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D Bar owner: 'Restaurants are about relationships'

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Keegan Gerhard is the chef and owner (his business card says dessert doctor) of D Bar in Hillcrest and D Bar in Denver. He has appeared on the Discovery Channel, CNN, HGTV, DIY and most notably as host and head judge of Food Network's, "Food Network Challenge" and "Last Cake Standing" series.

Q: You have established a following on the Food Network. I understand your background began in San Diego. How did you get your start here?

A: I have been on the Food Network for over 10 years but it is true that it all started in San Diego. San Diego was a real breakthrough point in my culinary career. My first chef job and first pastry cook positions were in San Diego. I came to cooking out of necessity. In the late 1980s and early '90s I was training for track cycling as an amateur athlete hoping to make it to the '92 Olympics. I moved back and forth between San Diego and Boulder a couple of times a year and began cooking to support myself. I worked at the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder and George's at the Cove in La Jolla, and I ultimately became the chef of Piret's in La Jolla. It was at Piret's that I began to really develop my true passion not only for food but also for desserts.

Q: What was the motivation for you to become widely-recognized for your skills in the art of dessert preparation and presentation?

A: My motivation in everything I have ever done is simple -- I want to be the best. I have learned that is a pursuit without end, especially in the food and beverage business. There is just so much competition and so many talented people out there.

Because of my sports background I have always been competitive but as I have gotten older, my focus has shifted to wanting to elevate the level of food and particularly baking and pastry in America. The competitions and competition shows for baking and pastry that I have been involved in all these years, I believe have not only elevated the level of baking and cooking in America, but in fact changed our nation's baking and pastry industry. Sharing the magic of sugar and chocolate artistry as well as the artistry of dessert preparation and presentation are among my biggest passions. Competition shows have helped me share that passion but my D Bar restaurants have been the best platform for sharing that passion with all types of people.

Q: Your first entrée into the restaurant business was Denver, where you opened your first D Bar restaurant. How do you manage both restaurants and still bring a personal touch and flair to both?

A: When it comes to owning and operating restaurants I have a simple philosophy: restaurants are about relationships, and teamwork makes the dream work. I could never successfully manage and operate both restaurants without the support of our amazing staff. My wife, Lisa, is also a chef and we have always wanted the focus in our restaurants to be on people; both the guests and our staff. But more so, the focus is on creating a personal, and when possible, a customized dining experience. Life is difficult. We want D Bar to be a culinary sanctuary where you can let your guard down, have fun, enjoy yourself and leave feeling refreshed and inspired.

Q: Why did you choose San Diego, specifically Hillcrest, for your second D Bar location?

A: Ever since I worked in San Diego as a cook and chef over 20 years ago I have always dreamed of owning a restaurant in San Diego. I chose Hillcrest because I love the location. Hillcrest is centrally located, easily accessible and I love the diversity of the neighborhood. A couple of big bonuses for us is that our friends own Snooze right next door and our developer, Jeff Silberman of Carleton Management, is a great partner in this project who has the same passion to make Hillcrest a premiere dining destination.

Q: San Diego is blessed with a plethora of great chefs and creatively diverse restaurant concepts. What culinary creativity do you believe you have brought to San Diego that delivers something special and unique in dessert and food preparation?

A: It is so true! San Diego is a highly underrated food city and there so many great chefs and restaurants here. I think what D Bar brings to the San Diego dining scene is options. You have one restaurant that can be so many things. We have a great bar with local beers, craft cocktails and unique wine list with every offering by the glass. The dining room is beautiful, yes, but very casual. We call it "fun dining at its finest" where we offer upscale comfort food at reasonable prices. Of course, there is the unique element of D Bar that we have become known for which is a dessert bar in the restaurant where you can sit and watch your desserts being prepared right before your eyes. So, on any given day or night you will see a birthday, a first date, girls having cocktails after work, a family outing, etc. That's one of my favorite parts of owning a restaurant: seeing how people make D Bar their own. Ultimately, we want D Bar to be San Diego's go-to restaurant choice when they want to go out and have fun.

Q: Where is D Bar going next?

A: There are limitless new things we can offer in the food and beverage aspect of D Bar; that's the fun of it. As far as where are we are going as a company, we have always wanted to have a D Bar in Denver, San Diego and Austin. I don't know if that will happen but at the moment D Bar San Diego is our total focus. We want to make it great. We want to be a strong, contributing part of the Hillcrest neighborhood and San Diego dining scene. I believe in the next 5-8 years San Diego will be become one of America's great food cities.

Q: What has been the most unexpected surprise you have found in San Diego that has contributed to your reinforcement of selecting San Diego for your newest D Bar restaurant location?

A: In my years away from San Diego I forgot just how great the people are. San Diegans have such a great spirit and there is such diversity here. I'm so proud to bring D Bar to Hillcrest and San Diego. It is high time that San Diegans don't have to travel to go to great, fun restaurants. More and more celebrity chefs are moving to San Diego to do restaurants and why not?

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jada.thomas@sddt.com

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