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Slew Of New Restaurants Driving Economic Recovery In North County

Customers ordering at Naegi, a pop-up restaurant in Oceanside, California, Au...

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: Customers ordering at Naegi, a pop-up restaurant in Oceanside, California, Aug. 3, 2021.

It’s lunchtime in downtown Oceanside and customers are lining up at Naegi, a so-called pop-up restaurant. Soon, the space will become Matsu, a new restaurant in North County.

More than a dozen new restaurants have opened in Oceanside since the pandemic. The city is a microcosm of a larger trend in North County.

Listen to this story by Alexander Nguyen.

“For me, it presented an opportunity to branch out on my own almost at a fraction of the cost because there was so much availability,” said William Eick, owner and executive chef at Naegi and Matsu. "I was able to get something a little bit cheaper than normal and take my time developing my concept."

During the pandemic, Eick opened Naegi. It's a pop-up, or temporary restaurant, serving karaage Japanese sandwiches on Japanese milk bread. The bread was made in the back and sold to local chefs. It's one of the ways he was able to pull through the pandemic.

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Now Matsu is slated to open next month. It will be a fine dining Japanese restaurant. Eick said he feels comfortable opening a new restaurant because audiences in North County have embraced chefs who pushed the culinary boundary.

"We're seeing a lot of influx of talent," he said. "You're seeing chefs push the boundary beyond just the trends in North County. And you're seeing diners accept that. And I think that's why there's been a lot of focus on North County."

Down the street, Carte Blanche, which opened just as pandemic restrictions hit, is also hopping on the trend of innovative dining experiences.

“There's just a lot of great, great concepts, a lot of culinary forward concepts and we wanted to kind of join in that community,” Carte Blanche owner Brandon Ross said.

The trend of new restaurant openings is driving economic gains in the region, San Diego North Economic Development Council CEO Erik Bruvold said.

“It's recovering nicely now that we've got folks that are investing, not only in restaurants but in hospitality and new hotels,” he said.

Debra Rosen, the president and CEO of North San Diego Business Chamber agrees. She said new businesses opening are always " a great sign for economic recovery."

"It demonstrates the idea that people want to get out after being at home for 15 months and support local businesses," Rosen said. "New business means new jobs, new jobs help grow the local tax base which in return builds vibrant communities."

Oceanside's development manager Michelle Geller said she is seeing a rise in entrepreneurs in North County, especially start-ups. She said the five cities on state Route 78 corridor formed a collective called Innovate 78 to get more resources for start-ups and it's paying off.

"North County is definitely on people's radar, and specifically Oceanside, for investments," Geller said. "I think the higher concentration and the urban environments like in downtown San Diego maybe wasn't quite as appealing to folks, so they're looking more towards North County that has a little more open space and room to grow."

Rosen said she expects growth to continue as the region emerges from the pandemic.

Reported by Alexander Nguyen

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