He signed the lease today.
It’s going to be a free-standing modern French restaurant along the edge of La Jolla Commons (4747 Executive Drive). A 6,000-square-foot space with 24-foot-high windows harnessing that expensive San Diego sun. Indoor-outdoor seating. His own garden/micro-farm on property (really micro—I’m actually exaggerating using the word farm, but he’ll grow citrus and herbs and stuff). Studio UNLTD will handle the design. Compared to the “more rambunctious” Callie, Swikard says, the new spot will be “a little more buttoned-up and swanky.”
The restaurant doesn’t have a name yet. Target opening date: 2025.
“In the last year, I’ve walked through 25 places and they didn’t feel right,” Swikard says. “I saw this space on March 8, the day before my birthday. I flew to New York and sat down with Daniel [Boulud, my mentor] and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I told him about it. He said, ‘It’s an amazing opportunity. I would never get that in New York.’”
The big news is that his new restaurant will be French. Swikard spent a decade as the right-hand of Daniel Boulud, one of the most revered French chefs in the world. It was a tad surprising that Callie wasn’t all coq au vins and cassoulets (Callie is strictly Southern Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Southern Italian, North African—spice-driven and not French). That was by design. He needed to make his own mark.
Now, mark fully made, he will pay homage to his mentors and where he came from.
“Callie’s fun and loud, and this one is going to be the grown-up brother who spent a couple years in France and came home and did his thing,” he says. “It’ll be heavily inspired by the French-Italian Riviera: Cote d’azure, Provence, Liguria. I spent a summer in Cassis and Nice (the armpit where France and Italy come together) and the culture is swanky and fun. It’s cuisine soleil, or cuisine of the sun. San Diego is the same place—the ingredients, the fish, the farms, the sun, the ocean, and the mountains. We don’t have thousands of years of culture behind it, but it’s all here.”
The new restaurant will be more technical, but not white-tablecloth. Olive oil–forward. Fish and vegetables, roasted meats. “In the south of France, you have oysters and whole grilled fish or salt-baked fish or sole meunière,” Swikard says. “When I was in Provence, it felt like San Diego—fun, laid-back. That’s what I love about this place. People can have all the money in the world, but they don’t flaunt it.”
La Jolla Commons is an office city made of glass—a pretty stunning, LEED gold and platinum-certified sustainable build. When it opened in 2008, it was the largest net-zero project in the country. Tenants are lions of the financial world: US Bank, KPMG, Moss Adams, the like. Still, it’s not a reclaimed warehouse in the middle of Little Italy or some other restaurant row.
“It’s an incredible space,” he says. “You can’t find this anywhere else in the city. And I’d rather live with no regrets.”
Look. I always try to strike a balance between journalism and expletives in this space. Luckily, my assignment as a food editor is opinion. If anyone can make a destination restaurant in an office park work, I’d put my money on Swikard. Callie is not just one of the best restaurants to open in San Diego. It’s become one of the top eateries in the country in the last few years. The secret to that is equal parts hard-earned training and skills mixed with passion that borders on obsession.
Swikard continually texts me ingredient porn: piles of pronged uni still ocean-wet; bluefin tuna on his cutting board; dozens of passionfruits, figs, peppers. He’s not bragging or selling. He just gets truly, truly excited about wildly fresh ingredients. And he knows I nerd that way as well.
“When I was in New York, Daniel would order the best produce in the world,” he explained to me once. “And, every day, the farm box would show up, and it said San Diego on the side.”
When Swikard hired chef Mike Reidy from Fish Market last year, I texted him. You don’t hire a chef of Reidy’s skill and experience unless something big is in the works. One of the keys to Callie’s success and the group’s expansion is GM Ann Sim, a highly refined badass.
She worked her way up in Boulud’s NYC restaurants as well, then became captain at one of the best restaurants in the world (three-Michelin star Eleven Madison Park) before moving back to SoCal to help open Nomad Hotel (and did a stint at Curtis Stone’s Maude). You can make 19-star Michelin food, but if the front of the house is mediocre, it’s not going to matter.
“She’s my right hand,” Swikard says. “Opening another restaurant, for Ann and I, is [about] that gut feeling that we have more to share. We feel we can create something that’s, first and foremost, genuine and an expression of the high quality-people expect us to [deliver].”
Swikard grew up in Santee and always dreamed of being a chef. He got his first job at Kemo Sabe under chef Deborah Scott as a kid of 15, then moved over to Island Prime for four years. His career really took off when he took off, though. He left for New England Culinary Institute, then hopped to Europe to work under respected French chefs like Phil Thompson (Auberge du Lac) and Marco Pierre White. A fellow San Diego ex-pat Gavin Kaysen recruited him for Boulud in New York.
Years later, San Diego restaurateur David Cohn would convince Swikard to come home to San Diego. Cohn would help him fund his own restaurant.
It worked, pretty wildly. Now Travis just bought his first house for his family and set down roots, and they’re sketching out the second act.
“I’m a humble blue-collar kid who worked hard his whole life. I count pennies and dot my I’s and cross my T’s,” Swikard says. “Opening another restaurant is a graduation for me. I’ve been lucky to have the best mentors in the world and watch them do it.”