April 2020

Little Miss Brewing is Serving its Staff During These Difficult Times

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Little Miss Brewing is Serving its Staff During These Difficult Times

Family comes in all forms. Everyone is born into a family, but sometimes our coworkers become as important to us as our families. This is true for Jade Mischner, owner of Little Miss Brewing, and her husband Greg Malkin, its Operations Manager, who are giving back to and supporting their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bartender Jason capturing the spirit of fun at Little Miss Brewing

“Our staff have very little protection from the pandemic,” said Malkin. “We pay them minimum wage, like all restaurants/bars.” While these bartenders and servers can currently apply for unemployment, their unemployment checks don’t take into account the tips they recieve which significantly increases their overall salary. “Tips are how our staff can survive in very expensive Southern California,” Malkin added.

When Governor Newsom requested that all bars and restaurants shut down to only take out and delivery services, Mischner and Malkin were faced with the reality that much of their staff would be in financial trouble. 

Malkin realized, “We were left with an impossible choice that became an obvious one. Do we lay our staff off knowing it would be impossible for them to pay their bills, do we keep operating under the new restrictions with a guaranteed drastic drop in sales and tips, or do we take the hit ourselves and make sure our staff is taken care of?” 

Bartender Heather serving up suds and smiles

Before the pandemic, Little Miss Brewing was running five successful locations and tasting rooms in Miramar, La Mesa, East Village, Normal Heights, and Escondido. The plan was to expand in 2020 with a few additional locations, which they had been saving for but hadn’t yet signed any lease agreements.

“We had some cash on hand to try and weather the storm. Our staff didn't. The morally obvious choice is to take care of our staff, our friends, and our family,” said Malkin. “So we made the decision that during this pandemic we would give all the proceeds from to-go orders to our bartenders.”

Little Miss Brewing has a staff of 25, of which, five work in Escondido.

On March 19, the California Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC) released new, temporary guidelines that allow craft distilleries to accept orders of up to 2.25 liters per person, per day. Distilleries can sell pre-packaged to-go and delivery orders only, which must be transported like any alcohol purchase - in the trunk of a vehicle or unoccupied area of the car. Distilleries must also post these rules somewhere in their bar or restaurant.

With the public health order in place, Little Miss Brewing let all their customers know that 100% of proceeds from any order would be given to their staff, servers, and bartenders. 

“We made sure to post on social media about it asking friends and patrons to support our staff by buying beer and by sharing our posts,” Malkin said. The couple also opened a GoFundMe campaign to raise additional funds for their staff.

And their patrons have stepped up to help. “Quite frankly, we were overwhelmed with the support from the community. Between all of our locations, we have over a thousand shares, and while our numbers are still down, our staff is going to be okay,” said Malkin.   

Little Miss Brewing opened its first brewery in Miramar in June 2016 and its first tasting room at the same location later that year in December. Its five tasting locations opened shortly after, with the Escondido location opening in September 2019 at 123 North Kalmia Street in the heart of the downtown district. 

Brewmaster Guillermo (middle) at Little Miss Brewing’s main brewing facility in Miramar

“We chose downtown Escondido because it's obvious that within the next five years it will be the epicenter of nightlife for inland North County,” Malkin said. “We intentionally chose a small spot to lease, because all we sell is our craft beer. We do offer burger bench delivery to our customers as well.”

They feel Escondido is one of their most successful locations in large part because of the strong Escondido community. “Of all of our locations, the people of Escondido and our patrons in Escondido are the most welcoming and courteous. It's like having all the advantages of a bigger city but with a small town feel,” Malkin added.

That is the exact kind of patron Little Miss Brewing has been hoping for since its inception. “Our focus for all our locations is to be a regular spot for locals,” he said.

They also want to give patrons a reason to make their tasting rooms a place they will continue to frequent and make their local hangout. Malkin explained, “For example, we offer a mug club that is $20 annually. It's popular with over 200 members already.”

Another reason Malkin feels Little Miss Brewing made the right choice opening in Escondido is the way the City supports its business owners - especially now when this pandemic has so many business owners scrambling to stay afloat and understand their rights, responsibilities, and how they can get assistance.

“I've received more useful information about the pandemic and ways to help businesses from the City of Escondido, Escondido Business News,  and the Escondido Downtown Business Association than I have from any other city or entity. I'm thoroughly impressed with the amount and quality of the information being disseminated,” Malkin said.

Malkin added that this comes as no surprise as Escondido’s business success has become a model for future tasting room locations. “Even before the pandemic, we made a decision to try and replicate the success we've had in Escondido for all future locations, focusing on locations that are similar to Escondido.”

In the meantime, all Little Miss Brewing tasting rooms are open from 4-to-8 p.m. daily, selling beer to go, except for the East Village tasting room. Customers who would prefer delivery services should call bartenders Ethan or Jason at 760-805-4611 or 619-781-7580 respectively.

Under normal circumstances, Little Miss Brewing is a regular donor to charities and charity festivals. The brewery often donates kegs to events and nonprofits around town. “We do events with local nonprofits at our tasting rooms including, for example, the Girl Scouts.” But for now, all extra proceeds are going to the brewery’s dedicated staff. 

They plan to continue to donate to local charities once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. Additionally, Little Miss Brewing has plans to celebrate as soon as they can. Malkin added, “When we get back to normal, we are going to throw a customer appreciation/essential business party.”

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A North County Winery Lets Patrons Sip and Share in these Trying Times

A rainbow cascades the vineyards at Highland Valley Vineyards

Novelist George R.R. Martin said, “Wine makes all things possible.” Understanding the possibilities in sharing, Ray Schnorr and Jeannine O’Brien, owners and operators of Highland Valley Vineyards, found a way to give to those in need during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The boutique winery, located in Highland Valley, is donating 20% of its gross wine revenues to the San Diego Food Bank until at least May 15. 

Highland Valley Vineyards owners and wine makers Ray Schnorr and Jannine O’Brien

From the beginning, Schnorr and O’Brien wanted to do something to help. “We saw other businesses offering discounts or free shipping as a means to help their customers and maintain their business. We gave it some thought and decided to take a different approach to helping others,” Schnorr said. 

“The idea of supporting the Food Bank came about because of the connection between wine and food. With the stay-at-home order, our patrons are home, cooking healthy meals paired with great wines. It’s one of the positive side effects of the current crisis.”

Schnorr realizes that this kind of giving will give his customers a feeling that they are doing their part as well. “We hope this is an even more rewarding experience knowing a portion of their purchase is going to help the less fortunate in our community enjoy their own meal that evening.”

Wine has always been part of the couple’s life. They have been wine connoisseurs and enthusiasts for as long as they can remember. In 2004, they created their first batch of wine in their garage. As amateur enthusiasts, they planted vines in their Rancho Bernardo backyard to share with friends. Three years later, their red wine was winning top awards at the San Diego County Fair

“People kept asking if they could buy our wine,” Schnorr said. And so, the inspiration to start a small commercial operation began. Thanks in part to a 2006 county ordinance that allowed boutique wineries to open tasting rooms, in 2007, they purchased three acres in Highland Valley and built a commercial operation. 

“We were inspired by the success as amateurs,” said Schnorr. “We were able to scale that from the amateur status to professional status and win even more awards as professionals.”

Since the start of their operations, Schnorr and O’Brien have been doing it all together. “We are co-owners and co-winemakers,” O’Brien said. 

O’Brien, who runs daily operations, writes the tasting notes, and manages quality assurance, has advanced her knowledge in wine-making by becoming a Level One Sommelier. She will also soon complete her Wine Business Certification from San Diego State University and is studying to advance to a Level Two Sommelier.  

Like the craft brewery scene in North County, boutique wineries are fast becoming a growing market. “With the advent of the ordinance, the number of small boutique wineries has exploded. When we were first making amateur wines, there were eight wineries in the whole county. Today, there are over 140 that are active,” said Schnorr. 

Specifically in Highland Valley, there are eight wineries and a total of about 25 in Escondido. O’Brien thinks this gives Escondido residents a closer avenue to great wines than driving to other select wine areas in California and it gives wine enthusiasts something new to try. “Because of the boutique nature, the Temecula scene is very different from San Diego.” The closer location also means, “people can spend an afternoon bouncing between these wineries right here in Escondido.” 

The tasting room at Highland Valley Vineyards will be open on Saturdays and Sundays. This is when most customers come in to taste wines and make purchases. Wines are also available for purchase online and through the Vineyard’s wine club.  

The outdoor tasting patio at Highland Valley Vineyards

“At least half of the customers that walk in our door are from Escondido,” said O’Brien, adding that many of them are also part of the wine club. That is another reason, he said, why giving to the San Diego Food Bank made sense. 

“Jannine did some research on what we could do for giving back,” said Schnorr. “The San Diego Food Bank came up and they have a branch in Escondido.”

They have let all customers know that every purchase is going to help feed their neighbors. “We’ve sent out a newsletter announcing that and we had really good traffic last week,” Schnorr said.

“We are also seeing an uptick in the orders online,” O’Brien added. “We had another person who ordered wine for her family. She’s sending it out to all her kids. There’s nothing better than getting a little something in the mail. It’s just another pay-it-forward kind of thing.”

Giving isn’t new to the wine-making duo. They often donate to charity events and galas throughout San Diego. “We literally could give away all our wine at these events,” Schnorr said. The charities that they support on a regular basis include STEP (Support the Enlisted Project) - an organization that helps families of enlisted military who are facing financial difficulties and the Palomar Family YMCA.

Schnorr and O’Brien also like to celebrate their successes with their wine club. Three times a year, they have an event they call the “Pick Up Party.” At this party, members receive three bottles of the winery's newest releases and the event includes wine tasting, food and music. Past parties have included themes such as a Greek party dedicated to the god of wine and fertility, Dionysus, with guests coming dressed in togas; and a Western themed party complete with a chuck wagon and barbeque chef. 

The couple is tentatively planning a summer party with a baseball theme and guests will be asked to don clothes that represent their favorite team.

A friendly dog lays ready to greet customers

While the winery is still open, the couple too has felt the effects of the country’s shutdown. Business is slower, but as Schnorr said, “it’s still enough to cover our fixed costs and help us basically get through. That is our goal right now.”

Even while they are trying to maintain their business, Schnorr and O’Brien feel the need to make helping others a priority.  As Schnorr said, “The virus crisis is affecting everyone, but in particular, the thousands who have recently lost employment. The San Diego Food Bank provides a nutritional safety net and we are proud to support their efforts in this time of particular need.” 

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February 2020

An Escondido Native Paints The Town

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An Escondido Native Paints The Town

Escondido’s welcome sign painted by Kingcade

Zane Kingcade is celebrating 20 years as a business owner in Escondido. His store, Street Life on Grand Avenue, is a staple for artists, creatives, and young kids who know when they walk into Kingcade’s store, they will find art supplies, graphic t-shirts, high fashion items, and original artwork by Kingcade himself. It’s an eclectic mix of everything art-related that may draw people in, but it’s also the atmosphere that keeps them coming back. If it’s just a conversation that a customer wants or a place to hang out for the afternoon, Kingcade welcomes this too. “I tell people this is not just a store. It’s kind of a social club,” Kingcade said. “Normally there’s music playing, and people will stop by, poke their head in and just hang out.” 

The window front of Street Life on Grand Avenue

Kingcade has made Street Life into a gathering place for everyone who wants to be part of Escondido’s art and street fashion scene. Growing up a skater in Escondido, he found his calling as an artist in an unconventional way. In high school, he would make everything from party flyers to specialty t-shirts. This expanded from a side business to a cart at a local flea market, and then an actual community business. Kingcade said he would make everything from shirts with his own graphic designs on them to shirts for family reunions or Sadie Hawkins dances. “Once I got a sticker machine, it was over. Probably every kid who lived in Escondido at some point came to my store and had stickers made for their cars.” 

Eight years ago Kingcade opened his store on Grand Avenue and expanded it into the art shop it is today. But it’s not just his shop that is making a mark on the city. Kingcade is one of the most prominent mural artists in the city. “People come in here and they say, ‘oh it’s a great store,’ but they don't know that I paint a lot of the signs and murals around town.”

Kingcade’s appreciation for graffiti art has crossed over into mural art. He said, “I am really trying to leave a mark on the town.” 

 In Escondido, look down alleyways, or even the wall at Cute Cakes, and you will see his work.  Another Escondido business that displays Kingcade’s designs is Rosemary-Duff Florist, the local floral shop well-known in the bridal community for their exquisite bridal designs. Its location, which faces 2nd Avenue, a main thoroughfare, is a space often displaying Kingcade’s mural designs.

Christmastime mural painted on the wall at Rosemary-Duff Florist 

“When I graduated high school, I worked there for five or six years,” said Kingcade, who also designs and creates large scale murals around Encinitas that represent the spirit of the hip coastal city and the flavors of the businesses where they are displayed.

For holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Christmas, Kingcade designs and creates themed murals that bring both locals and fans who not only appreciate the art but also take pictures in front of them. What started out as an advertisement for the florist shop has become a tradition. “Everybody comes to take family pictures in front of it and it caught on, so now it’s every holiday.”

Back in the shop, Kingcade’s smaller-scale artwork is displayed throughout the place. With a nod to nostalgia, he has turned everyday objects into works of art. “I do a bit of everything. I do graffiti hip hop style artwork, but I also do vintage-looking old school.

Kingcade nostalgically uses a vintage cash register to make transactions

Uniquely painted frying pans, hand saws, and trays are displayed throughout the shop. Kingcade is open to commissions too. “People bring me the craziest stuff. I’ve had whole car hoods in here and clients wanted their name on it.”

Aside from the murals and commissions, it’s his latest original work that is creating quite a buzz. “The smell of paint attracts bees,” said Kingcade. “We were painting butterflies one time in Ohio - pink butterflies, to look like Monarch butterflies. Pink butterflies don’t exist in nature and we started making purple and pink stuff and I started thinking about what I was doing and the bees started coming up to the art and the art is attracting them.”

Kingcade’s newest installation celebrates the wonder of bees

These pieces blend graffiti-style art with an environmental message. Kingcade explained, “the bees are turquoise, pink, purple, orange. I call it infectious. They are hypercolor bees. They are becoming illuminated by the colors of the graffiti art.” 

Each piece has the words, ‘Save the Bees’ somewhere on it. Honeycomb is blended with graffiti in a way that makes it look almost natural. And the bright bees stand out in each piece as if to proclaim their presence. “So the bees are like nature’s intersection with man and its changing nature.”

For 20 years, Kingcade has been creating art for friends, clients, and customers. And as a proud Escondido native, he hopes to continue to spread the generous spirit of the city he has grown up in. “Anybody can come in here and walk away with something. Whether it’s something I make or purchase, it’s something unique. There’s something for everybody here.” 

Street Life’s high-quality spray paints and art supplies add color to the shelves

Although Kingcade has been in business for two decades, he still can’t believe how fast time has flown. “I have customers that came here when they were like 16. Now they’re well into their thirties and have their own kids. I’m like, wow, dude, where did time go?” 

Kingcade is planning on celebrating his 20th year in business sometime this summer to coincide with Crusin’ Grand. Visit Street Life at 254 East Grand Avenue in Escondido.  Keep up with Kingcade on Facebook and Instagram.

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Experience Escondido’s Art Scene Every Second Saturday

Guests enjoying an exhibit at an EAA reception

The art scene is alive and thriving in Escondido, and its resident artists want the world to know about it. Every second Saturday, galleries, museums, and public parks in Escondido open their doors for the community and visitors to experience this vibrant scene firsthand. From walking tours, to demonstrations, to hands-on crafts and play, 2nd Saturday is fun for people of all ages. 

2nd Saturday is promoted by MAGEC (Museum & Arts Growing Escondido Culture), an informal group whose purpose is to “grow and develop the goals of its participants by promoting Escondido’s vibrant arts, heritage, and educational culture.” Group member Carol Rogers sees 2nd Saturday as a way to introduce people to all the creative endeavors happening around town. 

“Our event is diverse, offering children’s activities, world-class art venues, art galleries, cultural and historic sites, with hours ranging from 9am to 10pm.”

MAGEC volunteers

In the early 2000s, 2nd Saturday was a thriving event with guests who came from all over. But as Rogers explained, “the recession took a toll on Escondido, leaving Grand Avenue with only three galleries.” 

Now, however, Escondido and the local art community are having a revitalization and 2nd Saturday has come back with even more for people to enjoy. 

“With so much to offer, it did not seem appropriate to limit our promotion to just art galleries. We know that often those who appreciate art are also interested in the history and culture of an area,” Rogers said. “We decided to provide a single destination for a broad view of many of our treasures here in Escondido.”

Throughout the day, museums, parks, galleries, theaters, and even the library, are open with special events for guests to learn more about the arts community in Escondido. The day can be divided up by location and interest.

For a young artist or a more family-friendly day, head out to Kit Carson Park, home of Queen Califia’s Magical Circle. Created by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), this sculpture garden was inspired by California’s mythic, historic, and cultural roots. The nine large-scale sculptures create a “snake wall” and circular maze entry. The mosaic ornamentation gives children of all ages a place to play, discover, and engage their own creative imaginations. For those looking for a more organized day or tours, the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum, the San Diego Archaeological Center, the California Center for the Arts, and the EcoVivarium Living Museum offer guests tours, lectures, workshops, and hands-on interactive activities and crafts.

2nd Saturday fan design workshop

Art enthusiasts who want an afternoon and evening experience primarily in Historic Downtown Escondido can participate in a Gallery Walking Tour starting at Stone and Glass, where resident artist James Stone demonstrates the art of glass blowing from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. They can then move closer to downtown and visit Escondido Art Association: Artist Gallery, where local artists display their work. Next, head to Art 120 Grand, a vibrant Fine Art gallery. Escondido Arts Partnership Municipal Gallery is a non-profit and home to over 400 artists. Distinction Gallery and ArtHatch Studios is a place for new collectors to discover works of art that appeal to them in many genres. Art Tradition Gallery is a place to purchase works or just enjoy art and even take classes. Meanwhile, The Photographer’s Eye Gallery highlights fine photographic arts of both established and emerging photographers.

Art study at Distinction Gallery and Hatch Studios

History buffs can enjoy a free 90-minute walking tour of Historic Escondido, then pop in to Patio Playhouse Theater, Escondido’s longest-running live theater. 

In February, 2nd Saturday coincides with the Chocolate Festival, which runs from noon to 5 p.m. Rogers said, “We have 350 people buying tickets for a festival and now it’s 2nd Saturday so hopefully they are going to stay in town, grab a bite, and do the art galleries as well.” She hopes cross-promotions such as this one will help vitalize business within the city and create a synergy for everything Escondido.

Rogers’s promotion of 2nd Saturday includes Stone and Glass, the glass gallery that she owns with her husband, James Stone. The couple feels Escondido’s art community is valuable and they are glad to be part of it. “We started in Rancho Bernardo Winery, which had a nice art community,” she said. 

When the winery was redeveloped by new ownership, they decided to look for a new art-centric community to establish their business in and found Escondido. Stone, as Rogers said, “started his glass journey with stained glass. One of his pieces can be found at Chabad of Poway. Stone is an Ocean Conservation Mixed Media Sculpture Artist. This includes hot glass and mixed media, glass sculpture, and hand glass-blown objects.  

Private glass blowing demonstration at Stone & Glass

While glass blowing is a skilled art, Stone has found that with the 2019 Netflix glassblower competition series, Blown Away, interest in glass blowing has risen. He called it, “the Blown Away bump.” Glass blowing classes have been booked solid for months in advance, even with an added number of classes. Rogers explained. “We teach as much as we can and still make our commission projects.” 

For students interested in glass blowing, Rogers cautions it is not for everyone. “First, they are working at 2,400 degrees and then the cost can be prohibitive.” An eight series session runs $1,200, and rental space can be as much as $55 an hour.” However, for the novice, introductory courses are available for students from nine to 90 years old. 

Whether art fans are looking to add to their collections, see what’s new in Escondido’s art world, or want to participate in a workshop, 2nd Saturday is the day to do it. And for those who are looking for great food and drink as well, there are plenty of places to choose from, either on Grand Avenue or throughout the city. 

For more information and a list of events on 2nd Saturday click here

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December 2019

Small Businesses Deliver Holiday Treasures in Escondido’s Downtown District

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Small Businesses Deliver Holiday Treasures in Escondido’s Downtown District

If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind gift for someone special this year, head to Escondido’s Historic Downtown District. Small businesses line Grand Avenue while even more open their doors to customers along the many side streets that cross this very walkable shopping strip. You will be sure to find something for everyone on your holiday gift list in this charming and vibrant neighborhood.

A Modern Mercantile

Its name really captures the spirit of this shop located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Kalmia Street - Vinklectic Mercantile sells a mixture of classic vintage styles peppered with a bit of modern, western, rustic, and romantic fashions throughout its very large 7,000 square-foot space. Owner and operator Beth Stevens said, “It’s the kind of place where you can come in and get a gift for a friend and pick up something for yourself too.”

Quality products and home decor for yourself or as gifts

The vintage and eclectic theme comes from Stevens’ personal style. “I love vintage and I love to mix things together. There’s also a nod to my Western roots.” Stevens grew up barrel racing and participating in rodeos in Northern California where she lived before moving to Southern California. The K in the store name is for her father’s last name, her maiden name, Karns.

Stevens opened Vinklectic in September 2017. At the time, it was only a 1,500 square foot shop. Within a year, she knew she wanted more and expanded to its current size. Retail wasn’t always Stevens’s world. She came from corporate HR where she designed health plans and retirement structures for over 10,000 employees. However, when she left that job five years ago, she wanted to do something more creative. She also wanted to be closer to home. Stevens had been commuting to Los Angeles for many years and felt it was time to find something local. 

“I fell in love with the historic district,” said Stevens. “It has a lot of old buildings; you can see the conversion of the buildings that has transpired over the years and it’s kind of quirky.”

When she and her husband Todd were looking for a space to open their shop, Stevens saw the corner store on Grand and fell in love, including its large front windows, and imagined the display possibilities. “When I first looked into the building I was in love, but my husband said it was not for me. He was afraid there wasn’t enough storage space. But I thought it was perfect right on the corner.” 

When Stevens called and found out there was indeed enough storage to start her business, she decided to rent the space and has not looked back. Her husband helped with the construction of the space, leaving exposed ceiling structures and support beams and adding railings by the stairs, all of which add to the boutique's rustic-yet-cozy atmosphere that customers get when they walk into the enormous space. It somehow feels like you are shopping at a friend’s place.

Vinklectic doesn’t just sell clothing; in fact, it is truly a modern mercantile where customers can find everything from jewelry to jam. The store has a large selection of women’s clothing that ranges from evening casual to t-shirts and jeans but also sells gift items, tabletop housewares and serving pieces, candles, fragrances, coffee and yes, jam. Stevens works with local artists who make some of the jewelry and candles found throughout the store. She also said her special line of coffee is one of the top sellers in the store as well as a wide selection of home-canned artisan jams that make perfect gifts this time of year.

The picturesque front windows have been one of the reasons many who stroll down Grand Avenue decide to wander into Vinklectic. “Every season we change the windows. It takes about a week.” Stevens said, “People often come in and say it’s the windows that bring them into the store.”

The holiday spirit is spread throughout Vinklectic right now. Gift items such as holiday scented candles, sparkling jewelry, holiday-inspired t-shirts, Santa serving plates, and holiday gnomes can be found throughout the store. These unique gift items are what help make small businesses stand out amongst the competition and Stevens understands this type of marketing. “I try to find things that are exceptionally unique that you won’t see in big box stores.”

Instead of competing with larger stores, Stevens offers her customers individual shopping experiences. “What I do is create events where we have a register.” Customers can create their own wish lists of things they would like to purchase in the store. 

“We try to offer a little more service.” This type of concierge shopping is especially helpful for husbands who don’t know what to get their wives during the holidays, she said. Stevens finds that this type of service is something locals appreciate because they don’t have to go far to find things and they know shopping locally helps their community.

The Escondido community has been a big supporter of Vinklectic since it opened. “What I feel the customers like about the store is that we know their names. They also like the small-town feel.” 

Stevens credits Escondido’s mayor, Paul McNamara, with much of the resurgence happening in the Downtown District. “He is trying to get events on Grand Avenue and promote small businesses. He has made this the narrative for the city. He is also very engaging,” said Stevens. 

She feels having such an approachable mayor has made a difference to the city. Stevens said she often sees McNamara and his many associates walking around the city, engaging with the community and local businesses and asking them how they can help improve the area. “It’s an-up-and coming district. There are lots of great changes going on.”

Unique Finds for the Home

Head east on Grand to Juniper Street where you will find one of downtown Escondido’s newest shops, Gordelly, Unlimited. This vintage and contemporary home décor and gift shop opened its doors in September with a Grand Opening event in early November.

Owner Shelly Luan at Gordelly Unlimited

Owner and operator Shelly Luan has been selling vintage décor for nearly four years. She started her business on Amazon then opened a vintage booth at Carlsbad mall that she ran until the mall closed. Luan always wanted her own business and found the Escondido location to be a perfect spot.

Exterior of Gordelly Unlimited

The unique name was actually inspired by a joke she and her husband share from when they first started dating. “When we started dating the paparazzi was putting celebrity names together. My husband’s name is Gordon, my name is Shelly and we became Gordelly,” she said. They like this version better than Sheldon, the alternative mix-up of their name. “It just didn’t sound right, and Gordelly is just kind of unusual.”

Like the unusual name, the store offers many unique and collectible finds. Most of the vintage items are mid-century and bohemian pieces that Luan has found at estate sales or her travels around the states, and from Idaho where some of her family lives.

There is also a mix of new items such as jewelry, home items, exclusive EcoTools makeup tools, wellness items, and clothing.

Mixture of items you can find at Gordelly

For the holiday shopper, Luan has set up a Santa’s workshop display that has a selection of children’s toys, baby items, and Star Wars collectibles. Handmade and vintage ornaments and select décor are also on display for sale.

Gordelly, Unlimited plans to participate in the Escondido Shop Small Business Saturday event on November 30. Customers are invited to shop and get their bingo cards stamped for potential prizes.  

Luan always wanted to run her own business. She started her career in retail working for Bon Marche. Then she took a detour becoming a certified medical coder for a while. However, the pullback into retail never left. She feels both her mother and daughter inspired and encouraged her to find a place in retail again. “My mom used to sell home interiors,” Luan said. When her daughter wanted to go vintage shopping with her one day and she saw the limited shopping out there, she said, “I realized there was an opportunity to sell stuff myself.”

She chose the downtown Escondido community because “I love the downtown feel. Even though it’s a big town, it has a small-town feel. I like the architecture from the 50s and 60s and felt it was a good fit.” 

You can find both vintage and decor items at Gordelly

She also sees the opportunities Escondido is bringing to the community. “Some other towns may not be advancing as much as Escondido,” Luan said. She feels the community is very interested in meeting new business owners and visiting her store. “Since I’ve been open, I’ve been meeting a lot of locals and getting to talk to them. It’s great. A lot of people come in and wish me well. They say they will come back and bring friends. That’s a good thing; they want to support smaller businesses.”

Luan hopes to extend Gordelly, Unlimited beyond a vintage and décor store. Part of the space is sectioned off for studio art. Luan wants to someday open it to art and home craft classes such as painting and macramé crafting. She thinks this might be a good opportunity to work with local vendors and crafters, “I would like to get some of the local artists to come in and teach,” she said.

Luan also sells her items on her online website, on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, but she feels having a brick and mortar presence makes a big difference to her business. She understands that engaging with the community has benefits that go beyond a sale. “I think just because someone comes in and doesn’t buy, they may think about me later and come back. I’ve made a friend. I think that’s good.”

The Escondido community spirit is alive and well in these downtown stores. When shopping this holiday season, make sure to stop inside Vinklectic Mercantile and Gordelly, Unlimited where you may find yourself buying something unique and meeting a fellow community member.

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Holiday Cheer is Found at this Escondido Landmark

The holiday season has begun in Escondido and the best place to get into the spirit is Canterbury Gardens. From the street, guests can spot a gigantic Santa climbing the rooftop, while at the entrance, two life-sized toy soldiers stand ready to greet all who enter. Once inside, every magical marvel that defines the holiday spirit is on display in this 10,000-square-foot winter wonderland.

Life-size nutcrackers stand on either side of the entrance to Canterbury Gardens

Since 1983 Canterbury Gardens has been a holiday destination for not only Escondido residents but for guests from all over. Owner and operator Dave Hansen said, “We draw from all over the state, even Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and New Mexico. We’ve done trees all over the country. We are a destination store; buses, big family groups, and parties fill the place from September to the first week of January.”

Hansen’s mother and father opened Canterbury Gardens after they both retired from successful careers – his mother owned a gift shop in La Jolla called Nostalgia Gifts and his father worked for Fotomat Corporation. When Fotomat moved to Connecticut, the family decided not to move with the corporation and instead his parents opened Canterbury Gardens together. They purchased the abandoned Old Brookside Winery landmark, which had been empty for nearly five years. In the first year, they decorated 12 themed trees and ran the plant nursery that was located in the property. Hansen said the winery was famous for its Black Velvet wine and they also offered sacramental wine to the Catholic Church. Hansen said, “After five years, we still had clergy coming to get sacramental wine.” The nursery closed in 1985, and Hansen joined his mother after his father died suddenly two years into the business. Hanson said, “It’s been a fabulous job for all these years. I still like coming to work every day.”

Today, Canterbury Gardens displays 36 themed trees, all imagined and designed by Hansen. One of the highlights this year includes a Champs-Élysées tree that was inspired by a family trip taken 15 years ago. The memories of fresh flowers, the Eiffel Tower and the lovely scenery have stuck with Hanson throughout the years. Hansen said, “It rained every day. There were umbrellas everywhere. The tree represents the colors of the city, its bridges, and landmarks. The beautiful ribbons remind me of the way women dress in France. They dress so perfectly.” This tree is decorated with black and white ribbons, bottles of Chanel No.5, glitter-dipped balls, and a black and white opened umbrella as the topper. 

The Christmas Cheer tree is a wine-themed tree with rich purple grape ornaments placed throughout, wine glass and wine bottle ornaments, deep burgundy glass balls, and grapevines encircle the tree. Beachy Christmas has mermaids and underwater creatures hanging throughout, while rope-twined ornaments, glittering corals, and starfish fill in the gaps. Other themes include both sweet and savory trees standing next to each other – one with donuts, candies, and chocolates, the other with pizza, burgers, and pretzels; a snowman tree filled with snowmen, big and small; an elf tree; a European tree with beautiful, hand-blown glass ornaments in vibrant reds, yellows, blues, and greens; a tree with classic and current fictional characters, and so much more.

A mermaid ornament hangs on a beach-themed Christmas tree

Hanson spends a good deal of time deciding on tree theme every year. “I pick the 20 most popular from the previous year and I come up with 16 new styles.” He said he gets his inspiration from what he sees in the media. “I watch all the runway shows and everything that has to do with style, color trends, and the Pantone color of the year.”

When asked what he thinks the newest trend of the season will be, Hansen said, “Blue is the trend this year. It is really hot.”

His Christmas Dior tree shows off this hot color. It is a flocked tree set up with pearlescent blue and vibrant blue glass ornaments, and chocolate brown glass balls and acorns hanging from the branches, while white peacocks perch on the branches, and a chain of dazzling, interlocked rhinestone circles wrap around the tree. 

All the ornaments and accessories found on every tree can be found in bins and tabletop displays surrounding the trees. In fact, if a customer wants to set up an exact tree at home, the staff at Canterbury Gardens can help them take home all the ornaments and trimmings that day. Hansen added, “Everyone who comes in here wants to make their homes look like a wonderland and we can do that.”

Another thing that makes Canterbury Gardens stand out from other stores that sell Christmas décor is the fact that at Canterbury Gardens, they only sell the very best quality items including Polish glass ornaments, Indian ribbons, and many exclusive items from top designers and artists. With nearly 600 vendors, the store is filled with the finest selection of Christmas décor that will inspire every customer.

A village display sits atop a table at Canterbury Gardens

One artist, Mark Roberts, who is known for his fairy, elf, Santa, and witch characters, has been selling his items at Canterbury Gardens for 21 years. Roberts continues to return to the store every holiday season to meet and sign items for his fans. Hansen said, “He did his first signing here and we have always been good friends. My Mom helped guide him on his success and he’s very loyal to us.” Roberts will be signing his character ornaments and designs at Canterbury Gardens on December 7 from 1:00 - 4:00 pm. Proceeds from the sales of Roberts’s pieces will go to pediatric and breast cancer charities.

Hansen says this is a highlight of the season and looks forward to this event every year. He feels he has a great relationship with many of his vendors and said, “Our vendors are very precious to us and we have enjoyed doing business with them through the years.”

Hansen also feels the city of Escondido has been there for his business from the start. “Escondido is the greatest supporter of my business. When we have a planning, building, or parking issue, the city has been nothing but good to Canterbury Gardens.”

In addition to city management, Hansen feels the support of the community, “The community is great. Many locals come in so often, sometimes they come in just to cheer up. Seeing beautiful things sometimes makes your heart forget the heaviness of life. Some of our employees have been here for over 30 years, and they have made friends with the locals.”

“I think what I would add is we are so glad we are in Escondido. It has a small town feel and a lot of loyal customers. People come in all the time and say, ‘thank you for still being here.’ We sell nothing anybody needs; we just provide happiness.” 

Canterbury Gardens is located at 2202 S. Escondido Boulevard, parallel to Centre City Parkway (U.S. Route 395). All items found in the store can also be purchased online at https://canterburygardens.com/ or yourchristmasstore.com.

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November 2019

Orange Glen Students Get a Taste of Life Skills in Culinary Arts Program

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Orange Glen Students Get a Taste of Life Skills in Culinary Arts Program

When people talk about student readiness, they are usually referring to academic skills. At Orange Glen High School in Escondido, in addition to top academics, many students are graduating with practical skills too. For over 20 years, Orange Glen has offered culinary arts classes. Eight years ago, they expanded their program when they built a commercial kitchen that gives students real-life experiences prepping, preparing, and cooking in an actual restaurant-style kitchen. This training also provides certification that allows students to work in any restaurant or food service establishment when they complete the courses.

Students cook together in the commercial kitchen

Culinary Arts teacher Kristi Sovacool has been teaching at Orange Glen for over 11 years. She believes students are getting unique skills and hands-on training in part because of the commercial-grade kitchen at the school. “We pride ourselves on training students if they want to go into the food and hospitality industry. Our commercial kitchen looks like the back of a restaurant.”

Orange Glen offers four courses in culinary arts including Culinary Arts and Food Science, International Cuisine, Baking and Pastries, and Advanced Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management. All students in grades nine to12 are allowed to enroll in every class, but Culinary Arts and Food Science is the prerequisite to the upper-level classes. All classes meet the requirement for general elective in practical arts.

These classes offer students advanced skills in cooking and so much more. Sovacool stressed that these classes really strive to create students who are critical thinkers and problem solvers. In addition to prepping, cooking, and tasting foods weekly, the curriculum includes quite a bit of reading and writing. “Students are always shocked to find that out.” she said,“We see the value of students getting better at their reading and writing skills in a subject that might be a little more fun.”

Of course, cooking is math and science and these skills are refined in the culinary arts program. Sovacool said, “In the first level class we talk about the different ways that baking is science. For instance, they just finished an egg unit and discussed the science behind the forming of the egg white when an egg is boiled or cooked. They use their math skills in the most practical way when it comes to measuring, weighing, and considering cooking times as these tasks require the use of following directions, addition, multiplication, and understanding fractions.”

A student prepares glassware 

Cooking is also about being prepared and organized. This is yet another skill that students learn and can incorporate into their daily lives. Sovacool said she often starts her class by saying, “Let’s mise en place!” Mise en place is a French term that means “everything in its place.” It is a phrase often used in the restaurant industry and is known throughout the cooking community. The students know this is an instruction to get their cooking station set up and in order.  Sovacool said this practice of preparing and organizing can be applied in other outlets in the student’s life including homework, sports, or work.

As far as understanding nutrition, this lesson is taught in all the classes. Students get a clear understanding of how food is categorized into proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. They learn how to substitute ingredients and the nutrition values in the things they add to their meals. Sovacool states, “One of our goals is to educate our students on what kinds of foods are healthier versus processed foods. It’s eye-opening for them when we talk about it.” Sovacool included that a big part of the education in her classes is to show her students what healthy eating looks like.

The students also learn the ins and outs of running a restaurant. Part of the curriculum includes giving back to the community through special events in the community. Past events such as a catering food for the Children's Museum in Escondido, a project with UBER eats and local restaurants, and making cookies for foster kids in the area, and visiting local retirement facilities around the holidays. 

Orange Glen High School also has a café set up on campus called Patriot’s Café. This café hosts a monthly lunch for all the staff that is prepared and served by the students. 

During the month of November, a special VIP lunch will be served to teachers and Escondido city officials so they can experience the positive learning this program continues to provide to the students. Sovacool said, “We are excited to show off our program to many of these community members!” Guests will include the mayor and deputy mayor of Escondido, many council members,City department leaders , the fire and police chief, as well as superintendents from both the Escondido Union High School District and Escondido Union School District.

Students enjoy the meal they prepared 

Soon the program hopes to include a farm-to-table aspect to the program. An after school program has sprouted a garden on campus that Sovacool hopes will provide fresh fruit and vegetables for the students to include in their recipes.

The culinary program is staffed by three teachers including Sovacool who teaches the first level course as well as Baking and Pastry. The Culinary Arts program is popular at Orange Glen with an even mix of boys and girls signing up for courses. Although they don’t have any formal records regarding how many students go on into culinary arts once they have graduated, Sovacool says she knows a handful of students who have gone into the restaurant and hospitality business. This is a plus for these students as San Diego’s tourism industry employs 194,000 San Diegans in fields directly related to hospitality, including lodging, food service, attractions, and transportation according to December 2018 reports from the Employment Development Department (EDD).

Sovacool believes this training and certification also gives back to the Escondido community. She said, “By equipping students to enter the food industry through our program,  we also hope to give back by preparing students for the workplace who might end up working in Escondido and thus contributing to the community we love.” 

A student puts finishing touches on his dish

The Escondido community has also supported the program by opening their doors to students through field trips. Some of these include: Vintana, Cute Cakes Bakery, Los Primos Mexican Food, Mike's BBQ, Broken Yolk, and The Paleta Bar. Owners of these establishments have led students on tours of their facilities, spoken with them about running a successful business in Escondido, explained how they got started, and answered questions about marketing and the business end of things. This has given students exposure to the many different types of restaurants in their community and an understanding of what it takes to work in the food industry. 

Teaching the program and working at Orange Glen High School has been a pleasure for Sovacool, who said, “Orange Glen High School has the best students. I feel we are so lucky to teach in this community and have the students we have.”

The Culinary Arts program is a CTE (Career Technical Education) pathway that provides students with an ANSI Accredited Food Handlers Card. This is a certification that is required for anyone working in the restaurant or food service industry in California and is valid for three years after completion.

Orange Glen High School offers students CTE pathways in several subjects including, Auto Tech, Media Arts, Computer Science, and Culinary Arts. Each program gives students practical skills related to their field that they can use to either enter the workforce after they graduate, or use the credits to accelerate to more advanced courses when they enter college.

Orange Glen High School offers many learning options for its students, and the Culinary Arts program continues to make applied learning a tasty option.

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Left Coast Engineering: Where Ideas Become Realities in Escondido

Some of the team in Left Coast Engineering offices

In an unassuming building on Escondido Boulevard that still displays an old Radio Shack sign, new products and technologies are being imagined, designed, and built daily - from cutting edge devices for Alzheimer’s patients to futuristic defense technologies. 

“There is always something buzzing here,” said CEO Anita Baranowski. Along with her husband Rob, who serves as president and lead design engineer, the two run Left Coast Engineering, an electronics product design firm that creates everything electronics including software, software interfaces, and controls as well as electronics equipment, apps, and electronics encasements.

Rob and Anita began their business journey 20 years ago when they both worked for Six Flags Theme Parks in New Jersey. Rob was a software developer and Anita worked as a PR manager. Together, they saw an opportunity. “Theme parks are all about guest services,” said Rob, who combined his technology background with Anita’s public relations expertise to create the first theme park navigation and scheduling app, which at the time was used on PDA devices. “It seemed like the next step in guest services, to create guided tours via wireless PDA.” This app gave users the ability to get fast passes on rides, wait time information, and so much more.

This design and development, along with various consulting projects on the side, investments from friends, family, and TCA (Tech Coast Angels), helped them segue into Left Coast Engineering.

They currently employ nearly 20 full and part-time employees, interns, and contractors who work on projects big and small. Any type of project idea is welcome at Left Coast Engineering, “We work with large companies and individuals. We are approached by people with ideas all the time and are happy to help out,” Rob said.

Rob explained that many clients walk in with an idea but not the know-how to complete it. He and his team work with the client to understand the idea from all angles. Together they dig into the requirements that include the design flow, user requirements, the look, feel, and size of the product, storage, care of the product, and so on.

“We help them understand all the aspects that go into design. Once we understand how it is used and what it needs to do, that’s when the product design comes in and with our experiences, we can put a product into place that fills those requirements.”

In addition to helping clients build their products, Anita and Rob also help them navigate the way they bring their products to market. Part of the success of Left Coast Engineering stems from the couple’s patent on their theme park app, which they have retained ownership of.  From their own experience, they help their clients understand the importance of patent protection and the process for securing a patent. Finally, the Baranowski’s guide their clients through the many aspects of marketing their product and how to bring it to market successfully through social media and various marketing outlets.

Left Coast Engineering has designed and developed more than 150 new products which are all cutting-edge technologies in use and concept. “Sometimes these products are five-to-seven years ahead of their time,” said Anita.

Interior of Left Coast Engineering

Because of the sensitivity and confidentiality of the designs and technology infringement, Rob and Anita can’t discuss many of their product designs or clients openly, but did say they often work with the U.S. Department of Defense and feel it’s a great opportunity because, as Rob said, “We really get to push technology here. We enjoy working on government projects because there is a lot of cool stuff that they need and they need it to be successful.”

One product design they are very happy to talk about is a recent project they have been working on with a company called NeuroEm Therapeutics Inc., based out of Phoenix, Arizona. Together, they have developed the MemorEM™, a head device that uses electromagnetic waves to treat patients with Alzheimer ’s disease (AD). With the assistance of a caregiver, users wear the head cap during one-hour treatments twice a day. Left Coast Engineering designed the head cap, cable harness, and the control box that is worn on the arm. The clinical trials were conducted through the Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute at the University of South Florida and the device is having a direct impact on the AD process as treatments are showing preventative and reversed memory impairment in the trials.

For Rob, building this product has been a highlight in his career simply because of its impact on the lives of its users. “We are actually helping people in a life battle.”

While Left Coast Engineering works with companies throughout the US, Escondido is where they chose to open shop because it is such a central location for invention. The 15 freeway and the 78 corridor give vendors and customers easy access to their shop, especially when they are coming from Riverside, LA, and Orange Counties. Plus, Escondido’s Grand Avenue offers so many restaurants and cafés for meetings outside the office. “We love to bring our customers and vendors to lunch because Escondido has a lot of unique restaurants. We actually have a customer who likes to come to our location so we can eat on Grand Avenue,” said Greg.

The Left Coast Engineering team takes a break every now and then during baseball
season to have a company outing in the Lake Elsinore Storm's Owner's Suite.

Anita and Rob both agree that it’s cool that they are in the old Escondido Radio Shack building. Anita joked that she might put up a battery kiosk soon because so many people still come in asking for batteries. Although the sign outside is temporary, they do hope to keep it as a memorial of the once-great electronics outlet, and they do have some old Radio Shack items they keep around as their mini-museum tribute to the store.

Being in the building has its pluses too. Anita said some of the benefits are that it has allowed them to add many more capabilities in their R&D technology labs. “For instance, this building is well-suited to our recent additions of a temperature chamber, an RF screen room (that filters out interfering signals like cellular and Wi-Fi (for testing purposes), and 3D printing.”

They felt like the move to this new location was easy in part because the City of Escondido is such a supportive community when it comes to local businesses and managing their needs. “Every encounter we have had with business management has been good,”  Rob said.

“It is a priority in Escondido to help businesses stay in Escondido,” said Jay Petrek, Assistant City Manager for the City of Escondido. “When businesses outgrow their buildings, we make every effort to make their move a seamless transition. It is also great to see that new businesses can retrofit old buildings to meet their needs. The Radio Shack building is a well-known spot in our town and knowing a technology company is making use of it is great for our community.” 

Anita and Rob are happy to stay in Escondido. Like this ever-growing city they enjoy the excitement of creating new and innovative products here. “You never know what the day is going to bring,” Anita said. And Rob added, “We could do this for 100 years and never get tired of it.”

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October 2019

Enjoy Sweet Celebrations with These Women-Owned Businesses in Escondido

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Enjoy Sweet Celebrations with These Women-Owned Businesses in Escondido

From left to right: Downtown business owners Louisa Magoon, Jill Reilly and Suzanne Schaffner

In honor of National Women's Small Business Month, the City of Escondido salutes women entrepreneurs who are taking risks to pursue their passions while contributing to the regional economy, adding jobs to our city, as well as improving the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. 

Below, we take a look at how three Escondido-based women-owned businesses are embracing community, celebrating every occasion, and creating quality food experiences. Susanne Schaffner, Jill Reilly, and Louisa Magoon work in Escondido because they each embrace and appreciate the supportive community spirit within their city. Their respective businesses - EscoGelato, Cute Cakes, and The Grand Tea Room  - are all local favorites that can be found in Escondido’s thriving downtown center.

A hometown local blends European flavor into her gelato

Growing up in Escondido, Suzanne Schaffner loved her community and the hometown feel of the downtown area, especially Grand Avenue. She fondly remembers shopping at Play Co, celebrating birthdays at Farrell’s or Swenson’s and enjoying the local feel of downtown Escondido. While studying and working in Europe as a young adult, Schaffner embraced the local vibe of the cities of Salamanca, Spain, and Stuttgart, Germany where she lived and dreamed of a way to bring that back to her hometown. This became a reality when eight years ago she opened EscoGelato, a café and gelato shop located in the heart of downtown Escondido.

Owner Suzanne Schaffner outside Esco Gelato

Like gelato shops throughout Europe, EscoGelato prides itself on creating fresh, seasonal gelato using locally grown ingredients.

“We are first and foremost an artisanal gelato shop,” Schaffner said.

This means they make their gelato one batch and one flavor at a time. With 14-to-18 flavors offered throughout the day, EscoGelato is making new batches every day. While chocolate is the only flavor available daily, seasonal favorites such as fig and mascarpone, pumpkin sweet cream cheese, roasted butternut, green tea and honey, and the fall must-have, Italian-inspired hazelnut cookie can be tasted this season. Schaffner is also  inspired to create flavors from food combinations she sees around her. For example, her apricot and goat cheese gelato was created after seeing this combination on a cheese board at a party.

Some of the flavors Esco Gelato makes in house daily

“That’s what’s fun about small batches,” she said. Every flavor Schaffner creates has to be something she too will eat. Her rule for gelato is, no matter how creative the idea, it has to taste amazing.

One of the things that helps make Schaffner’s gelato and café menu delicious is that she sources her ingredients from local farmers and businesses. Here too Schaffner’s love for the European lifestyle plays a part in her decision to use local ingredients. 

“One of the things I love about Europe and its way of life is that they celebrate their local products,” she said. “We use local ingredients in all our food. Figs, lemons, strawberries, carrots, tomatoes, avocados, and passion fruit all come from local family farms in the area. My brother even goes to local houses and trades lemons for gelato.”

Schaffner said her realization that local ingredients were the best to use came when she ordered a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box from local organic farm, Be Wise Ranch. “The greens in their box were the best I’ve ever had,” she said..

Stehly Farms is also a local organic farm that supplies many of the fresh ingredients that go into the gelato and café items, including the avocados that make up the Deedo panini. Sourcing locally not only helps support community businesses, but also allows for Schaffner to maintain a near zero waste kitchen because local inventory cuts down on food and shipping waste.

Visitors can find gelato, paninis, and select coffees throughout the day at EscoGelato. With seating for 20 inside, its comfortable and casual environment is reminiscent of the European cafes Schaffer is so fond of.

Additionally, Gelato-on-the-Go, a mobile gelato cart, is available for events such as weddings, school functions, and events. Schaffner said she was honored to be included in Celebrate the Craft at Torrey Pines where she brought the cart. This event celebrated California’s rich and thriving culinary foods and its artisans. 

With eight years as an integral member of the Escondido community, Schaffner said she is “thankful this all worked out” and is grateful to be part of such a thriving community, including surrounding businesses.

”I really appreciated the community of businesses,” she said.. “I appreciate that there is support from the other shops in the community. The café and restaurant community really supports each other.”

She believes in sweet celebrations for every occasion

When you mix southern hospitality with yummy family recipes, and sprinkle in a relentless creative passion for perfection, you will find yourself in the city-center of Escondido at Cute Cakes. Cute Cakes CEO and Cake Artist Jill Reilly has been making designer cakes in Escondido for over 10 years and her bakery and café has quickly become a staple in the community. 

Owner Jill Reilly in Cute Cakes

Cute Cakes is all about celebrations and Reilly makes cakes and sweets for every celebration, from birthdays to weddings, to gigantic anniversary cakes for businesses like Sycuan Casino that have to feed 10,000 people.

What started as a custom bakery has now become an award-winning cake shop, café, and party and decorating studio.Reilly has been awarded the Best Of honor by the wedding style website, the KNOT for the past 10 years and has been in its prestigious Hall of Fame for five years. She has also won the Couples Choice Award on Wedding Wire every year since she began making cakes 11 years ago. In 2017 Reilly was featured on the television show Cake Wars when it premiered with the “Captain America” episode.

Outside photo of Cute Cakes 

The café serves breakfast and lunch daily with a special brunch menu on the weekends. As a self-proclaimed “coffeeholic” Reilly also offers a wide variety of coffee flavors that compliment both the sweet and savory items on the menu. Locals have become regulars here because the café is filled with southern charm.  Stepping inside the cozy café, guests can choose to sit at tables, on warm, inviting couches or comfy chairs. Games are set up all around, as well as a complimentary library stocked with books for every interest. Others may choose to set up their computer by the fireplace and get some work done while they eat a sweet treat.

Also available on site is a spacious party studio that hosts cookie and cake decorating parties, cake decorating workshops, and private events.

What sets Reilly’s menu apart is her passion for baking, her creative talents, and her homemade southern-inspired family recipes. “The recipes themselves are Southern inspired. Most of the recipes are family recipes,” she said.

This includes the carrot cake, chocolate cake, sweet southern pound cake, the Virginia apple walnut cake, and the Deep-South chocolate cake. Menus include favorites such as the Apple Fritter Monte Cristo, the Johnny Tsunami Wrap, and the Ham Pear Gorgonzola Panini. Of course, southern sweet tea is also a drink option on the menu.

While food and sweets can be ordered on a grab-and-go menu, it’s the designer cakes that gave Cute Cakes its name.

Local patrons enjoying breakfast together at Cute Cakes

Reilly, who loves to decorate, said one of her favorite things to create is making cakes that look like other foods such as pizza or a hamburger. “Tricking the eye to make it look like something else is fun.”

When asked if the unique cake designs created on popular television cake shows has challenged her, Reilly said she’s up for any design request. “I have some of the most fabulous decorators and we can do any design.”

Reilly thinks these shows have highlighted the wonderful art of cake decorating. She enjoys the challenge of creating new designs and cakes she’s never made before. She said one of the most recent challenges is the trend for upside down cakes. She explained cake decorators are like sculptors; they have to think about things like structural support and how to carve their designs into reality.

Reilly  - who believes women owned businesses are successful because women are natural multi-taskers and they bring compassion to their work that helps build relationships and passion into their products  - is grateful to be a business owner in Escondido. She is so invested in the area’s growth that she bought the property where Cute Cakes is located. Her hope is that Cute Cakes, like the other shops and restaurants on Grand, will help keep this special community thriving.

Pouring community in every drop

An invitation to a tea party became the inspiration for bringing a proper tea room to Escondido. The Grand Tea Room owner and operator Louisa Magoon came into the tea business after a successful career in corporate food services. As the Director of Risk Management and Human Resources for Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, she oversaw its daily operations throughout the United States. But on the side, she found herself hosting tea parties after attending one.

Owner Louisa Magoon at The Grand Tea Room

When there was a major shift at her company that left her looking for a new job, her husband encouraged her to try something new and open her own tea room and gift shop. Living in Escondido, she knew it was the perfect place for such a shop. They searched Grand Avenue and found a vacant spot that needed some work. They signed a lease in February 2011 and by August, The Grand Tea Room became a downtown staple that Magoon now runs with her daughter Leola. 

The Grand Tea Room offers guests a grand experience in downtown Escondido. Walking into the space, tables adorned with fresh roses, and set  with gold-lined tea cups and saucers painted in blue, red, yellow, and pink roses atop richly colored burgundy tablecloths and lace covers, guests will feel like they have been transported to a British cottage. Crystal chandeliers, artworks, and china cabinets filled with yet more delicate plates and tea settings surround the room.

Outside patio area of The Grand Tea Room fit with outdoor seating

With over 45 teas available, the most popular among them are the Crème Brûlée Caramel and the Buccaneer Black tea which is a blend of coconut and chocolate. The Grand Tea Room is a full-service tea room and gift shop. What makes The Grand Tea Room unique is that there is a full service kitchen on site so all the food served is made fresh daily and changes seasonally. These tasty bite-sized delights include fresh salads and soups including their signature soup – tomato; fruit and plain scones; miniature shepherd’s pies and quiches; smartly cut cream cheese and cucumber, egg salad, and chicken sandwiches; and various desserts including lemon bars, cupcakes, chocolate cake, and ones to be eaten with a spoon such as chocolate mousse. Teas are served in floral teapots and are tagged with names to help guests remember which tea they have chosen and the food is creatively displayed in a sweet/savory order on tiered serving dishes.

Enjoying a tea is a grand event and guests come to The Grand Tea Room dressed at the ready. Most are adorned in their Sunday best dresses or pantsuits and fine jewelry; while others go all out donning hats, British-styled fascinators, and gloves (that can also be found in the gift shop).

The gift shop at the Grand Tea Room

A high tea is a two-hour experience and Magoon recommends guests call ahead to reserve a time but walk-ins are welcome when there is space. Magoon offers three tea times daily at 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

The Grand Tea Room happily hosts specialty parties such as bridal showers, baby showers, birthday parties, and children’s celebrations. Parties can be scheduled during business hours or as private events.

Even within her own business, Magoon supports women-run endeavors. In fact, it was a bridal shower that brought dinner theatre to The Grand Tea Room. Two guests who happened to be theatre performers became regulars at The Grand Tea Room and one day the women pitched the idea of creating a show for guests. Magoon was open to the idea and now twice a year, guests can enjoy a fully produced play while sitting down to tea in the evening. Shows are typically British-inspired plays or murder mysteries including Shakespeare’s works, plays by Oscar Wilde, and works by Jane Austen. With help from 413 Project Theater Co., the curtain will rise on a new production in February 2020.

While Magoon considers herself the management side of the business, she credits her daughter for being a true partner in the business. “We’re good at different things. My daughter is very creative; I come up with ideas, she runs with it.” 

One of her daughter's ideas was a Downton Abbey themed party that became a hit as the television show was in its height of viewership. Leola also runs the kitchen and they both oversee the serving along with a four-person serving staff.

As a business owner, Magoon knows the importance of embracing other businesses in the Escondido area. That’s why as a member of the Board of Directors for the Escondido Downtown Business Association, she helps get the word out on upcoming events and meetings in newsletters and alerts to the community. Her gratitude for the support she received when opening her tea room is displayed in her willingness to give back.

The elegant interior of The Grand Tea Room 

Although the idea of a tea room in Escondido may have sounded crazy eight years ago when she started, Magoon has found that the city has embraced its charm whole-heartedly. “Even the naysayers have come on board,” she said. “Not too long ago at a city event someone said, ‘I’m so amazed this is working.’” 

Not only is it working, Magoon sees guests coming from all over, including Temecula, Rancho Santa Fe, Carlsbad and even Hemet to enjoy tea. She knows that its success lies in the reality that people enjoy moments when they can sit down, have wonderful conversations with friends, and feel special.

Thriving and bringing community together

All three women agree Escondido is a wonderful place to run a business and they feel that both the community and city leaders are instrumental in supporting their businesses. Not only do they work to build their own businesses, they also work with community leaders to continue to grow the area. As Jill Reilly said, “As a property owner, it’s important to me that Grand does well. I’ll do whatever I can to be part of it.”

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Inspiring the Next Generation of STEM Workers During North County Manufacturing Day 

North County employs over 1.2 million workers in industries such as life science, telecommunications, software development, medical devices, sporting equipment, and so much more. Additionally, this job market keeps growing with 54% of the workforce in North County employed in the manufacturing sector, up 27% since 2012. On October 1, manufacturing companies from around North County gathered to promote Manufacturing Day at Cal State San Marcos. 

For over 10 years, this national event has been held during the first week of October to celebrate and showcase the many modern manufacturing careers available to young adults around the country. Industrial businesses around the U.S. celebrate National Manufacturing Day by educating their local communities on the impact of industry, the value of manufacturing, and the exciting, diverse opportunities of a modern industrial career. Students are invited to participate in local open house events or exhibits that feature the various manufacturing companies in their area. The intention is to educate students on the many opportunities in their hometowns and give them insight into the type of training and education they need to pursue these job opportunities.

Student attending Manufacturing Day 

Escondido’s economic development manager Michelle Geller explains, "Escondido is home to some of North San Diego County's most notable companies in the manufacturing sector, including Kiesel Guitars, Meziere Enterprises and One Stop Systems. Celebrating manufacturing on a special day each year reminds everyone that there are a lot of important, innovative products being made right here in our city."

For the past two years, the North County Manufacturing Day Expo has been held at Cal State San Marcos and has had an attendance that reaches 1,200 middle school and high school students from across the county. This year, students participated from as far as Warner Springs and Grossmont with the majority from Oceanside, Carlsbad and other North County school districts. Schools from Escondido included Valley High School and Orange Glen.

North County industries such as Hunter Industries, Creative Electron, General Atomics, Genentech, and Nordson Corporation as well as schools such as Palomar College, Mira Costa College, and Cal State San Marcos were there to speak to students and answer questions.

Creative Electron booth at Manufacturing Day Expo

Hunter Industries Incorporated Senior Manager of Global Talent Management, Scotty Lombardi sees this event as an opportunity to reach out to young talent who are interested in learning more about his company. “We participate to inspire the next generation to pursue jobs in STEM, manufacturing, and engineering. Our future workforce needs are dependent upon the ever-lasting relationships we’re building today. The Manufacturing and Engineering Day Expo connects students to what’s being made, and to careers, right here in our own backyards.”

Student at Manufacturing and Engineering Day Expo

The event’s organizer was Erik Bruvold, CEO of the San Diego North County Economic Development Council. Bruvold works with North County companies to help promote economic growth in the region, market its development, work with individual companies one-on-one to meet their goals, and to work with educators and local employers to create pipelines that ensure a strong and growing workforce in North County.

When asked why this event is important to the area, Bruvold explained, “This gives companies an opportunity to give back to the community through outreach and to engage with a future workforce. It gives students an opportunity to see the breadth and depth of manufacturing in North County.” 

Students playing VR at Manufacturing and Engineering Day Expo

For students looking for inspiration as they consider their post-graduate futures, the impact of Manufacturing Day is influential. In 2018, “275,000 people participated in 3,000 MFG Day events across North America,” according to  MFG Day. “More than 80% of students said they became more convinced that manufacturing provides interesting and rewarding careers after attending these events.”

While the traditional Manufacturing Day model is to hold open houses, the North County event brought nearly 30 manufacturing companies to the Cal State San Marcos campus. This model eases concerns about capacity, safety, and sensitive work or trade secrets that might make the open house model difficult for some, while also putting multiple organizations in one place, making it easier for students to be introduced to several industries and companies at one time.

Student and a life science company representative at Manufacturing and Engineering Day Expo

The free event hosted companies that ranged from life science manufacturers to telecommunications and software companies, and to advanced manufacturing firms. Each company was assigned its own station to promote the business. Some created hands-on exhibits that engaged the students directly, while others brought representatives from various departments such as human resources or marketing to address the needs of their companies. Several included videos, marketing brochures, and takeaways as part of their exhibit. With so many students, the event was split into morning and afternoon sessions. 

Student interacting at Manufacturing and Engineering Day Expo

These exhibits gave San Diego students education to the types of future jobs that might be available to them, including software engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical, and biomedical engineering as well as mainline manufacturing positions such as technician jobs and design of new products.

Calsens displaying at Manufacturing and Engineering Day Expo

New this year was a presentation by the College of Math and Science from Cal State San Marcos that addressed the STEM undergraduate work at the university. For some of the students, this was the first time they have ever visited a university campus and the afternoon presentation gave them a clearer understanding of the importance of higher education as well as the benefits that STEM learning can bring to future careers. 

Bruvold said this presentation was very well received. “I think a highlight for the students was getting to hear from current undergrads who are just a few years older than the high school students and understanding how they are succeeding in STEM.”

Bruvold added the turnout was fantastic and the overall day’s events came together very well with positive feedback from both the exhibitors, students, and guests.

For more information about Manufacturing Day or manufacturing companies in North County, visit the San Diego North County Economic Development Center.

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September 2019

For The Broken Token, it’s all Fun and Games in Escondido

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For The Broken Token, it’s all Fun and Games in Escondido

When you are lucky enough to do what you love, it’s especially great when you get to do it in a place you love too. Just ask Greg Spence, a lifetime gamer and wood-working hobbyist who turned his passion into a thriving business in his hometown of Escondido.

Spence and his wife Tiffany are the owners of The Broken Token, which designs and manufactures precision-built organizers and game crates for the tabletop board game industry as well as game components, miniatures, and accessories. The tabletop gaming industry has a global market with games that span many genres, including educational games, fantasy, sports, strategy building, and more. Many of these games require additional accessories such as dice, cards, high-quality miniatures, and playing pieces. The Broken Token leads the industry in gaming storage and organization tools. The company’s laser-cut Baltic Birch plywood storage boxes are top-quality pieces made with attention to detail and brand specifications.

Details are what sets The Broken Token apart from its competitors. As an active board gamer, Spence began building organization boxes to hold his own game pieces. When he posted one of his designs online, fans of the piece began requesting boxes of their own. “The business really built itself,” he said.

By late 2013, he was creating boxes for gamers across the globe out of his Escondido garage and in April 2014, the business had grown to the point that he and Tiffany expanded to their first warehouse in Escondido. Tiffany left her day job in the local video game industry to become the Marketing Manager and oversee marketing, social media, and events. By fall 2015, Spence joined the company full time as well. Today, with a staff of nearly 40, The Broken Token occupies a 12,000 square foot warehouse and are looking to expand again.

Staying in Escondido is a top priority for the Spence’s, who moved to the city in 2008. They love the atmosphere of North County and the convenience Escondido brings with its access to freeways, vibrant community life, and a business-friendly environment while still maintaining a comforting rural and small-town feel. 

Greg Spence showcasing his work.

When asked why he has chosen to stay in Escondido and build his business here, Spence said, “Escondido has a great pool of talent. It’s never been difficult to find employees and we love creating jobs for the city we live in.”

In fact, most of the company’s employees are Escondido locals and many others have relocated to the city since they began working at The Broken Token.

A few of the Broken Token’s employees. 

Spence is also glad to see that the board game industry in Escondido is growing strong, especially with the recent opening of the gaming store Gaming On Grand in Escondido.  

“The board game industry has really been making a huge comeback over the last five to 10 years,” he said. “I think people are just really realizing how fun it is to sit down with your friends face-to-face and play a game together. This industry has been growing and growing.”

While The Broken Token began as an outlet for board gamers to find organizers for their own games, industry publishers and board game manufacturers started hearing about the game crates Spence and his team were building and soon they began inquiring about collaborations. Currently, The Broken Token has branding partnerships with some of the industry’s top game board publishing companies, such as IELLO (King of Tokyo), Fireside Games (Castle Panic), Rio Grande Games (Dominion), Bezier Games (One Night  Ultimate Werewolf), and CGE (Codenames). Overall, The Broken Token has organization solutions for approximately 120 games.

An example of the quality products The Broken Token produces. 

Spence said the company also makes it a point to listen to what customers want out of their accessories. The Broken Token even hosts its own YouTube channel and has an open-door policy with customers. The company’s site provides videos that show how products are made, introduces new products, and gives customers an inside look at the company culture.

This bodes well for a company in Escondido, especially as National Manufacturing Day is right around the corner on October 1. Spence said he plans to participate this year by going to an open house at another manufacturing company in North County. He also hopes to go to the Manufacturing Expo, which will be held at Cal State San Marcos and will feature other manufacturing businesses in Escondido and North County.

As business owners in Escondido, the Spence’s are also involved with Innovate78, which works with other North County cities to boost economic initiatives along the 78 Corridor.           

Another example of the products The Broken Token produces. 

When it comes to shared ideas and business expansion in North County, Spence said, “I love to see how other industries in Escondido handle growth and manufacturing.”  

He welcomes fellow business owners and gamers to call and stop by for private tours or to see how their building process works. For Spence, “Everyday has been manufacturing day for us.”

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Forgotten Barrel Breathes New Life into Historic Escondido Winery

When life gives you lemons, why not trade them for grapes and make some wine? That’s what local entrepreneur and real estate investor Rodger Grove did.


Grove, who has worked in commercial real estate for 35 years, started a small winery as a diversionary investment when the market crashed in 2009. Forgotten Barrel got its start purchasing declassified wines from known producers and selling them to select restaurants and wine clubs under the Forgotten Barrel label.

After some success running a small tasting room in Sorrento Valley and growing wine club membership, Grove searched for new ways to help turn a profit and for a more appropriate, permanent home for the business. When a broker introduced him to a historic three-acre vineyard for sale in Escondido, he had no interest in taking on a project that grand. But after a few trips through the old Ferrara Winery property, Grove was sold on revitalizing Escondido’s oldest grape-growing estate.

“The city was very committed to preserving the site because of its significance in the history of Escondido agriculture,” Grove said. “They did everything possible to get somebody in who would restore the historic winery and make it operational again.”

Forgotten Barrel’s vineyards of Muscat of Alexandria grapes and entrance to the Tasting Room.

Grove closed escrow on the property in 2016 and began a major renovation to modernize the winery and preserve its original character. That effort included maintaining a half-acre vineyard of 25-year old Muscat of Alexandria grapes, which was inherited with the property. Muscat of Alexandria is a white wine grape that grows exceptionally well in the region, and it is the variety that attracted George Ferrara to Escondido in 1920. The Ferrara Winery, which was home to three generations of winemakers, was designated a historical site by the state of California in 1971.

Perfecting the Blend of Old and New

Forgotten Barrel has forged two perfect pairings since settling into its historic property - one with veteran winemaker John Eppler, who will usher Forgotten Barrel into the future, and another with Tony Ferrara, a third generation Ferrara who connects Forgotten Barrel with its winery’s past.

Grove was looking for a master winemaker when he was introduced to Eppler by a mutual friend. Coincidently, Eppler was moving to Oceanside from Napa, where he worked for 32 years in the wine business for Robert Mondavi, Rosenblum Cellars, and his own brand JRE Wines. Under normal circumstances, Eppler’s resume would be hard to entice from Napa Valley and even harder to afford, but he was ready to head south to be with his wife and wasn’t yet ready to retire.

Forgotten Barrel’s Owner Rodger Grove (left), Barrel Bar (middle) and Winemaker John Eppler (right).

“We looked at vineyards, tasted a lot of wines, and talked all about the region’s history. John came to the conclusion that what we had going on here felt a lot like Napa 40 years ago,” Grove said. “I am a wine drinker and a wine collector, but I wouldn’t invest a nickel in my own winemaking talents. But I do trust John’s talents and he’s just been an amazing asset to the business.”

Grove and his team at Forgotten Barrel have been working with local grapes from Valley Center, Pauma Valley, and San Pasqual. It’s been a three-year long search for the best grapes in San Diego County and Grove predicts that Syrah is a variety that San Diego will become well known for. Having just bottled Forgotten Barrel's first handcrafted 2018 San Diego County Syrah, he is confident that it rivals some of the best to come out of Paso Robles.

Forgotten Barrel currently has 15 different wines from Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Santa Ynez, and San Diego. This year, it also secured some historic old Zinfandel from Rancho Cucamonga, which is hard to source since much of that land has been torn up and developed. Forgotten Barrel is obtaining the vines through a relationship that was partially brokered by Tony Ferrara.

The grandson of George Ferrara, Tony grew up in a house on the winery and still lives close by. When the winery sold in 2016, Tony was prepared to see its heritage disappear under a new owner. But those fears have been put to rest. “I’m very fond of Rodger and what he’s doing at the winery,” he said. “It still feels like home to me.”

Tony Ferrara in the vineyards and Escondido’s oldest original Tokay wine vine.
(photo on right courtesy of Tony Ferrara)

Old Ferrara Winery signs and Ferrara family photos are proudly displayed throughout Forgotten Barrel’s tasting room, and much of the winery’s original farming and winemaking equipment has been restored for modern-day use. Forgotten Barrel has made it a priority to pay homage to the winery’s heritage while pursuing San Diego County’s best grapes and producing the region’s most notable wines under the new Forgotten Barrel brand.

Ferrara is a regular fixture at the winery and enjoys sharing stories about his life on the winery. He has prepared authentic Italian meals for Forgotten Barrel’s staff and is a guest at quarterly wine club pick up parties and the winery’s annual Christmas party. In a way, Forgotten Barrel is carrying out the Ferrara family legacy and it has forged a unique bond between Grove and Ferrara. So much so that Forgotten Barrel received an award for historic preservation from the Escondido City Council at last year's State of the City event.

“It’s really an honor to do it, not only for the Ferrara family but also for the historic component of this real estate,” Grove said.. “It was a big responsibility to fix and bring back the winery, but it’s also been a lot of fun. Tony is an added benefit to all of that, just knowing how appreciative he is and how great it is to have this unique relationship with him.”

Putting Its Grapes in a Variety of Barrels

The wine industry is both steeped in tradition and constantly susceptible to change. Grove wants to be sure that Forgotten Barrel can adapt to these changes and that his winery offers diverse and unique experiences that keep people coming back. 

He likes to buy grapes from farmers because it allows the winery to operate nimbly and use grapes from different regions. “If we own the vineyard then we’ve got what we’ve got,” he said.. “If our business plan or customers’ tastes change, we have the flexibility to adapt with the type of fruit we use and from different areas.”

Forgotten Barrel is ripe with activity and generates revenue through a variety of channels. Grove now operates full-time from the winery, which allows him to easily toggle between his real estate business and his passion project. Local Artist Sergio Gutierrez has also set up a gallery in what was once a bunk house for the property’s Italian and Sicilian immigrant farmworkers. 

Wine Pairing Event with Chef Erin Sealy and Forgotten Barrel’s newly bottled Papa Dude port-style wine.
(photo on left courtesy of Erin Sealy/Wine Pairs Events)

Forgotten Barrel sells its wine direct to consumers through its tasting room and wine club, which is projected to have a waiting list by 2021. In addition to wine sales, Forgotten Barrel has carved a niche in hosting private events and has become a popular spot for weddings as well as family and corporate-sponsored parties. 

The barrel room seats up to 100 people and the winery can accommodate larger groups with a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces. The winery also hosts a series of regularly-occurring events such as live music Saturdays, monthly cigar nights, exhibits showcasing local artists, and the occasional Wine Pairing Dinners with Chef Erin Sealy

Escondido Wineries Blossom

California is the number one wine producing state in the U.S. and the fourth largest winemaker in the world. The wine industry is vital to San Diego’s economy and it continues to grow. In 2016, the economic impact of San Diego’s wine industry was valued at $30.4 million and supported 697 jobs. In 2018, San Diego wine grape crops were farmed across 1,642 acres, compared to 365 acres just 10 years prior.

Grove wants people to know that San Diego County’s wine heritage, which dates back to the 18th century, is equal in importance to that of Northern California. Folks don’t have to go to Paso Robles or Temecula for wine tasting; they can stay in their city or county and experience really great wine tasting and culture, he said.

Grove heads up the recently formed Escondido Wine Region Alliance, a consortium of 21 Escondido wineries seeking to raise awareness for the region’s thriving and diverse wine industry. The group is also working to revitalize Grape Day, a celebration of Escondido’s grape harvest that originated in 1908. It has been managed by The Escondido History Center since 1996, but has struggled to stay afloat in recent years. The Alliance is working with city officials on a plan for a new “Harvest Festival” to celebrate Escondido’s Grape Day in the Spring 2020.

Floats from Borra Winery and P. Mighetto Winery from Escondido’s Grape Day Parade in the 1930’s.
(photos courtesy of Tony Ferrara and the San Diego Historical Society)

“Escondido is a very special wine region where people can find diverse experiences - everything from cool urban wineries and tasting rooms to beautiful hilltop vineyard views with relaxing outdoor patios,” said Katherine Zimmer, Tourism Manager at Visit Escondido“Escondido’s place in California’s wine history is significant and its experiences are authentic and intimate.”

Forgotten Barrel is located at 1120 W. 15th Avenue in Escondido. It’s tasting room is open every Thursday and Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. Tours of the winery are available by appointment only.

For more information about all of Escondido’s wineries, go to Visit Escondido

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August 2019

SmartCover Systems: Escondido Company Creates Groundbreaking Wastewater Monitoring Technology

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SmartCover Systems: Escondido Company Creates Groundbreaking Wastewater Monitoring Technology

When Dr. Greg Quist, Ph.D., co-founded SmartCover Systems in 2005, he set out to create groundbreaking monitoring technology that would help wastewater utilities avoid sewage spills and reduce maintenance costs.

Since then, the Escondido-based company has helped utilities prevent thousands of sewage spills across the country and save millions of dollars. SmartCover Systems provides self-contained, turn-key solutions for monitoring water levels, flow, rain, and tidal data. The system’s software and analytics enable utilities to hold down costs by prioritizing maintenance and repairs. Easily installed, the technology can operate virtually anywhere.

The company incorporates two-way wireless communications using the Iridium® satellite network, making it impervious to power or cell outages during severe weather and is especially advantageous for remote locations. It uses an easy-to-use web-based interface, with both long- and short-term data collection and analysis, delivering timely advisories via desktop or smart devices.

The technology enables utilities to stay aware of what’s happening inside sewer lines. 

“Effectively, we are giving them visibility underground,” said Quist, who serves as the CEO of SmartCover Systems. “Before they were guessing.”

The monitoring system functions as an EKG for wastewater delivery networks.

“If you look at water levels over time, it tells you what’s going on,” Quist explained. “If there is a blockage upstream or downstream, you can see the change.” 

An Array of Applications

Sensors attached to the bottom of manhole covers continuously measure, acquire and communicate data via advanced satellite communications.  A wide array of applications captures remote data, sending relevant information to desktop computers via the cloud. This information enables utilities to clean their pipelines on time while avoiding the costs of over-cleaning. 

SmartCover Systems, which has 30 employees, is growing rapidly. Its patented system is used by about 450 utilities in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Locally, 25 wastewater utilities in San Diego County, South Riverside County, and South Orange County use SmartCover Systems. Quist estimates that about 20,000 spills have been prevented around the U.S. over the last 14 years because of the technology.

“That’s a lot of sewage that didn’t end up in the environment and didn’t cause any public health problems,” he said.

A Passion for Water Issues

Quist is a longtime member of the water community. He has a background in metamaterials, numerical analysis, signal processing, pattern recognition, wireless communications, and system integration. He holds 14 patents, with several pending. 

Quist received his undergraduate degree in astrophysics with a minor concentration in economics from Yale College and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

SmartCover Systems’ vice president of enterprise and architecture is David Drake, the company’s co-founder. Drake has done extensive work in data acquisition, signal processing, cryptography, and image processing. The entrepreneur received a bachelor of science, electrical engineering degree from Caltech. He also holds 12 U.S. patents and seven patents in foreign countries. Like Quist, he has a passion for water issues.  

A Progressive City

The city of Escondido has played an important role in the development of SmartCover Systems. When the company began, officials allowed Quist and Drake to use the city’s sewer facilities to test out their ideas. “They are a very progressive city,” said Quist.

He noted that the company has found opportunities to work with other local businesses and tap into the Escondido area’s workforce. Many of the parts SmartCover uses, such as antennas and brackets, are made locally. Most SmartCover employees live nearby. 

“We have a broad spectrum of talents on our staff,” Quist said. “We have computer people. We have manufacturing people. We have technicians, salespeople, marketing people. For the most part, they don’t have a long commute. Escondido is a nice hub. It’s a nice place to do business. It’s an easy place to get to.”

A Bright Future

Located at 2110 Enterprise Street in Escondido, the company has new products in development, Quist noted. “We are introducing a product this summer to monitor hydrogen sulfide in sewers. Hydrogen sulfide is poisonous and smells bad. It also reduces the lifespan of concrete sewage pipes.”

He believes the company is just getting started in the application of “smart city” technology to wastewater systems. The industry is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of SmartCover Systems’ technology. 

“We think this is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There are about 20 million manholes in use for sewers. We have about 4,500 right now, so we have a long way to go.”

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The Craft: Modern Maker Market Blends DIY with Homesteading 

Modern Maker Market owners, Heather and Scott Bates

From bath bombs to hand-made wreaths, kombucha, and soap, the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) crafts market is going gangbusters. In fact, the crafting industry is worth more than $40 billion, and it continues to grow (thanks Pinterest!). Following that trend, DIY workshops and storefronts are popping up around the country to fulfill the creative drive of the next generation of crafting hobbyists. 

At the Modern Maker Market in Escondido, for example, hobbyists and homesteaders gather at various monthly workshops for DIY dishwasher powder, natural dyes, macrame plant hangs, gluten-free bread making, kimchi, gin, and much more. 

But this unique boutique is more than just a place for DIY enthusiasts to congregate and learn.  A big selection of organic herbs and other apothecary, artisan crafts, as well as other goods and supplies line the shelves of this quaint and welcoming shop on Grand Avenue. Modern Maker Market’s owners, Heather and Scott Bates, also use their shop to promote an eco-conscious and healthy lifestyle. 

Herbs on display inside Modern Maker Market

“Modern Maker Market was born out of our own journeys of trying to be healthier, do better for our kids, and be more conscious of our impact on the Earth,” Scott said.  “Over the past handful of decades, collectively, we have made a culture of convenience.  But from that convenience has come a sort of disconnect with our own world and the how and where the products we use come from.  As a result, we definitely see people coming to us with this interest to ‘make something’ again.  There’s this growing understanding that you can make it - or buy it already made - but from somebody small and local. And whatever it is, it’s made in a more natural or healthier or more sustainable and less processed way.  That is exceedingly appealing to more and more people these days.”

The Bates’ opened Modern Maker Market in June 2018 (originally around the corner on Juniper Street) after noodling on the idea for about five years.

“We had some inspiration from a similar shop in Oregon, and Heather has also always had this entrepreneurial drive to do our own thing and it seemed like a good time to take a swing at it,” Scott said, adding that he and his wife first met in college at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ.

In terms of gathering people for craft making, the market is definitely ripe. 

According to the Association for Creative Industries, 62% – nearly two-thirds – of U.S. households participate in one crafting hobby. Even more surprising is that crafters don’t stick to just one craft but participate in multiple crafting hobbies. Only 16% of the crafters engage in one craft, while 39% participate in two-to-four, and 45% are involved in five or more creative hobbies.

Modern Maker Market holds about three workshops a month, each attracting four to 12 people each.  Making sourdough, kombucha, and naturally dyed textiles, as well as the coffee tasting and cold-brew how-to,  have been some of the more popular workshops.

“We want our workshops to be something where you can really be hands-on and interact with the instructor,” said Scott, who is originally from Pullman, Wash.  while Heather hails from Simi Valley, Calif.  “It gets harder to do that if you have too many people. The highest percentage of attendees are local from North County.  But we’ve had people attend workshops coming from all over the county, as well as Orange, LA, and Riverside counties.  As for instructors, we teach some workshops ourselves and have outside vendors teach as well.”

Inside Modern Maker Market

The couple, who moved to Valley Center about four years ago, chose Escondido for their DIY market because it’s where they shop - for everything.  Scott said the City of Escondido’s business-friendly approach has made them feel welcome. 

“Katherine (Zimmer) at Visit Escondido has been great to us and she’s clearly a great resource for businesses in downtown Escondido,” he said. “We also joined MAGEC, and I think their ‘2nd Saturday’ events are very positive for Escondido. The City’s continued support of MAGEC is something I definitely hope continues.”

The shop's Escondido storefront

Scott also said Downtown Escondido is the perfect venue for a unique business like Modern Maker Market.

“Anything in the natural, sustainable sector is something people falsely believe can only exist in Encinitas or North Park,” he said. “The reality is that there are a lot of people that want those things right here in Escondido and North County in general.  So, anybody, ourselves included, bringing that sort of thing to Escondido is positive for the community. The other aspect specific to our business is that we believe there’s an important educational component we can offer to our customers by still having conversations with people, rather than just buying things on the Internet.  Our workshops are about sharing the knowledge of a certain skill with the community, but we also encourage people to come into the shop and ask us questions.”

Scott looks forward to not only seeing their business grow but also growing Downtown. “We’re still a little too new to have seen much more than construction projects happening,” he said.  “But development is obviously a precursor to growth, so there is definitely the sense that growth is coming. We’re excited to be a part of that.”

Learn more at Visit Escondido.

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July 2019

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Taco ‘Bout Escondido 

Mi Guadalajara offers libations that pair well with their hearty entrees.

If Escondido residents want a little taste of Mexico, they don’t need a passport. 

They can head to the Mercado District just west of downtown, where the distinct and robust smell of fajitas will hit their noses as soon as they enter Mi Guadalajara.

Or they can hear the adobada pork sizzle on the griddle as it is flipped into tiny tortillas for a tasty treat at TJ Tacos

Or, they can do it themselves and buy pounds of the best marinated flap carne asada this side of the border at Kennedy’s Meat Co

And if they’re looking for a twist of traditional Mexican fare, they can stop into Craft and Taco Lounge for a taco that has no meat at all - but is still very tasty.

Yes, throughout Escondido, taco shops, restaurantes de maricos, and Mexican food eateries dot the landscape giving residents an opportunity to taste distinct flavors and styles that you would find south of the border. 

“There’s definitely a lot of great options here in Escondido, and people love their Mexican food,” said Mark Mendoza, owner of Kennedy’s Meat Co., a beloved institution on East Valley Parkway. “We love it here. There’s just been a tremendous amount of support, lifelong friends, great relationships. Our customers have built our business for us.”

Kennedy’s spawned from a former grocery store that was next door with the same namesake, run by Mark’s grandparents, Jesus and Rosa Soto.  

The name of the grocery store and meat market has a special connection to the family as its patriarch, Jesus, came to America on a temporary work visa, gained his residency, and was able to get a loan from the US Small Business Administration which paved the way for his first store in Imperial Valley. Jesus Soto named it after the president who he felt made it possible to do all of this, the late John F. Kennedy.

After the grocery store’s run ended in 2017, Mendoza opened the meat market and restaurant in November of that same year. 

Mendoza, who grew up in Imperial County, moved to Escondido in 2007 when his grandparents opened Kennedy’s. He said staying in Escondido was a “no brainer.”

“We moved literally next door, and through word of mouth, the response was tremendous,” he said. 

Mendoza said the store’s most popular item is a no brainer, too: the carne asada. 

The marinated flap meat (he uses his grandfather’s longtime recipe) used in traditional Mexican dishes flies off the shelves and is a hit in the restaurant, where carne asada tacos, burritos, and carne asada fries are the most popular dishes. 

“Our top three movers all involve our asada,” Mendoza said. “I am head over heels for our fries. They are thick-cut, battered, and delicious and we top them with jalapeno queso and carne asada, they’re amazing.”

Just a little west of Kennedy’s is TJ Tacos, which like Kennedy’s has developed a loyal following. 

In fact, TJ Tacos customers sing the restaurant’s praises on social media reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and other sites, where it is consistently rated as one of the best taco shops in North County.

TJ Tacos' menu is full of Mexican staples, but it is best known for its grilled pork, or adobada

“What's not to love?  Great prices, great service, great tacos,” one reviewer wrote, while another exclaimed the shop had the “BEST tacos in North San Diego!!!”

But while Kennedy’s claim to fame is its asada, the traditional Tijuana-style taqueria is best known for its grilled pork, or adobada. 

Grilled on a vertical rotisserie that is topped with a pineapple, the slow-cooked pork is a staple in Mexican restaurants. But TJ Tacos, which opened in January 2016, has struck gold with its recipe. 

“We do the real authentic tacos like you would have them in Mexico,” said Amir Hanna, the son of owner Sabah Hanna. “TJ is one of the cities in the world with the best tacos and we wanted to bring the authentic flavors and recipes, and that’s why I think people like our business.”

“People love our adobada tacos,” Hanna continues. “They also like our more exotic options like cow tongue, beef and pork stomach, and other meats that you would find in traditional taco shops.”

TJ Tacos, which almost always has a line, has been looking to expand into other North County cities, but Hanna said they are happy to call Escondido home. 

“It’s a great place, there are a lot of cultures here and a lot of different people, we are really happy to be here in Escondido,” he said. 

Another new member of Escondido’s taco avant-garde is Craft and Taco Lounge, located in downtown on West Valley Parkway. 

But while TJ Tacos has kept to tradition, owner Yovany Payan has pushed the envelope of gourmet tacos, expanding into more contemporary flavors and styles. 

Fish lovers crave the blackened mahi-mahi tacos, while shrimp lovers can feast on the “Escondido Coco Loco” coconut shrimp tacos. 

And for the increasingly growing vegan and vegetarian crowds, Payan has that covered too. 

Girlfriend and co-owner Denell Falk said the most popular fares at the eatery, which they call a “gourmet taco restaurant,” are the Portobellini, Chile Relleno and Buffalo Zucchini tacos - all vegan and vegetarian options. 

“We do have traditional tacos, but it’s kind of a California twist on traditional tacos,” Falk said. “My boyfriend is from Mexico, and he has been to a lot of places where they have gourmet taco concepts, and he’s taken from those different restaurants and made it a little different.”

Falk said that she believes the restaurant’s family, kid, and pet-friendly atmosphere also keeps the customers coming back.

“We are really fun and like to have fun while we sell our food,” she said. 

While Craft and Taco Lounge has been in Escondido for a little over a year, our last featured restaurant has become an institution in the city - Mi Guadalajara. 

Opened in 1985 in a small space that catered to 40 to 50 guests, today the two-story restaurant owned by Antonio and Alicia Ruvucalba sees hundreds of guests per day at the 2nd Avenue location where they have been since 2003.

Mi Guadalajara has been at its 2nd Avenue location since 2003

The Ruvucalba family over the years has developed a passionate following of people who annually celebrate their birthday, to groups of friends who come to watch football on Sundays, to families whose generations have come in to enjoy the traditional Mexican cuisine. 

“I feel like people have kept coming back obviously because of the food, but also because of how my parents have done business,” said Alicia Ruvucalba, the restaurant’s general manager and daughter of the owners. “They are very hard workers and they taught us that as well.”

As for the food, the distinct sizzle of fajitas is almost immediate when you walk into the restaurant, as it is by far the most popular dish. 

Others swear by the molcajetes, described in the menu as “strips of tender grilled chicken or steak in our famous spicy roasted tomato and Mexican chili sauce. Served in a molcajete bowl along with grilled cactus, fresh Mexican cheese, and a savory green onion. Accompanied with guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo.”

It has a kick to it, Ruvucalba said. 

“It’s one of my favorites,” she said. “I always tell our customers if you are looking for something with a kick, then a molcajete is it.”

Like many of the city’s Mexican restaurants, Mi Guadalajara prides itself on its family-friendly atmosphere and its traditional Mexican vibes. Friday nights, guests are serenaded by mariachi guitarists.

And the restaurant is big in the birthday business. 

“I don’t know how many times we sing happy birthday each day,” she said. 

Alicia said she doesn’t remember what drove her parents to open the restaurant in Escondido, but they chose never to leave because of the loyal customer base, great energy in the city, and above all, this was home.

“We always say that God told my dad to go to Escondido,” she said. “It was a great decision.”

Learn more at Visit Escondido.

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Protecting the Power Grid: Escondido’s Elintrix is Breaking Scientific Ground

Above is substation equipment from which power lines provide electricity to communities.
This facility is located in Anza, Calif. If there is a power disruption, Elintrix’s technology
can quickly identify the location so repair crews can be sent to the scene. 

Drawn to Escondido by its business-friendly climate, Elintrix, a cutting-edge research firm, is breaking scientific ground with its efforts to protect the U.S. power grid. 

Founded in 2000, Elintrix moved to Escondido three years ago from San Diego. The move represented an opportunity for the company to work with a highly supportive local government and to partner with other North County firms. 

“There are a lot of companies here who are useful to our needs,” Chief Technical Officer Drew Barnett says. “The city has been particularly supportive. We received a letter of support for one of our grants.”

Drew Barnett, above, is the chief technical officer of Elintrix. 

The Department of Energy grant sought to fund Elintrix experiments on the Anza Electric Cooperative (AEC) power grid. Sent in April of 2018, the letter offered to help increase Elintrix’s opportunities to access electric grids and develop its technology. In addition to providing general business assistance, the city offered to make introductions to organizations and businesses that could support the project’s development and commercialization, such as Sempra Energy. 

In addition to appreciating the City of Escondido’s support, Barnett says he likes the North County lifestyle.

“It’s a better living environment here,” Barnett explains. “There is more elbow room. People are friendlier.”

Although it frequently collaborates with others, Elintrix has a permanent staff that consists of Barnett, Chief Executive Officer Sandra Hargis, and Senior Scientific Engineer Joseph Reed, Ph.D. The company is located on Andreasen Drive.

The Science of Signals

While Elintrix works in a variety of fields, its chief focus is pioneering efforts to improve the robustness, resiliency, and security of power grids through rapid detection, localization, and classification of outages. It does this by analyzing sensor signals. 

Elintrix has developed ways to determine the location of power interruptions by analyzing sensor signals.
In this laboratory experiment, Senior Scientific Engineer Joseph Reed, Ph.D., confirms that Elintrix can
quickly determine which parts of the power grid infrastructure are involved in power failures.
This allows utilities to send repair crews to the exact location of power disruptions. 

“Our projects typically involve using communication links to facilitate the transfer of sensor data and mathematically-based algorithms to extract actionable information,” Barnett says. “The power grid work is enabled by the company’s patented technology for continuously determining the specific elements of the grid infrastructure supplying a given location on the power grid, despite dynamic changes in the power-distribution map.”

The technology can enable utilities to quickly identify the cause of disruptions, such as downed power lines. Left unchecked, disruptions can interrupt electrical service, cause fires, and pose hazards to the public. Instead of spending time searching for the source of problems, utilities can use Elintrix technology to quickly pinpoint locations and make repairs. 

“One group of people who would be interested in this technology are manufacturers of substation relay protection equipment,” he says. “It gives them a way of marketing increased capabilities to utilities.”

The Cutting Edge

Elintrix’s patented methodology “is our crown jewel,” Barnett adds. 

“We are performing on-grid research and testing with the aid of our utility-collaborator, Anza Electric Cooperative, and have the support of a major manufacturer of relay protection equipment for power grid applications. This work we are doing is really cutting edge. It is front and center in the research and development community, relative to gaining awareness of conditions on the power grid.”

Elintrix’s work with sensors has taken it into a variety of fields.  Notable projects include:

  • A body-worn mobile network for monitoring the health of U.S. Army personnel undergoing physiologically demanding training in harsh environments.
  • Biology-inspired chemical detector arrays that incorporate signal processing and machine-learning to identify chemical gases in turbulent environments.
  • Sensing and analytics for smart medical devices.
  • Interrogation and signal-analysis technology for the smart-grid, including fault detection/localization/classification and cybersecurity message authentication.

Because its projects involve a high percentage of research, Elintrix is continually developing new skills and innovations. The company has worked with government agencies, corporations in the defense and energy sectors, and medical device companies. It also has collaborated with major universities and formed multidisciplinary teams to work in specialized areas.

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June 2019

AgHub sets up shop in Escondido

When the San Diego County Farm Bureau decided it needed new digs to support the 21st-century farmer, it didn't need to look far from its old location.

The search in 2017 led the organization, which advocates and promotes the agricultural interests of its 2,000 dues-paying members across the county, to downtown Escondido where the organization embarked on an ambitious plan - to make a central hub to accommodate the exchange of ideas, information, and resources among the ag community.

With that, the AgHub was born.

Centrally located in Escondido, the AgHub is the perfect spot for agricultural groups to hold meetings and exchange ideas

Located in a two-story building off of Broadway and 4th Avenue, the San Diego AgHub houses the offices of the Farm Bureau and the San Diego Re
gion Irrigated Lands Group - which the bureau administers - the University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors program, Montoya Insurance, a leading agriculture insurance agency; as well as conference and meeting room space available to all farm bureau members.

The UC extension program provides academic and natural resource advisors as well as nutrition educators who work with both farmers and the public alike on such issues as pest management, efficient growing methods, wildfire education and nutrition. 

"We wanted this to become the hub," said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. "We want agricultural organizations to kind of feel that this is their home as well."

Nearly two years later, Larson said, while much of San Diego's ag industry is in the communities of Valley Center, Pauma Valley, Fallbrook, and Bonsall, the AgHub has become the "brains," so to speak.

That the Farm Bureau's home is in Escondido is not a coincidence. The city has been inexorably tied to agriculture since the 1800s. The county's first avocado tree - perhaps the county's signature crop - was planted in Escondido in 1892.

In 1967, the Farm Bureau moved its offices from the San Diego Chamber of Commerce Building to a strip center in Escondido, where it remained until 2017.

But Larson said the Farm Bureau outgrew the storefront on East Valley Parkway, and after it was sold, there was a desire within the agricultural community to centralize a number of critical functions necessary to help the bureau serve its purpose of fostering agriculture in San Diego.

The industry today, Larson said, continues to expand and evolve and its value to the economy is nearly $4.4 billion - placing it in the top 20 of all counties nationwide. Agriculture countywide supports 16,000 jobs, Larson said, and, because of its presence in North County, is a major economic force in the region.

Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau

After a search, the Farm Bureau zeroed in on the two-story building that was the former home of a general contractor. A fundraising drive was started to raise money for the new building.

Those fundraising efforts are memorialized on a wall next to the building's main staircase, where donors names are printed on different sized tiles corresponding to the amount of the contribution. The wall reads like a "who's who" of San Diego's ag community.

"As a nonprofit organization, of course, we have limited funds and so when the decision was made to relocate, we owned that building on East Valley Parkway, sold it, plus with the funds from all the donors, we were able to buy this building," Larson said. "It was seven figures."

One of the key features of the new facility is the first-floor boardroom. 

On any given day, organizations will host seminars, training sessions, and board meetings in the room, including the Farm Bureau's various committees and board of directors. 

And the space is available for any agricultural organization in San Diego for free. 

"They (the ag community) like it; consequently if you look at the schedule, it's 'meeting, meeting, meeting,'" Larson said. 

The space also allows the Farm Bureau to foster and incubate new organizations.

"You have fledgling groups across the county; for instance, there is this new North County wine grape growers group," Larson said. "By giving them access to something like this, it is easy for them to evolve."

Larson said the Farm Bureau hosts regular seminars on emerging crops - dragonfruit, coffee, industrial hemp, wine grapes, and avocado dense planting have gained steam across the county - that previously would have been held wherever space was available in the region. 

"The classes are here - as opposed to "Gee, where can we find a meeting space?" he said.

And the AgHub's downtown Escondido location makes it convenient for growers and the Farm Bureau executives.

"Escondido was the exact perfect location," Larson said. "We didn't want to get west of the (Interstate) 15. Even though logic might have said 'Let's go further north,' the farm bureau staff spends a lot of time going south into San Diego - all the regulatory agencies are there. From this location, it's pretty easy to reach those locations."

The location also had an added bonus: it's pretty cool, Larson said. 

"The neighborhood is pretty neat," Larson said of the Old Escondido neighborhood. 

"Escondido has been a great partner with the Farm Bureau for years, and we are proud to continue that tradition in our new home," Larson said. 

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Java & Jazz: Live entertainment flows from downtown coffee house, wine bar

The deep aroma of espresso hangs over the small crowd in the Downtown Escondido storefront, as Dan Naylor approaches a microphone positioned on a small stage near the entrance of the shop. 

Naylor, a popular figure around town who works for the city and moonlights as a sign spinner for the coffee shop - He's affectionately known around town as "Dan the Man" - has Cerebral Palsy. He pulls down the microphone and speaks with a slow drawl. 

"You wanna hear a joke?" he says. 

"I was hit by a car when I was younger and was in a six-month coma and I still wanted to be a stand-up comedian but was in a wheelchair," he continues. "So I said I would be a "sit down" comedian and be rolling with the jokes."

The crowd erupts with laughter.

This is the scene on Friday night at Kettle Coffee & Tea on Grand Avenue, where jokes might fly, spoken word might be uttered, or a song might be sung at the Kettle Open Mic Night, a fixture at the coffee house for the past seven years. 

A performer plays the accordion at a Kettle open mic night

Live entertainment - especially acoustic music - has been a crowd pleaser at several coffee shops, wine bars, and restaurants in Escondido, attracting guests who want to sip a cup of java or enjoy a glass of wine with the relaxing ambiance of Spanish guitar, or a joke told by Naylor.

"Kettle is about coffee, community, and care," Naylor said. "We get all original music, poetry, and stand-up comedy, and the crowd enjoys it, he said."

Thursday was originally the Open Mic Night day, but the date was changed when the Kettle changed owners last year. 

It took a while for the new date to take traction, but the past few open mics have been very well attended, Naylor said. 

The new Open Mic Night day ties in well with the festive atmosphere in downtown Escondido on Fridays between April and September, when downtown hosts Cruisin' Grand, billed as the "largest weekly car cruise west of the Mississippi."

"It's really fun," Naylor said. 

Escondido has a number of unique coffee houses, providing a break from the daily grind. Koffie, Cute Cakes, and Esco Gelato all bring a distinct flavor to the downtown area and Blue Mug Coffee & Tea fills your java fix on the city's northern edge on El Norte Parkway.

Musicians Jimmy & Enrique perform at Sip

For those looking for tunes and a drink with a little more oomph than a cup of coffee, just west of Kettle, visitors can enjoy sipping on locally produced wine and beers at Sip Wine & Beer, downtown's newest wine bar.

And every other week, patrons can sway to the guitar and drum beats of Latin duo Jimmy & Enrique, or be serenaded by the vocals of Jacob Acosta as he strums his acoustic guitar. 

"Our goal is to support the local wineries by carrying their wines, as well as offer live music to bring people in," said Cassandra Schaeg, Sip's CEO and founder. "I think it gives people an opportunity to experience a different vibe in addition to having good wine and accessibility of local wine, one thing that keeps people coming back is the events and the live music we showcase."

Sip, which just celebrated its fourth anniversary, is hosting live music acts Warren LaPlante on June 22 and Ruben DeAnda on June 28.

"People are saying we enjoy coming to Sip and are bringing our friends because we are the only wine bar and we're offering live entertainment that brings a different vibe to the downtown scene," Schaeg said. 

Escondido visitors looking to get away from the urban scene but who still want that fusion of music and imbibing can take a short jaunt to west Escondido or the picturesque San Pasqual Valley, where the wine and the music flow copiously.

Throw on your cowboy boots and bring your best dance moves every Friday at Cheval Winery in Hidden Hills for Country Wine (Line) Dancin' from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 

On Fridays and Saturdays, Orfila Winery in San Pasqual Valley hosts Tunes on the Terrace, where patrons are welcome to dance, relax, and enjoy smooth jazz, blues, modern and more styles of music on the patio overlooking the vineyard.

And Hungry Hawk Vineyards (also in San Pasqual Valley) has a plethora of live music on its calendars on the weekends at its tasting room, such as the acoustic guitar/vocal duo Father & Son, which is slated to perform June 23. According to the bio, the father and son team performs "an electric mix of music from Cole Porter to Coldplay."

For more information about these and other events, check out the Visit Escondido calendar of events

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May 2019

Trademark Venues

The company that invites you to "discover your perfect wedding" has found its perfect home - in Downtown Escondido.

Wedding planning in Escondido just became a whole lot easier

Trademark Venues, an event planning company that owns and operates several of the region's most storied and exclusive wedding venues, has taken up shop in the former Draper's and Damon's building at the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Broadway in the heart of downtown.

They are also opening a bridal boutique in the adjacent space this month.

The company is one of the hottest names in the wedding planning industry. Recently, "Bachelor in Paradise" alumni Chris Randone and Krystal Nielsen celebrated their engagement with a lavish party held at Ethereal Gardens, one of Trademark's signature venues. 

The company's representatives said they are proud to call Escondido the home base of the operations, which includes wedding venues in Escondido, San Marcos and a future location in Bonsall. 

"We saw the building and we absolutely fell in love with it," said Kevin MacGregor, Trademark Venue's marketing director. "We see the growth and potential and how downtown is changing so much and we wanted to add to that."

What they do

From outside the Grand Avenue storefront on a Wednesday morning, you can see the hustle and bustle inside of the newly refurbished building, as members of the coordination team get set to meet with clients to go over the details of their dream wedding. 

Trademark specializes in what MacGregor called "handcrafted weddings" - a wedding planning experience that seeks to create a deeply personal wedding day, and a process that touches on everything from dance lessons to wine tastings and every step in between.

At the center of the process are the venues:

  • Ethereal Gardens, located on a 40-acre organic farm on the upper reaches of Escondido which the website describes as "an 'out of the box' venue that is completely private and not just another golf course, winery, banquet hall or hotel. Here we are open to creative ideas and outside vendors such as florists, photographers, photo booths, food trucks and so much more."
  • Green Gables, the iconic hilltop venue along near Woodland Parkway in San Marcos, described on the website as an "enchanting secluded wonderland. In the shade of a lush, landmark forest, this historic garden estate is surrounded by ivy-covered arbors, blooming rose gardens, trickling fountains, picturesque statuary, and thousands of bright twinkling lights."
  • The Twin Oaks House and Gardens, which features a fully restored 1891 historic home along Deer Springs Road in San Marcos, described as a "secluded vintage venue that features artistic and poetic gardens inspired by love, imagination and tranquility."

Couples start their journey with Trademark by touring each of the three venues. Once they select a venue and reserve a date, the journey begins.

"We handcraft the wedding and tailor it to make your perfect day," MacGregor said. "We see the venues as the backdrop and help the couple decorate it as they've seen it in their dreams."

That includes the road to the wedding, where Trademark offers custom wedding packages tailored to each couple. This includes dinner-style options, the colors, the furniture, props, dance lessons, wine and food tastings, the decor and more. 

"Whether you are accenting our orchard barn, brick and timber chapel, starry night meadow, nature pond, English garden, cut stone fireplace, passion vine greenhouse, garden pergola, tree house, turn post gazebo or historic forest. at Trademark we have your perfect backdrop," MacGregor said. 

And Trademark offers total privacy and exclusivity with each wedding - they only book one event per day, and couples have the venue for nearly 12 hours. 

"We don't want you rushing on your special day, it is 100 percent your venue for the day," MacGregor said. 

A home in Escondido

For most of its existence, Trademark's wedding coordinators and client relations staff have operated on-site at the venues, but MacGregor said that company CEO Karen Sherman envisioned a hub that would serve as home base.

Enter downtown Escondido, where the location of the iconic Draper's and Damon's women's clothing store had been vacant since April 2017.

It was love at first sight, MacGregor said. 

"We specialize in taking historic landmark properties, like Green Gables and Twin Oaks, and paying tribute to their history," MacGregor said. "We fully understand and appreciate that we are taking care of the building," MacGregor said. "Jay Leno once said about his collection of cars that he didn't own them, but was merely taking care of them for the next owner, and that's how we feel about the building."

Inside, the building bursts with new life, the showroom full of shimmering chandeliers, tables adorned with sleek champagne flutes and wedding decor and other props showcasing the company's wares. 

MacGregor said that the business has been well received by neighbors, the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Escondido Business Association, and the City of Escondido.

"Everything is easy when it's meant to be," MacGregor said. "It's been all smiles and everyone has been very welcoming and helpful."

MacGregor said that from a personal perspective, the rebirth of Escondido's historic core is profound. 

"I grew up in Carlsbad, and I couldn't believe how much Escondido has changed the past few years," MacGregor said. 

And employees have been well-received downtown, as they frequent spots like the Burger Bench and Kettle Coffee & Tea in large groups, boosting the local economy.

"We can directly see our footprint in downtown and are excited to see where it leads," MacGregor said. "And I am a car guy, so Cruisin' Grand is a nice treat on Friday nights."

Additionally, MacGregor said, in each city where Trademark has a venue, it actively promotes local vendors to its clients.

Escondido's economic development manager Michelle Geller praised the addition of Trademark to downtown, which she said complements a number of existing businesses, potentially making Downtown Escondido a one-stop shop for the couples planning their big day.

"Trademark Venues' new location on a prominent corner at Broadway and Grand is a great addition to our downtown," Geller said. "There are many complementary businesses nearby like Something Old, Something New Bridal Boutique, The Grand Tea Room and SIP Wine & Beer. I can definitely see future brides, grooms and their friends making a day of it in Downtown Escondido while they plan their big day."

Escondido is proud to be the new home of Trademark Venues and looks forward to their continued growth and success. 

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Grand Avenue Festival
Street fairs can be a tricky proposition for the brick-and-mortar businesses along the streets where the fairs are held. 

The outdoor flea-market style events drive thousands of people to local streets for the vendors, food, music acts, and activities, but street vendors - not the shops - historically benefit from the foot traffic.

In Downtown Escondido, a small, but significant change to its semi-annual Grand Avenue Festival has made the street fair a win-win for local businesses and outdoor vendors alike.

An exciting change in layout is coming to this year's Grand Avenue Festival

Rather than lining the streets with vendors in front of the businesses, which is usually the case at street fairs, the fair's organizers moved the booths to both sides of the center median running down Grand Avenue between Centre City Parkway and Ivy Street, leaving the sidewalks and storefronts visible to visitors.

Grand Avenue Festival organizers piloted the change at the October 2018 installment to rave reviews and record sales days from shops and restaurants. They are ready for an even bigger reception at the spring installment on Sunday, May 19.

"We found it to be a huge success and a welcomed relief for a lot of businesses," said Chris Cochran, marketing and development director for the Escondido Chamber of Commerce. "Our goal now is to have that redesign in perpetuity. We're not going back to the old way."

How successful was the new setup? Just ask Ray Alto, owner of La Tapatia Mexican restaurant, which sits near the western edge of the festival between Orange Street and Escondido Boulevard. 

Alto's restaurant got so busy during the October Grand Avenue Festival, that they ran out of many items on the menu.

"Carne asada burritos were really popular that day, and by the afternoon, we couldn't make anymore," Alto said. "When the booths were on the sidewalks, people couldn't walk through, so we were covered up. By putting them in the middle of the street, the sidewalk was open and a lot of business came our way. It was one of our best days ever."

Alto wasn't alone: Cochran said that Susy Q's Diner, Rosie's Cafe, Plan 9 Alehouse and several other businesses also posted record sales days.

"It was a huge success that was welcomed by the Downtown Business Association and its merchants," Cochran said.

Alex MacLachlan is the president of the Escondido Downtown Business Association, which represents the historic core's merchants. 

MacLachlan said the association has spread the word to businesses about the new-found opportunity at their quarterly merchant meetings and through other communications. 

Some businesses would shutter their doors during the festival, concerned they would lose money staying open, MacLachlan said. Now, however, businesses are seeing opportunities with the sidewalks open and their storefronts visible. 

"We let them know that it's a good chance to reach out to new customers and to find ways to attract attention to their businesses," MacLachlan said. "We advocate for the merchants, and part of that is to let them know that this is going on, so we are still trying to get the world out that this is a big opportunity twice a year to get new customers and hopefully repeat business."

The revamped format has been in the works since 2017 when the business association and Chamber of Commerce approached the fair's contract operator, Kennedy and Associates, with the idea, which MacLachlan said drew out of inspiration from the Adams Avenue Street Fair in San Diego.

"We wanted to make it a positive for our merchants and we experienced that at the Adams festival, where we saw ice cream shops, restaurants, and other merchants participating, doing displays out on the sidewalk," MacLachlan said. "It was a good vibe and really easy for us to do that in Escondido, and we felt it would be super positive for the merchants when they got used to it and trusted that it would be a good opportunity for them."

To accomplish the logistical shift, the organizers got approval from the city to expand the street closure from Juniper to Ivy Street to the east and close a segment of Escondido Boulevard and Broadway. 

The new format is also a hit with the vendors, Cochran said: the Chamber Commerce has received 50 more vendor requests than the previous installment in the fall.

"It's growing, and I think a lot of people are excited about the direction in which the fair is headed," he said. 

The Grand Avenue Festival, previously known as the Grand Avenue Street Faire, is rooted in a pair of longtime festivals that occurred in the city's historic downtown - a fall arts fair run by the city and the Felicita Foundation and a spring festival put on by the business association. 

When the city and foundation turned their attention towards completing the California Center for the Arts, they turned to the Chamber of Commerce to keep their fair going. And in the early 1990s, a city committee recommended the chamber and business association merge the two events into the semi-annual affair that continues to this day.

Today, visitors - organizers expect as many as 25,000 over the course of the day - can walk up and down six blocks of historic Escondido, perusing and shopping more than 400 vendors for unique hand-crafted gifts and imports, enjoying international cuisine and catching local entertainment on the Maple Street Plaza and Chase Bank lawn stages. 

For the kids, there's the Creative Kids Corner at Juniper & Grand, and fine arts aficionados can enjoy the Art in the Garden at Heritage Garden.  And for the furry, four-legged friend, there are the Dogs on the Lawn at the Chase lawn area on Grand & Orange, where dogs - and their two-legged companions - can compete in contests to win some fantastic prizes provided by PetSmart Escondido.

And of course, on either side of Grand and along the street fair route are the businesses - doors wide open, ready and inviting customers to enjoy downtown.

A family brings its furry friends to the pet-friendly festival

If you go:

Sunday, May 19
9 a.m. to  5 p.m. 

Details: The Grand Ave Festival, Escondido, takes place in our historic downtown on Grand Ave from Center City to Ivy. You'll be able to shop from hundreds of vendors for unique hand-crafted gifts and imports, and enjoy international cuisine, local entertainment, and much more! Such as the Creative Kids Corner at Juniper & Grand, and Art in the Garden at Heritage Garden! And be sure to bring your furry, four-legged friend to the Chase lawn area (Grand & Orange) for the Dogs On The Lawn contests to win some fantastic prizes provided by PetSmart Escondido!

Events all summer

Please make sure to visit the Visit Escondido special events calendars for the latest happenings in Escondido, including these upcoming events:

San Dieguito River Park 30th Anniversary Run, Tot Trot, and Fair
Sunday, June 9, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. 
Sikes Historical Adobe Farmstead

The San Dieguito River Park JPA is celebrating 30 years of environmental preservation, recreation, and education. Join us for the San Dieguito River Park 15k / 5k / 1k / Tot Trot trail runs!  Race will be held on trails that are mostly flat with some rolling hills. Courses are a mixture of trails, sidewalk, and hard pack dirt trails. Both events in partial view of Lake Hodges and the beautiful San Dieguito River Park area. 5 Years and under FREE with parent entered.

56th Annual Independence Day Festival & Fireworks
Thursday, July 4, 2019 at 4 p.m. 
Grape Day Park & The Center's Great Green

This free community event features rockin' live music, fabulous food vendors, and a wealth of children's activities and games for everyone to enjoy. The day's festivities will conclude with a special performance by the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band and, of course, dazzling fireworks display starting at 9:00 p.m. You won't want to miss this annual North County tradition!

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