Honestly throw fistfuls of shade their way. Catapult entire shadows. I mean, don’t use your best hate. Reserve that kind of emotional rocket fuel for dictators and people who suggest breathwork heals torn ACLs. But pile a reasonable amount of your grievances on their elaborately detailed restaurants, their tassel furniture, their wacky statuettes, their caviar bumps, their Moët vending machine, their toilets painted in gold sparkles, lowrider-style.
This is the normal action of things. The toll road to American repute charges a pound of flesh, exacted in the public marketplaces where opinions are given, which is every square inch of the internet. And the claws are out for CH Projects, the group formerly known as Consortium Holdings.
The San Diego-based restaurant group has risen from one single burger bar in East Village (Neighborhood, opened 2007) to about 20 concepts. They’ve gotten national and international attention for the wild, sacrosanct, semi-profane spaces they’ve built—Noble Experiment, Youngblood, Craft & Commerce, False Idol, Polite Provisions, Fortunate Son, Ironside, Born & Raised, Raised by Wolves, Underbelly, Part Time Lover, Seneca, Morning Glory, The Invigatorium, J & Tony’s, Starlite, the Lafayette Hotel… I’m sure I’m missing a few. They’ve taken over beloved landmarks that were either closing or needed help (Bar Pink, Starlite, Lafayette). More big projects are queued in the wings.
At this point, they are San Diego’s answer to Danny Meyer, but with more weird art and a freakier Spotify search history. The city hasn’t seen a restaurant group boom this big since David and Lesley Cohn. So with that ascent, the drum circle of dissent is growing.
“DO THEY HAVE TO OWN EVERYTHING!?”
“GET YOUR NEGRONIS OFF MY LAWN!”
“CH PROJECTS BOUGHT MY DOG!”
Courtesy of Consortium Holdings
First, acknowledgments: CH financially supports Claire and me in this San Diego Magazine venture. I consider owner Arsalun Tafazoli a dear friend. Tons of potential bias here. However, even a cursory look at the record will show I’ve been raving about the work and success of CH long before we had any inkling we’d be crazy enough to own a media company.
And my personal feelings on the rise of CH are: Fly closer to the sun, weirdos. Go full Icarus. Buy the city government building, put a negroni in it.
This is the kind of alien-brained hospitality group I’ve always wanted for the city I grew up in. Far from perfect, flawed in many ways they readily admit, openly borrowing ideas from restaurants and bars around the planet—and never, ever boring. In the 20-plus years I’ve written about local culture, I’ve seen so many creatives try out-there ideas and fail. They’d leave for LA or New York, mumbling, “San Diego’s just not ready for this.”
Tafazoli, a La Jolla High grad, refused to join that creative exodus. “If you see me do something outside of San Diego,” he’s told me, “you’ll know I sold out.”
I haven’t loved everything they’ve done (the enormous “SHIT HAPPENS” by the restrooms in Ironside always struck me as overcooked potty humor). But this is a group who refused to take on investors, because it’d be harder to get financial approval for a 1,000-pound octopus sculpture. So every time they open a new place, they risk just about everything.
They refused to put TVs in their bars, because they believe it’s their obligation to foster human connection. For years, they’ve had an internal book club to infect their people with literature. As San Diegans, they’ve spent hard money preserving what’s important to neighborhoods(i.e. Folk Arts Rare Records, given a home in Part Time Lover) and then wilded out on the rest. They painfully give a damn, and they make fun of themselves at every turn.
At the end of the day, there are more than 5,000 restaurants in San Diego. CH owns around 20. Their 20 just inspire a lot of commotion, so it feels like they own a thousand. The haters are a lovely, natural part of any growth process. At the end of the day, no one hates unremarkable things.