Boutique Design - July/August 2017 - 76
FORGET SPECIALIZATION. Multi-hyphenate restaurateur/retailer/
designer Tracy Borkum, founder and principal of SoCal's Urban Kitchen
Group, shows being a jack of all trades can make you a master of one-in
her case, if that trade is F&B.
The London native moved with her family to San Diego's La Jolla community in 1981. After graduating high school, she headed to New York, then Los
Angeles, then San Francisco before returning to San Diego in the mid-'90s to
open her first restaurant, Kensington Grill. "It was all a wonderful sensory
overload of design, art and culture that's served me well ever since," she says.
More than two decades later, her West Coast portfolio of casual "Cal-Ital"
concepts includes five outposts-CUCINA urbana, CUCINA enoteca Del Mar,
CUCINA enoteca Newport Beach, CUCINA enoteca Irvine and cucina
SORELLA Kensington-as well as an online retail shop and a catering unit.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS?
I grew up with a mother who was always cooking and entertaining. In
between studying at NYU and UC Berkeley, I spent a year at home in San
Diego and decided I wanted to learn how to cook myself. I worked my way
through the ranks at an Italian restaurant downtown. After that, an innate
passion for everything hospitality surfaced and I took to exploring dining
and design through travel. The combination of my passion for hospitality
and my background and education in theater and art led to what is now a
22-year career in an industry that I obsessively love.
DO YOU DESIGN ALL OF YOUR DINING CONCEPTS YOURSELF?
The interior design for each of our venues is done in-house. It's something I
deeply enjoy having a hand in, thus the DIY approach is a huge driving
philosophy for our collective. I believe it's what sets us apart. We know our
brand and we know how we need the space to flow, so we're our best design
voice. Over the years we have developed quite the exceptional team,
comprised of myself, our designer and retail buyer Monika Crawford, local
architect Mark Bausback, and Hawkins Construction.
HOW DO SOME F&B DESIGNERS MISS THE MARK?
Urban Kitchen Group's Tracy Borkum
translates hospitality know-how drawn
from a lifetime of travels into a design-led
collective of Southern California eateries.
INTERVIEW BY CHRISTINA GREEN
boutiquedesign.com JULY + AUGUST 2017
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESTAURANT-TO-RETAIL FORMAT.
A unique aspect of our restaurants is that nearly every design element within
the space is for sale. In developing the CUCINA concept, we began to make a
lot of our own furniture and light fixtures due to the fact that we were on an
incredibly tight budget. Once the concept was up and running, we kept
hearing guests ask where "this" was from and how can I get "that." Very
quickly we saw an opportunity to invite people to take a piece of CUCINA
home with them, whether it be a set of chairs for their own dining room,
barstools for a new restaurant, or a small trinket as a memento or gift. £
PAU L B A R N E T T
Unfortunately, some designers don't truly understand the concept they're
designing for and this consequently ends as a miss in the eye of the guest.
It's super important that an owner and designer collaborate by spending
time talking about the menu, style of service, expectation for the guest
experience, etc. I'd love to see more designers and architects actually spend
time following a manager or server for a shift to understand spatially what's
required. There are two sides to restaurant design: what the guest sees and
what the team experiences in their day-to-day functions.