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A conversation with Diane Powers

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Diane Powers, a recognized entrepreneur and design professional, is the creator and force behind some of San Diego's beloved retail and restaurant destinations -- The Bazaar del Mundo Shops and Casa Guadalajara restaurant in Old Town, Casa de Pico in La Mesa and Casa de Bandini in Carlsbad. Powers' Bazaar del Mundo has been credited for attracting Old Town's more than 6 million visitors annually -- an accomplishment that warranted her being inducted into the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau's Visitor Industry Hall of Fame in 2001.

Q: What originally inspired you to enter the restaurant industry?

A: My trips to Mexico initially inspired my whole development of the Bazaar del Mundo. But when it came time to find an operator for a Mexican restaurant, there were no takers -- so I decided to do it myself. I'd been designing restaurants for others, but Casa de Pico was the first of my own. The state park property had originally been a motor court motel, so it was a challenge to incorporate a restaurant into that lineup of motel rooms. Yet, this ultimately gave the whole environment its charm, and the Bazaar del Mundo became an oasis of shopping and dining. It turned out that we also guessed correctly -- that the allure of Mexican food and entertainment would have tremendous appeal to locals, and visitors. At that time, tourists did not visit Old Town, and San Diego had few choices for Mexican cuisine.

Q: This year marks the 40th anniversary of your first restaurant -- Casa de Pico. What would you say are the top contributing factors to this restaurant's longevity?

A: Initially, of course, we turned a historic location, the last home of Mexican governor Pio Pico, into the restaurant, with indoor and outdoor patio dining, colorful Mexican décor and romantic mariachis. We worked hard on the menu, too, and our diners clearly appreciated our authentic preparations, their value and presentations. To this day, our recipes are the same, flavorful and ample -- and importantly, excellent values. We also made the margarita our “own” drink and the buzz about it, especially the generous “bird-bath” size, created plenty of buzz, plenty of aficionados.

Q: In 2005 you lost the lease to the Old Town property and had to reopen both Casa de Pico and Casa de Bandini. What was the biggest challenge in relocating these two restaurants?

A: Location, location, location! We knew we wanted to save our significant investment of the brand we established as well as our loyal following and our strong reputation. Sifting through, exploring, investigating our many opportunities was our greatest challenge -- would it be better to locate the restaurants in close proximity to one another, as they were in the park or throughout San Diego to draw a more diverse clientele? In evaluating where our customers lived we found central San Diego, North County and East County to be the areas where our customers lived so we most happily decided on Grossmont Center in La Mesa for Casa de Pico, and The Forum in Carlsbad for Casa de Bandini. Casa Guadalajara is still in Old Town, of course, and still enjoys the benefits of its long presence there.

Q: Were you able to maintain the original fan base despite the move?

A: I'm not really sure that anything’s been as gratifying as realizing how consistently, and how many, of our original fans and friends show up, absolutely regularly -- to celebrate special occasions, to bring their friends and visitors -- or even to have their Mexican food fix. Many order their same favorite item visit after visit.

Q: What is your secret to successfully running restaurants in three different communities?

A: While I'm on the road quite a lot, I have to say that all the restaurant managers -- Filiberto Horta at Casa Guadalajara, Lino Rodarte and Julie Bell at Casa de Pico, and Gilbert Gastulum at Casa del Bandini, have been with us for years, and their leadership and organization skills have been Invaluable in maintaining the quality, consistency and service that we’re proud of and that we work hard to maintain.

Also, although each restaurant has its own menu, there is some overlap -- depending on the individual creativity each chef -- and some economies of scale in purchasing.

Owner involvement is important, with careful attention to the multitude of details and quality -- control. I personally do taste-testing every week in each restaurant and hold weekly meetings with management. I totally enjoy the many facets of restaurant operations.

Q: With numerous Mexican restaurants in San Diego, how do you set yourself apart from your competition?

A: Our guests tell us the experience we provide them is absolutely unique, especially for the value, in that we serve high-quality, flavorsome food amidst a beautiful atmosphere in our dining rooms and lush patios that surround guests with the ambiance, art, color and authentic spirit of Mexico.

Q: How focused are you in also running the Bazaar del Mundo Shops, now located across from Casa Guadalajara, since you left your original location?

A: Very focused. My office is in the same building with our shops, so I spend quite a lot of time there. I also continue to travel on buying trips to search for new merchandise. I doubt we'll ever tire of finding new treasures. Also, we’re always discovering fresh designs from new and long-time artists and craftspeople, for home hospitality items, fashions and jewelry. We insist on originality, and have been successful at maintaining that. That has also been key to attracting new -- and surely keeping -- devoted clients.

Q: Have you considered opening more restaurants in San Diego?

A: I'm always considering it. It’s a provocative, fun challenge to me to investigate new possibilities. I love the creativity -- designing, developing the menus, working with the chefs, working on marketing.

Del Mar's AAA Five Diamond, Forbes Five-Star restaurant, Addison, is opening its kitchen to avid home cooks and aspiring chefs. The course offers the chance to “put in a 7-hour day on your feet trailing Executive Chef William Bradley”, where participants will learn how a professional kitchen is organized; evaluate fish, meats and produce; get hands-on training in foundation techniques; and see all the hard work translated into finished dishes while expediting.

Open to non-culinary professionals, 18 years or older, the price is $700 per person, per day for a minimum of two days and maximum of three days.

To participate, contact Maître d' Will Costello at 858.314.1919

Karl Strauss is celebrating the grand reopening of its La Jolla Brewery Restaurant with a craft beer and food pairing event. “Wall Street Brewdown” will showcase the newly renovated space from 5 p.m. to closing on Thursday, Sept. 28, featuring 12 beers paired with more than 20 small plates.

In between bites, guests can mingle with the brewers or take a brewery tour. The $20 entry ticket includes five beer tasters, unlimited food pairings and a souvenir Karl Strauss logo glass. Visit karlstrauss.com for information.

Oceanside will be the home of Broken Yolk's sixth restaurant and second franchised location. Located in the Trader Joe’s shopping center on Vista Way, the venue is slated to open in November.

With agreements in place for two additional stores in San Diego by 2013, the brand's franchise department is turning its attention to expansion in Orange County and Los Angeles.


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