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Designed to Be Remembered

Meet Equity Builders, the silent name behind some of the city's best restaurants
Courtesy of Equity Builders
Wolfie's Carousel Bar, bench

Wolfie’s Carousel Bar

Courtesy of Equity Builders

We live in the age of Instagram. So, when it comes to dining, it’s often not enough for a restaurant to be just about food. To compete in a highly competitive market, the space often needs to be just as photogenic as its plates.

In the past, designers focused on how spaces made patrons feel. Now we’re seeing more weight put onto how a place photographs—what kind of lighting works best for iPhone shots or which custom floor tiling will make guests want to snap a quick walking-in vid.

The Grass Skirt

PB’s Grass Skirt was one of the first builds that allowed EB to be more playful and theatrical in its co-designs.

Courtesy of Equity Builders

This is where Joe Archambault comes in. As co-owner of Equity Builders (EB), Archambault has quietly been building and co-designing some of the city’s most imaginative, theatrical, and eye-catching commercial properties since before President Obama came on the scene.

Many of the city’s most unique restaurants are thanks, in part, to Archambault and his business partner Kevin Ollila’s general contracting company. Their team is responsible for building and co-designing photographable faves such as Wolfie’s Carousel Bar, The The Grass Skirt, Waverly, The Holding Company, Better Buzz (various locations), S3 Coffee Bar, and Donut Bar, to name a few.

The Waverly

Co-designed with Design 4 Corners, Cardiff’s Waverly restaurant was inspired by the all-day cafés of Bali and Australia and breezy, laidback vibes of SoCal.

Courtesy of Equity Builders

So it’s surprising that EB is rarely written about or mentioned in articles calling out the builders and co-designers on these projects. If you ask Archambault, however, this is exactly how he likes it—or has, until now. “Being a small company, we always were just particular about our projects. We deliberately set ourselves up so that you couldn’t really find us on social media,” shares Archambault. “Knowing that we were mostly word-of-mouth, we kept it that way so we could continue to focus on the clients we knew.”

Better Buzz, PB

Better Buzz Pacific Beach

Courtesy of Equity Builders

Now he’s ready to let you in on his secret. Back in 2002, Archambault began working in San Diego’s bar industry and formed friendships that afforded EB some of its first contracting gigs (and continues to do so today). “I started working for people I used to bartend with,” he laughs. “They had started owning these places, and we’d start building it for them.”

His first restaurant was Raglan in Ocean Beach. “Oh, that’s gonna be a fun one to disclose,” he says, adding that the restaurant group has no idea. The firm also went on to build Queenstown Public House in Little Italy, and Dunedin in North Park.

Before starting any project, Archambault and his team look at the space as a whole to ensure it functions well, and then the fun begins. “The more cohesiveness throughout the venue, the more inviting it is to the dining patrons,” he says. “Then if we are able to sneak in a theatrical or kinetic art component into the design, even better. It gives everyone more to conversate about.”

Better Buzz Hillcrest, interior

Better Buzz’s Hillcrest location features a mix of metals and woods, playful geometric shapes, and black-and-white elements to create a hipster-industrial space.

Courtesy of Equity Builders

Which brings us to Wolfie’s—the 2,500-square-foot French bistro in Little Italy with its own 24-seat rotating carousel bar in the center. Illuminated by 400 lightbulbs, the carousel is one of EB’s most ambitious ventures and a calling card of sorts, featured regularly on bar-porn Instagram accounts.

Working alongside lead designers Abe Aguilar and Mauricio Couturier (Wolfie’s owners) and Davis Ink, Equity Builders researched how to mechanically design and engineer the carousel bar’s rotational components, without causing guests to get the spins.

Wolfie's carousel

Wolfie’s carousel

Courtesy of Equity Builders

“Nobody had the answer of how to build it. We had to come up with the design, the concept of how to construct the rotating bar,” says Archambault. Everything from its mechanical aspects to the sunken floor that exists below the turntable floor system had to be conceived from zero.



Courtesy of Equity Builders

“The birdcage horses were another aspect that were in the original design created by Davis Ink, but we presented a way to put them in motion, thereby adding to the theatrical experience that is enjoyed,” he says. To convince the clients of these movable mares, EB offered to build it out for them for free with zero costs if not approved. After it was approved, Archambault charged them $3,000 of the $4,500 it took to build it.

When Wolfie’s opened in 2021, it became one of the only restaurants in the city whose bar top was the most coveted seat in the house for dinner. And those moving horses? They’re cemented in history—living on Reels, Boomerangs, and TikToks.

Yet, although Equity Builders plays with the theatrics, its builds find the delicate balance between aesthetics and genuine functionality. While assisting in the design of the Better Buzz coffee shop in Hillcrest alongside Davis Ink and the Better Buzz team, EB found the balancing act began with figuring out how to preserve the building’s exterior (it’s historically designated), while restoring its older foundational issues (its soil was moving), and making it trendy.


Co-designed by Davis Ink, EB’s $4.5M project, The Holding Company, mixed nautical and steampunk themes across three levels.

Courtesy of Equity Builders

“The entire foundation of this three-story building was replaced to address the expansive soil conditions that its original [foundation] sat upon,” says Archambault. Underneath the building, the soil would expand and contract whenever it’d get wet.

The team had to carefully dig down to the bedrock to get rid of the soil and rebuild the foundation. Doing so included carving out the soil in six-foot increments so as to not disrupt the entire building above it. On top of going inch-by-inch, the machines used to dig could only go so far. Once the machines hit their limits, the team rolled up its sleeves and dug by hand. One month later, the project could fully begin.

When co-designing the 7,500-square-foot, bi-level interior, EB along with the Better Buzz team and Davis Ink worked together to create a space featuring mixed materials including tile, stone, glass, wood, and steel. A U-shaped counter was placed in the middle of the room as both a focal point and for its functionality, enhancing the quick, grab-and-go coffee shop experience.

Built with white oak, steel designs, a custom-built display case, and unique tiling, the counter sits in front of large geometric shapes floating in the air and along the steel-framed side rooms. It’s an influencer’s dream aesthetic for their morning cup of joe.

THC, interior

The Holding Company

Courtesy of Equity Builders

This year, EB will finish work on the new Queenstown in La Jolla, Captain’s Quarters in Pacific Beach, and the first phase of renovations for the Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel.

And since the team only works with clients who will allow them the freedom to be unique and creative, these builds will most likely make your camera roll. Because when you walk into an EB-constructed space, you’ll most likely remember your experience. Your IG feed is their business card. And that’s the whole idea.

*Editor’s Note: The print version of this story incorrectly stated the cost to engineer the rotating carousel bar. It has since been retracted. Additionally, Wolfie’s owners Abe Aguilar & Mauricio Couturier were not listed as the lead designers behind the carousel and have been added for clarity.

By Nicolle Monico

Nicolle Monico is an award-winning writer and the managing digital editor for San Diego Magazine with more than 15 years of experience in media including Outside Run, JustLuxe and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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