Last year may have been the nadir for the eateries that make up San Diego’s Trust Restaurant Group, but the company’s pandemic-born butcher shop proved to be a bright spot for revenues.
Last fall, TRG opened Wise Ox Butcher & Eatery in the former Heart & Trotter Butchery shop in North Park. The combination of Wise Ox’s new all-hours onsite meat sandwich program and the community’s support of the neighborhood business during the pandemic made the fledgling business a success. Now, TRG owner/chef Brad Wise is expanding the concept to North County.
In November, a second Wise Ox Butcher & Eatery will open in the freshly renovated The Beacon shopping center on the southeast corner of El Camino Real and La Costa Avenue in Carlsbad. The 1,314-square-foot shop will have an oversize butcher case carrying classic and hard-to-find meats, fridges stocked with prepared items, stocks, sauces and marinades, and beer and wine. It will also have the same sandwich program, which includes a house-smoked bologna sandwich, a dry-aged burger, a house-shaved pork Philly cheesesteak and house-roasted beef sandwich.
Wise said it was a risk opening a new business last year when his businesses were either partially or fully closed for much of 2020. But the New Jersey native grew up eating sandwiches and buying meat at his hometown butcher shop, so he believed in the concept. Fortunately, shortages of meat at supermarkets made North Park residents believers, too.
(Courtesy of Jim Sullivan)
“When the pandemic started … all the grocery stores started running out of meat and people started going back to their neighborhood butcher shop,” Wise said. “It got real popular in New York and other big cities around the country and then here. People started to remember that butcher shops may be a little more expensive, but you get a better product. I think that appreciation started to grow.”
Wise said he chose the Beacon location — a 122,000-square-foot upscale center in the 7700 block of El Camino Real — because he used to live in that area and knows that residents in that area love to have cookouts.
“I used to live in the San Elijo area just up the hill and when that project became well-recognized, it intrigued me,” he said. “I thought, let’s take a little space up here and see if it works. When I lived there, I didn’t go to many restaurants and figured the people cooking at home are making amazing things these days. Let’s bring our approach to a butcher shop there instead.”
The new Wise Ox location will be TRG’s second venture in North County. In August, the company will open the second location of its Rare Society steakhouse at 330 S. Cedros Ave., Suite 104, in Solana Beach. The restaurant will have 90 seats indoors and 38 outside. It will replicate the company’s original Rare Society location in Hillcrest, which has a vintage Vegas motif.
Besides the Wise Ox and Rare Society brands, TRG also operates its flagship Trust Restaurant in Hillcrest, Fort Oak restaurant in Mission Hills and Cardellino restaurant, bakery, bottle shop and ice creamery, also in Mission Hills.
Wise said business at his restaurants has been strong in recent weeks as pandemic restrictions have tapered off, but he’s been unable to operate at full capacity due to the industrywide shortage of labor. These days, he employs about 100 workers, which is down from 200 workers before the pandemic.