conversation between David [Cohn] and I, no pun intended," says Brennan. "We're longtime friends, and I've always admired him. He'd always admired the space. Brian and I had talked for a while about needing to laser focus on our main growth vehicles. When the fire happened, David reached out. No paperwork's been drafted, but we've told our staff what might happen."

Enlightened Hospitality—the partnership of Brennan, Malarkey, designer Thomas Schoos, and investors—expanded at a breakneck speed, opening five restaurants across the San Diego area within the span of two years. It seems they're now realizing the strengths and weaknesses of that business model. Downtown flagship Searsucker is undoubtedly a strength, pulling in huge numbers and national headlines, including Time Magazine's list of "Hottest New Restaurants in America." Enligthened recently opened a second Searsucker in Scottsdale and plans to open another in Austin, Texas. Herringbone is another big focus, says Brennan.

But a designer concept in rustic La Mesa? Not part of the plan. "We never viewed it as a big moneymaker," Brennan says. "It was more a place to cultivate talent and help us learn how to operate a business outside of San Diego. Even though it's not that far away, La Mesa is its own city with its own municipal codes."

As for Gabardine, Enlightened's 75-seat seafood joint in Point Loma? "Not going anywhere," says Brennan. "[Building owner] Dene Oliver's a great friend of mine. Brian lives a five-iron away. It's a great test kitchen for us. And we're going to finish the year with a really strong six months at Burlap [in Del Mar]."

Restaurateurs shedding under-performing concepts is nothing new, and doesn't necessarily mean impending doom. Sami Ladecki 86'd a few spinoffs (Fresh, Blackhorse Grille), and yet his Sammy's Woodfired Pizza is still thriving. "It's not a big deal," says Brennan. "It's just part of doing business."

As for last weekend's blaze at Gingham, police and fire officials told the UT they suspect a rogue arsonist. Just minutes after propane tanks exploded at Gingham, someone also lit a gasoline fire outside The Regal bar—which is less than a block away.

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