HOME > Chowhound > San Diego >


I will not be eating or drinking at Searsucker, Burlap, Gingham, Herringbone, Gabardine

Based on what I have read in an article in today's UT (Restaurants Feel Squeeze on Insurance), James Brennan, owner of Searsucker et al, is clearly a swine. Somehow Phil's BBQ manages to provide health insurance to their full time workers (32+ hours/wk), and thrives. But for the Brennan/Malarkey team, it means a change in business plans.


“The restaurant industry is really affected by this,” said owner James Brennan.

Since 2009, Brennan and partner Brian Malarkey have created 600 jobs among their five trendy restaurants, a nightclub and catering company in San Diego.

Beyond raising prices to pay for employee health benefits, Brennan said, all of his new restaurants may be smaller, with fewer than 50 employees.

Each of his restaurants now is about 8,000 square feet, which requires about 75 employees. That was the original plan when he began scouting for a location to open a restaurant in Los Angeles. But after the Supreme Court ruling last Thursday, Brennan said he called up his leasing agent to say he wanted to look at smaller properties over the weekend.

“Instead of looking for that 70- to 75-employee size, I’m looking for square footage for 49 employees,” he said. “This is not the way I should be forced into thinking.”

Brennan said that if he had limited his staffing starting in 2009, he’d be employing 400 people today instead of 600.

“Some of these people who are applauding (the employer insurance mandate) need to be asked, do they want to be guaranteed insurance or do they want a job? Because that’s the choice,” he said. “This is real.”

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Thank you for reading the U-T so I don't have to and for passing this along. I have only ever eaten at Herringbone. The manager told me that the entire staff is working BOTH shifts. Way it's gotta be, the young man said. Guess it's so cool to work for the Malarky machine that employees will suffer anything management dishes out. (As far as Brennan's business model of bigger, faster is better and its long-term fiscal success, the fat lady hasn't yet sung.)
    I will venture to say, traditionally, restaurants (unlike hotels) often do not provide health care for employees. Starbucks was a pioneer in that regard.

    1 Reply
    1. re: pickypicky

      I agree that the fat lady has not sung yet. And working BOTH shifts? Sad.

    2. Good update on that!

      The more 'LAWS' you have the more loopholes there are...d;^(

      1. I have the feeling this guy never has to worry about health care for his family. I bet he has a really nice health insurance policy in fact. But those peons who work for him....a job should be good enough. I won't be eating there either.

        1. I was pretty shocked at Brennan's attitude when I read this in the "newspaper" (I use the term lightly). I understand weighing options to maintain a profitable business, but his across the board, sweeping rationale is disturbing and pretty mean spirited.

          6 Replies
          1. re: foodiechick

            I agree, FoodieChick. It's the angry tone of his comments, and that he blames health care for affecting his brilliant business acument. Excuses, not problem solving. His model is based on huge drink revenues and only keeping a restaurant going as long as it's profitable. Make a killing and move on. Not the greatest for job security. Love to know what drove Chef Chad away. . .

            1. re: pickypicky

              "Love to know what drove Chef Chad away" - That's no secret as he mentioned on twitter and in intereviews (and Malarkey also mentioned it in interviews a few times) that his dishes were too ambitous for Point Loma (and most likely for SD in general). That's also the reason why Malarkey is taking over and dumping down the menu significantly.

              1. re: honkman

                thanks. I might have known you'd know.

              2. re: pickypicky

                Isn't Mr. Brennan the one who went bankrupt on all those downtown club venues when the economy tanked and was the object of a fairly large lawsuit on the old Top O' The Cove location?

              3. Are you going to boycott every other restaurant that doesn't (or hasn't to this point) provide insurance too? Or just the Brennan places (since he was the one who happened to be interviewed by the paper)?

                13 Replies
                1. re: DougOLis

                  exactly, good luck finding many non-chain restaurants, pubs, bars, etc that includes health insurance in their compensation packages.

                  1. re: MrKrispy

                    The places you are talking about - small, no-chain restaurants - won't have enough employees to fall under the law anyways. I guess nobody is interested in actual facts before they post on public boards nowadays. Very little restauants locally will be affected by the law, and the ones that will can afford the cost.

                    1. re: mjill

                      Thanks for pointing that out, mjill. I remember in my state in the early 1980s there was a controversial bill requiring motorists to carry auto insurance. People were outraged, hands on hips and shouting as with one voice, "Well I'm sorry, but I can't AFFORD car insurance!" The bill passed, thank God. Everybody adapts. It's a much better, safer place now because of that law.

                      1. re: mjill

                        So morally/ethically it doesn't matter that a place with 30 employees or 40 employees doesn't need to provide insurance, because the law doesn't say they have to? The moral/ethical dilemma of a boycott against no-health-care is only associated with a new standard set by law? I find restaurant size to be a very flimsy argument in regards to what DougOLis is saying about the OPs "boycott". Funny that consumers didn't get their panties in a bunch when a business keeps everyone at part-time to avoid paying benefits.

                        1. re: MrKrispy

                          What bothers me about this argument is that taken to its logical conclusion we should also be decrying OSHA regulations, labor laws, environmental regulations, etc.

                          And what's particularly stupid about agreeing with this greedy SOB is that I would imagine any thinking person would want the people handling and serving their food to have access to health care. Seems kind of important from a self-preservation standpoint, no?

                          Doing business costs money, and I'm sure Mr. Brennan ain't broke.

                          1. re: Josh

                            I wish there were a way to quote posts as favorites

                            1. re: Rodzilla

                              I agree with Rodzilla. Josh is spot on!

                          2. re: MrKrispy

                            I think a successful restaurant should do their best to take care of their employees regardless of size. Someone in the Brennan/Malakrey situation who are producing a lot of profit is in the perfect position to just do this and not be forced to - and this is what I have a problem with, the crocodile tears.

                            The reality in restaurants is very few people are actual full time employees anyways (dinner service is less than 8 hours in most cases and few waiters/bussers/expos are going to want to work lunch, and sit around for 3 hours waiting for dinner to start), so it isn't a case of keeping people less than full time - that's just how the business works. But, I still think if they are small and highly profitable they should take care of their less than full time people anyways - places like Cucina Urbana or Banker's Hill come to mind. Work a year and you are entitled to getting limited benefits that you help pay into type deal. They can afford it and its going to keep their best people but also attract top talent. Seems to be a no brainer.

                            Great post Josh...

                            1. re: mjill

                              Very well said. I am only concerned about the former post the the servers at Herringbone are being forced to work double shifts. Sounds full-time to me, but then again Brennan has until 2014 to figure out another way to screw the system.

                              1. re: foodiechick

                                Not sure anyone can be 'forced' to work beyond their scheduled shift. A double in a prime time shift can be serious tip money.

                            2. re: MrKrispy

                              who says we don't get mad about it? I just got done posting about "no overtime pay" on a thread on amusement parks. (12 hour shifts, nearly minimum wage)

                            3. re: mjill

                              Neither will Brennan's new place, as he says he'll keep it to 49 employees.

                              1. re: mayache

                                I highly doubt any of his places have 50 full time employees already anyways.

                        2. Are they going to name the next one Chintz?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: greygarious

                            Chintz -- that's a good one, Greygarious.
                            My hunch has always been ... Muslin Terrace

                            1. I have a few thoughts on this. In addition to the 49 staff limit in the restaurant, if he only hires part-time staff then they will not have to provide health coverage. Wait staffers work very hard for their tips and should be afforded the option to have health coverage. I would support an establishment that provides the option to purchase affordable coverage from their employer. Maybe they can cut back on fidora expenses.

                              1. So, I guess you will never eat at a Taco shop again?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: svnirvana

                                  Have you ever seen 49 people working in the back of a cinderblock box *bertos?

                                  1. re: The Office Goat

                                    Well, no but I didn't think that the number of employee's was the point.

                                    I thought the point was that the OP didn't want to support owners who don't provide health insurance for their workers. If you work for a small business with 25 employees your family won't need health care?

                                2. It's hard to feel sympathetic to Brennan's concern about "razor thin margins" in the restaurant business when he continues to open a new restaurant what seems like every other month.

                                  1. Thanks for posting. It is sad to see such arrogance and disregard for the people who work hard to make Mr. Brennan and Malarkey wealthy. I will not go to any of the fabric-food establishments and hope to hear more about how we can vote with our wallets in the future.

                                    1. Maybe this is just because I don't understand anything about tax laws, but if all the restaurants are all under some larger restaurant group (e.g. Brennan/Malarkey Inc) doesn't that mean that they actually a number of employees large enough to require them to pay the health insurance regardless of whether it is 400 or 600 total employees.
                                      If what he is saying is true, then any company could open an endless number of 30-45 person "sub-entities" and "evade" the health care legislation. I take this as a bunch of whining in a public forum in the guise of an eventual price increase for menu items.

                                      PS - Malarkey told me burgers at The Counter were better anyway

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: karaethon

                                        I'm pretty sure that each of the Brennan/Malarkey restaurants has been set up as a separate legal/business entity with different mixes of investors/owners, operated under the umbrella of Brennan's Enlightened Hospitality Group. The filing for Herringbone's liquor license was under the name "LJ Eats LLC," while the filing for Gabardine's DBA was under the name "Point Loma Eats LLC."

                                        1. re: karaethon

                                          please, oh please let the comment on the burgers at The Counter go already!!!!

                                        2. Are you certain it's not the hats that Malarkey wears that are the source of your aggravation?

                                          1. This is just even more reason for me not to go. Like many others have said, if he were the owner of a single bootstrapped establishment that would be one thing (and still debatable) but pulling this sort of shit when you have a small empire on the rise its beyond petty.

                                            9 Replies
                                            1. re: Rodzilla

                                              Just saw Malarkey, on Cable from the Del Horse Track, where he owns a race horse. Poor Brian, it's obvious he's very cash strapped.

                                              1. re: cstr

                                                You know, owning a race horse is a good way to become cash strapped!!!!

                                                1. re: svnirvana

                                                  Or, figure out a way to strap him to the racehorse!

                                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                                    I can't stop thinking about horse sashimi

                                                    1. re: Rodzilla

                                                      Get yourself to Japan, and eat all of the horse sashimi you like!

                                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                                        Equine Sashimi at a new restaurant called Horsehair, as in the kind of sofa my great grandmother had.

                                                        1. re: pickypicky

                                                          'kind of sofa my great grandmother had.' Man, you were here before the before wheel was invented!

                                                          1. re: pickypicky

                                                            I still don't understand why Melarkey doesn't open up place called

                                                            Muslin Terrace

                                                  2. re: cstr

                                                    Definitely can't afford to offer employees health insurance.

                                                2. I just spent three days in LA, a city I loathe. However, the food I ate and the incredibly chic and stylish places I dined made me think-- yet again-- how backward our little beach burg is. And how places like Malarky's could never fly in L.A. (Blowfish glued to a wall? Ancient olive trees forced into slavery in a cruise bar? ) If SD isn't the ultimate city of suckers, I don't know where is.

                                                  20 Replies
                                                  1. re: pickypicky

                                                    Just curious why do you loathe LA ? Every city has good and bad parts/attributes so it's hard to imagine to hate a city of the size of LA (or of any size)

                                                    1. re: pickypicky

                                                      Yah, but we've got some good beer to go with our burgers! And don't forget, you can take the H2O taxi over to Coronado and have a drink at the DEL overlooking the ocean.

                                                      1. re: pickypicky

                                                        And how places like Malarky's could never fly in L.A. (Blowfish glued to a wall? Ancient olive trees forced into slavery in a cruise bar? ) If SD isn't the ultimate city of suckers, I don't know where is.

                                                        As an LA native I can tell you that there are more dining "suckers" in LA than SD. Ever hear of SBE? If that isn't the reincarnation of PT Barnum cum chef, I don't know what is.

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          SBE includes also Saam which is one of the best restaurants we had recently in LA. And LA due to its size might have a higher absolute number of lousy restaurants but in relative numbers San Diego is much, much worse.

                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                            I attribute that to Andres more than the corporate partnership behind SBE. Katsuya may have set sushi back about 10 years.

                                                        2. re: pickypicky

                                                          We've been living in San Francisco for a month now and what you say is true. I've been pretty stunned by just how much better the food here is. And you don't have to spend outlandish sums to eat well.

                                                          The Indian food up here is pretty incredible. Orders of magnitude better.

                                                          And Mission burritos are awesome.

                                                          1. re: Josh

                                                            Maybe now you have a better understanding of what a diverse city has to offer, from a culinary perspective. Enjoy your sojourn, you're in one of the best cities for a foodie. We'll miss you.

                                                            1. re: Josh

                                                              Hey, Josh! And everybody else. . . Check this out: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/859941 I thought maybe we could make a thread of our favorite SF places for you. AND in the process live vicariously with you being there.

                                                              1. re: Josh

                                                                "And Mission burritos are awesome."

                                                                Most the people that would have called you on this may be gone for the moment, but don't think this has gone unnoticed. Traitor. What is next - touting the superiority of the Bay Area as a beer city?

                                                                1. re: RB Hound

                                                                  Heh, no. The beer scene here is definitely nothing like the one in SD.

                                                                  When you eat vegetarian burritos, mission style is much nicer because it's not as dry.

                                                                  1. re: Josh

                                                                    ok, was about to object to the Mission burritos thing but you took the safe way out (veggie burritos) ha ha

                                                                    At least there are SOME good craft beer pubs up there with good food, you are still in California!

                                                                2. re: Josh

                                                                  Good god, I just got back to SD from 2 weeks in SF/Peninsula/Marin. I feel as though SD is another country in comparison. Pretty depressing. I apparently am finding that I am not one who is able to accept sunshine in lieu of great food... I mean on 18th and Guerrero, you have Bi-Rite around the corner from Tartine, need I say more? Eat a hot blue corn huarache with cheese and zucchini flowers from La Palma on 24th for me, man and get a coffee from Philz.

                                                                  1. re: TheeAce

                                                                    Sigh. Bi-Rite. Sigh. Tartine. Sigh. Ferry Bldg. Sigh. Food, wine, bread.

                                                                    1. re: TheeAce

                                                                      Yes, sigh....I think many in San Diego are a little down in the dumps on our "cuisine" these days.

                                                                      When my husband and I drove to Big Sur five years ago for our nuptials, we were shocked at the volumes of not just good, but excellent quality food and service just....everywhere! I mean, we had breakfast at this tiny, backwoods little diner in Cambria and it just blew our minds.

                                                                      All the way up the coast, the moment we stepped out of San Diego the food scene blew up in technicolor. And this seemed to be the standard operating procedure, finding good food and service was a matter of walking down the street because no restauranteur would dare run a substandard house.

                                                                      Everything here has turned into Malarkey-ville or Cohn-ville, which is not some major disaster, but San Diego is a large city, and it would be great to have more mid-range but creative white-tablecloth houses, and more casual places that have even service (Urban Solace, I am looking at you) and are not raucous and loud (Linkery).

                                                                      1. re: Dagney

                                                                        > the moment we stepped out of San Diego the food scene blew up in technicolor

                                                                        Where in Orange County did you find all these great restaurants?

                                                                        1. re: mayache

                                                                          lol, point taken...okay I'll say north of OC, though Taste of New York Pizza in Seal Beach is wonderful.

                                                                          1. re: mayache

                                                                            Orange County has excellent Indian and Chinese food.

                                                                          2. re: Dagney

                                                                            Actually i think the "mid-range but creative white-tablecloth houses" is the only kind of cuisine were San Diego is reasonable positioned (still not great as customers are not demanding enough and so restaurants can "get away" with the minimum amount of efforts without being penalized (having to close). But one of the key questions for us how we judge the quality of any restaurant in San Diego is if it would survive in major food cities like LA or SF) but everything else looks depressing for the size of this city (most cuisine might have 1-2 (if you are lucky) decent restaurants).

                                                                            1. re: honkman

                                                                              You make a good point, about survival. Cities like SF, LA, Chic, NYC, BOS would eliminate, via attrition, these type of places by simply not patronizing after a few attempts. Simply stated, if you can't produce good chow, you're done. Also, SD lacks larger diverse ethnic hoods like those other cities, example Little Italy, a tourist trap at best. Larger hoods allow for ample ethnic family resto's with a diverse selection of food. A good example of this would be Roosevelt's Tamale Parlor in SF, located in a rough hood but, with excellent food where the place is packed every night.

                                                                    2. I know many of you are concerned- I had dinner at Herringbone last night, and all servers, buspersons and staff appeared happy and healthy.

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Fake Name

                                                                            Really? You focused on the buspersons?

                                                                            1. well, I lied. we ate at Gabardine last night. We drove past, there were free tables, we went for it. We had some good dishes, some not good dishes, and some excellent kumamotos, but the strangest thing happened. The waiter did not pour us a wine taste. He just opened the wine and poured it. Is this new protocol of some sort? I was a bit shocked, and he could tell, so then he kept giving us free food items, amidst his rather lackluster service. (forgetting oyster forks, etc). It all felt-- well, a bit-- off. Like nobody was driving the boat.

                                                                              11 Replies
                                                                              1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                Curious, did the waiter think the bottle of wine you ordered was not worthy? Please elaborate more about the good/bad entree's.

                                                                                1. re: cstr

                                                                                  I couldn't figure out. I thought maybe this is new wine protocol: the server deems your wine not worthy of a taste. But I've had bad bottles before, at all price ranges. We ordered a series of small plates. The oysters were perfect. (We eschewed the sweet sauce served with them.) The signature duck fat french fries were good, but loaded with seasonings (ham bits? cheese?) so they had no duck fat flavor. We loved the shrimp & grits but longed for more grits to balance the chili oil. The watermelon, tomato salad was large and tasty. My husband ate his half of the burger. For me it only tasted of charcoal. It was inedible. Then we were treated to a slice of cake, which we did not eat. It had a fakey-lemon commercial cake taste that the slathering of whipped cream couldn't tame. When the server asked why we didn't like it, we told him. He said, "Good thing it was on the house." Yep.

                                                                                  On the Gaabby blackboard: "Locals welcome. Yelpers tolerated." I guess now they'll change it to "chowhounders shunned"

                                                                                  1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                    A shame the waiter didn't pour, it would have set a better 'first impression' of the place. Too bad about the duck fries, one of my favs, sometimes less is better. As for, 'My husband ate his half of the burger'. Hey it's a primal guy thing, we'll eat most anything that's been charred beyond belief. Surprised he shared it!

                                                                                    1. re: cstr

                                                                                      yes. we liked the vibe, the open air, the layout, the menu. Much prefer it to the Boner. For oldsters, Monday night is best. It's the quiet night. and you're right, the first impression made a difference. And Honkman (below) now informs me that tastes are NOT always given. wow. never had it happen before.

                                                                                    2. re: pickypicky

                                                                                      "It had a fakey-lemon commercial cake taste that the slathering of whipped cream couldn't tame."

                                                                                      Impossible, I never granted a license for that recipe.

                                                                                  2. re: pickypicky

                                                                                    Unfortunately there are many restaurants which don't pour you a taste when you are ordering a bottle.

                                                                                    1. re: honkman

                                                                                      I guess the question is; what happens when you finely take a taste and the wine isn't good?

                                                                                      1. re: svnirvana

                                                                                        You have to mention it to the server or manager.

                                                                                        1. re: honkman

                                                                                          wow, I think the only time I have not been poured the taster is at a low-end restaurant serving grocery store wine.

                                                                                          1. re: MrKrispy

                                                                                            Obviously this health care thing is hitting them harder than I thought.