ENCINITAS — When investor Michael Rosen and his chef-partner Richard Blais decided to open up a fried-chicken-centric restaurant in Little Italy last fall, he heard the whispers from others who questioned whether the concept could succeed in health-conscious San Diego.
“I didn’t have doubts, but there were certainly others who pointed out all of the different restaurants opening, Mendocino Farms, Tender Greens, and it certainly seemed like we were bucking the trend,” Rosen said.
But the restaurant — The Crack Shack — has been a resounding success, and now, the owners are expanding to Encinitas.
“We wanted desperately to be in Encinitas,” Rosen said. “It has young families, and such a diverse population and a unique identity. We wanted to be part of that.”
The Crack Shack has acquired the former Coco’s restaurant building on Encinitas Boulevard near Interstate 5 and have submitted plans to the city for an open-air restaurant similar to the Little Italy location — complete with an outdoor bocce ball court that is a signature of the original eatery.
The restaurant, which features Jidori-style, organic, free-range chicken, has carved out a niche in San Diego, an area that was bereft of a fried-chicken establishment beyond the traditional take-out locations.
“People love fried chicken, but the access has changed,” Rosen said. “I don’t know many people who want to go on a date or take their friends out to a Popeye’s or a KFC, so we felt that we would be successful by making it a location where you could do this. Where I felt we took a chance was by serving Jidori chicken, which costs a lot more, would people be willing to pay more for a higher-quality product. That has been the strategy, and it is really gratifying to see it pay off.”
The proposed Encinitas location is a half-mile from Coast Highway 101, which has been a preferred location for higher-end restaurants, but Rosen said he feels the Encinitas Boulevard location has some benefits as well.
“While the proximity to the freeway played zero role during the selection, I have seen how people exit the highway to go to the In-N-Out and it makes me excited, because having a unique, family-friendly sit-down restaurant may be an alternative that people will gravitate toward,” Rosen said. “And while we would have liked to be on the coast, there is a certain contingent of people who believe there are already too many restaurants and beer-serving establishments there that have made it incredibly challenging to locate on the coast.
“But I think this location isn’t too far removed from the coast, and it is surrounded by a very diverse population, and parking is plentiful,” Rosen added.
Rosen said they expect to have a hearing before the Encinitas Planning Commission in August and, if all goes according to plan, the new location could open in December or January.