Prepkitchen has recently opened a new patio at their La Jolla location, just in time for their five year anniversary. We interviewed Arturo Kassel, owner of Prepkitchen and Whisknladle to get the scoop on the new patio and some other fun topics including a new restaurant concept, beer in San Diego, and places he likes to go out to eat.
How has the newly renovated patio space been received, and do you see the patio space as something you’d like to incorporate into future restaurants?
It’s been great. We’re obviously benefiting from it. It’s so inviting for people to dine there. The great thing about it is, it has benefited all of the tenants. It’s such a nice place to hang out, so I’d say as far as I’m concerned mission accomplished. We love al fresco dining. That’s why we live here. We pay the sunshine tax like everybody else but one of the perks is being able to dine outdoors. It just depends on taking whatever the space gives you. If you find a location that has that component to it, that is a definite plus.
Is there a signature dish at Prepkitchen?
Of all of our locations we pride ourselves on staying within season and having what’s in season dictate what’s on the menu. We definitely have some classic dishes we always go back to. We have now been in La Jolla since 2006, when we first took over Fresh Seafood Restaurant, which is what became Whisknladle. Over the years we have had a lot of really successful dishes. Many regulars suggest we open a restaurant where we would exclusively serve our greatest hits, and that is what Prepkitchen La Jolla has sort of become. We take the best dishes that we have had success with at our other locations, and we serve them at Prepkitchen La Jolla. And we just sort of rotate through to stay within season as much as possible.
What are some places you like to go eat at in San Diego?
To answer your question, we like to keep it simple. We love going to low key restaurants like Hane(Sushi), The Fishery (Seafood), Fidels (Mexican), Blue Ribbon (Pizza), PK Del Mar (We live in Carmel Valley so that’s our date spot). At the end of the day, we have two kids and one on the way so we’re usually spent by the days end. Add that to the fact that we’re both home bodies and we really like to stay home and cook. I wouldn’t make it as a chef and I’m okay at best as a home cook, but I love the process. And my wife and I have an understanding where I cook and she cleans, which makes it all the more enjoyable knowing I can make a huge mess and not worry about cleaning it up.
What are some tips for running a successful restaurant?
The first is a disclaimer. This is a lifestyle and not a business. That is a hard truth that a lot of operators find out the hard way. Running a restaurant and owning a restaurant seems very glamorous. It’s really not. It is however, a very fulfilling career and I would recommend it to anybody. But I think that before anybody takes that leap, they need to know that it is a lifestyle. Your life revolves around the ebb and flow in the seasons of the restaurant and not the other way around. That’s something that is difficult for people to accept. So that would be the first tip. The primary thing for me is do what you love. Cook the kinds of things you love to eat. Create an environment that appeals to you. Put your heart and soul into it and do it well. Chances are you will be fine. As long as you stick to that, and do what you are passionate about and really commit to that, people for the most part end up doing really well.
Would you say it is harder to expand your brand now or was it harder to get the first restaurant off the ground?
In some ways it was easier to start, as they say ignorance is bliss. What I mean to say is that the more professional we become, the more we learn the ins and outs of the business, and the more mistakes we learn from. In some ways we keep raising the bar for ourselves. The business has become more complex. There are a lot of changes in the industry which we have to adapt to. A lot of changes in minimum wage and the Affordable Care Act. There’s a lot of moving parts. I think things have gotten progressively more complicated but we’ve also become better operators through our collective experience and hiring the right people.
What is your least favorite cooking/food trend?
In San Diego by large, I am a huge supporter of the craft beer movement. I think the breweries are putting out some great product. They really are doing some tremendous stuff with beer and I am all for it. I would hate to see San Diego go so heavily in the direction of that, where suddenly beer becomes the focus and the food is just secondary. I’d love to see a balance to that. If you are a brewery and are going to have a tasting room, they should put as much pride into the food they serve as much as the beers they make. And it seems like oftentimes it is an afterthought. Traditionally speaking, they have been food focused and the beer and wine complements it. But that is going to ruffle someone’s feathers. C’est la vie. I’m just one person!
What are your future plans for Whisknladle Hospitality?
As for the next restaurant, I can tell you this much, it’s not another Whisknladle or Prepkitchen. We have wanted to use a different side of our brain for some time now. You can expect delicious food, exceptional service and genuine hospitality like our other restaurants, but other than that, we’re going to mix it up.
Photo credit: Pasagraphy