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Slowdown in development business leads Champion-Cain to reinvention

Gina Champion-Cain. Courtesy of American National Investments

Gina Champion-Cain is president and CEO of real estate company American National Investments, and partner and owner of Luv Surf, as well as owner of The Patio in Pacific Beach, the former Lamont Street Grill.

Q: How did you get your start here in San Diego?

A: I came to San Diego from Ann Arbor, Mich., after graduation from the University of Michigan in the late 1980s to attend law school and earn my MBA. While in graduate school, I worked full time for several asset management companies, learning how to reposition and redevelop highly distressed assets. This experience gave me an edge as to understanding how to fix something that's broken and it proved to be the most valuable education in real estate for me for the long term.

Q: What was your motivation for you to expand your real estate business here and what types of projects did you go after in building your organization from the real estate perspective.

A: I love the city of San Diego and will never consider ever living anywhere else. Because of that love affair with this city I wanted to give back and embrace development projects that celebrated the rich history of our treasured neighborhoods while totally respecting the environment in which we all live.

Q: What attracted you to the restaurant business and caused you to enter a profession you had no prior experience in?

A: The development business has been worse than dormant over the past five years, so I seriously determined I needed to reinvent myself or else I'd end up playing too much golf. When I first was informed the former Lamont Street Grill, a true neighborhood eatery was closing and the land was up for sale, I immediately leaped at the chance to redevelop a true infill site with overall sustainability in mind, while also engaging in the preservation for this neighborhood; it’s beloved and coveted local hangout.

Q: Who was responsible for the transformations of the restaurant space?

A: The vision and the concept of The Patio was mine, combined with some absolutely brilliant people on my design and development team including: Bea Arrues, lead designer; Philip Cudaback, lead architect; David Michael, designer, fabricator, creator, artist; Dominique Houriet, General Contractor, designer.

Q: San Diego is blessed with a plethora of great chefs and creatively diverse new restaurant concepts. What unique culinary concepts and innovations do you believe you have brought to San Diego?

A: Regarding our concept, our chef possesses amazing imagination and creativity, presenting the freshest and most delicious offerings available, while our team delivers my suggestions of always delivering what is the best product and experience available. I've just emphasized what I believe is good. Fresh and sustainable, local providers, healthy eating, flavorful foods, fantastic service and an authentic sense of place they want to return to again and again.

Q: What has been the greatest satisfaction you have experienced during this entire process?

A: Cleary for us, the Pacific Beach neighborhood has been the best location we could have hoped for. I love the people who live here and their loyalty, support and admiration of our accomplishments say it all. They have already become regulars and have complimented us by bringing family and friends and quickly becoming our greatest ambassadors.

In celebration of its five-year anniversary, Whisknladle is hosting an anniversary dinner from 6 to 9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 8, the evening it first opened its doors back in 2008.

Tickets are $100 and include a cocktail reception, followed by a family-style meal of a mix of both new and favorite menu items from over the years.

Additionally, the evening will also celebrate chef Ryan Johnston's return to Whisknladle. After opening four restaurants in four years, he's going back to his roots as the head chef of the restaurant.

Visit wnlanniversary.eventbrite.com to buy tickets.

Burger Lounge is currently running a contest for fans to win a Super Bowl "Super Party" with the Burger Lounge Mobile Kitchen for the winner plus 100 guests on Super Bowl Sunday. Entries will be accepted until midnight on Jan. 23 at burgerlounge.com/superparty.



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