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Matsu restaurant
The Matsu pine bonsai logo and sign done gyotaku-style by artist Dwight Hwang. Photo courtesy of William Eick
ColumnsFood & WineLick the Plate

Lick the Plate: Matsu, from concept to opening (Part 1)

Last week’s column profiled a friend who had made a career shift away from a life in restaurants after 30 years. This week I wanted to highlight the opposite by learning the process of opening a restaurant — concept, building out space, staffing and opening — from the perspective of the chef/owner William Eick.

The restaurant is called Matsu and it will be taking over the former Flying Pig space in Oceanside.

I’ve written about a couple of William’s previous ventures, but never in a three-part series that covers the process of opening a restaurant. Part one will cover the new concept and finding the perfect space to launch it.

Part two will run in April and will be a deeper dive into the design and construction progress of the space, and the final segment will be just before opening and include staffing, the publicity, and a preview of the menu.

With that, here are some highlights from my conversation with Chef William Eick and his new restaurant Matsu.

LTP: Tell me about your culinary background to this point and how it led to the Matsu concept.

William: I started working in kitchens about 12 years ago, and the first full-service restaurant I worked at was Tomiko in Encinitas. Tomiko was an upscale Japanese/Sushi restaurant. That’s where I learned how to cook, gain basic knife skills and fell in love with the flavor profiles of Japanese food. I had always had an interest in Japanese food, and culture from when I was young, but working with the ingredients and techniques really solidified the passion.

Over the years I worked for a few other restaurants, Bistro West, Georges At the Cove, Park Hyatt Aviara to name a few, before being given the opportunity to run Real Bar and Bistro in Solana Beach. I left Real to open 608 in 2016, and then moved to Mission Ave Bar and Grill in 2018. 608 had provided me the opportunity to try to find my voice and identity as a chef, while Mission Ave Bar and Grill had provided me with the opportunity to really refine that identity.

LTP: Describe the Matsu concept and what people can expect on the menu.

William: Matsu is a modern progressive Japanese fine-dining concept, where we focus on techniques, and flavor profiles of Japanese food while utilizing local ingredients as much as possible. There will be no sushi or ramen, but more composed plates.

The decor will be very simple, with a minimalist approach, and a quiet atmosphere. One would expect things like A5 Japanese wagyu beef, squab, duck, caviar and artichokes. There will be an a la carte menu, with 2 separate tasting menu options as well.

LTP: How did this concept become a reality?

William: I’ve been operating Matsu as a pop-up concept, serving only the 8-course tasting menu for about 2 years which pre-pandemic booked for 2 months at a time, and had finally found the location that was most ideal for the full concept.

LTP: Location and the physical space of a restaurant play a big part in its success. Tell me about that process and how you landed where you did.

William: I had been looking at a few different spaces around north county San Diego, and while a few were given a hard look, the opportunity to take over an existing restaurant came available. The existing restaurant had bought a new building and needed help transferring their current lease, at which point they called me.

After looking into the details, I decided that it was the one. We wanted to keep the location in the Oceanside restaurant community family, and I’m happy I was able to do that.

LTP: What is your vision for that space and how does that relate to the Matsu brand, how are you making it your own?

William: The basic layout of the restaurant was actually quite ideal to what I was looking for, so most of the work getting done is the decor, changing paint colors, some small decor touches, and the biggest thing, opening up one of the walls so guests and see into the “finishing” part of the kitchen.

There will actually even be a two-seat exclusive “chefs counter” where a couple can watch dishes get finished and garnished before being sent to tables as well as interacting with the chef.

LTP: Any major challenges or hurdles to this point?

William: Finding the right location was a huge challenge, and of course, the pandemic didn’t help the situation either.

LTP: Just to whet the appetite of our readers, what is your target opening date

William: We are currently hoping for June/July.  While we are doing renovations, we will be running a to-go only Japanese fried chicken (karaage) concept that we will be calling Naegi, which means sapling. We hope to find Naegi a home once Matsu is open and running as well. People can follow @Naegi_izakaya on Instagram for updates and how to order. That will be starting mid-March.