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Partner plans more Native Foods locations in San Diego

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Daniel Dolan is partner of Native Foods Café and oversees all aspects of their operations and growth.

Q: You used to reside in San Diego, before moving to Chicago. Why is San Diego a focus of growth this year for Native Foods Café?

A: First, I consider San Diego to be my home town as I lived here off and on as a kid and I later lived in the Gaslamp Quarter and Marina District for many years. So having restaurants in San Diego gives me an excuse to spend a lot of time. But we've also seen such demand for Native Foods Café from the San Diego community. For years our restaurants in Orange County have seen a steady stream of San Diegans every weekend and we kept hearing "when are you opening in San Diego?"

We plan to open three locations in San Diego this year.

Q: You used to practice law. What inspired you to make the leap from the legal field to the restaurant industry?

A: I enjoyed practicing law -- first with Seltzer Caplan in San Diego right out of Harvard Law School and later with Winston & Strawn in Chicago. But I always wanted to build a business myself -- and I've been fortunate to have had several opportunities to do so. I got involved with Native Foods Café specifically because I love the food -- I was a regular guest at Native Foods for nine years before buying control of the company; I love the cause -- getting people to eat less meat; and I love the challenge -- creating the first national vegan chain.

Q: Before growing Native Foods Café, you were one of the partners that launched It's Just Lunch, a dating and matchmaking service for busy individuals, right here in San Diego. Why was San Diego a good place to launch this type of company?

A: Our corporate office for It's Just Lunch was filled with young creative people -- graphic artists, computer programmers, marketing people -- and San Diego has so many of those people -- after all, if you are creative and in your 20s, who doesn’t want to live in San Diego?

Q: What do you believe are the key components of a successful entrepreneur?

A: First, you must be passionate about what you are doing and believe in it because there will be some tough times in any startup and at some point you will find yourself staring into a mirror asking yourself why you are doing this. Second, double or triple the amount of money you think you will need to reach financial success. Third, find someone (or several people) who you can bounce ideas off -- maybe a formal board of directors, but informal advisors are fine too.

Q: Your board of directors consists of several people with strong restaurant backgrounds. Why did you select these individuals to serve on your board?

A: Native Foods has a great board -- Mark Scoular is a long-time resident of Encinitas and has a long-history with many restaurant chains like Quiznos and Benningan's. Ron Biskin was formerly president of Wolfgang Puck’s and held senior executive positions with Baja Fresh, TGIFridays and Burger King. And Craig Grimes is vice president of food and beverage for Cedar Fair, the parent company of Knotts Berry Farm and 20 other amusement parks. These people aren’t just your typical board members -- they are passionate believers in our brand and cause and give me so much assistance and support. And they are great friends, too.

Contemporary American restaurant Amaya La Jolla is expected to open on March 18 on Prospect Street.

"We are very excited about bringing the Amaya experience to this vibrant seaside community of San Diego," said Tom Voss, president of The Grand Del Mar.

"Camron Woods is perfectly suited to be Amaya La Jolla's executive chef and we're pleased to announce that his replacement at The Grand Del Mar, will be Matthew Sramek, who has worked with Camron for the last three years," Voss said.

The Commons Bar -- the Gaslamp Quarter's newest sports pub -- recently unveiled a new menu of hand-crafted cocktails, desserts, lighter entrees and a special all-you-can-eat wings night.

Opened last fall by Jake Pescatello and Leigh Gibson -- the owner of Pacific Beach's Dirty Birds -- across from Horton Plaza on Fourth Avenue, the neighborhood bar has already become known for its chicken wings, which range in 12 different flavors and heat levels.

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Janet Hagen 3:06pm May 1, 2013

Visited your restaurant in Palm Springs and loved it - went back a second time. Not only great food, but very personable staff. We live in La Mesa a short distance from the village and would love to see one open there. Mission Valley is also just minutes away and very central. Glad you are expanding and will look forward to your new restaurants.

Grant Bentley 10:02pm February 21, 2013

Jada, Thanks for the interview with Daniel and I consider myself a fan of the chain after discovering it in Santa Monica and getting on the mailing list. Here's my question for Dan. While my wife and I are omnivores and enjoy the novelty of an informal vegan restaurant, I have a 9 year old daughter who is a finicky eater and is not ready to spend time with tofu. The Santa Monica location is right next to a Subway outlet. Innocently, we grabbed a plain turkey sub for our daughter in case our interest in discovering something new didn't meet her taste buds. When the branch manager found out we had a dead animal on our table, she pretty much treated us like smokers in a non-smoking space. Without making it official with a sign as you walk in, the prohibition of meat in the space becomes a shock to the mainstream first-time customer. It's not the customer that is weird, it's the restaurant concept that is weird and worthy of some refinement. Your thoughts?