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We Chat with Arturo Kassel of Whisknladle Hospitality about the Second Shutdown

Tune in to Episode 208 of the Happy Half Hour podcast

By Kayla Wong

Our special guest this week is Arturo Kassel, CEO of Whisknladle Hospitality, which brought us restaurants like Prep Kitchen, Catania, and Whisknladle in La Jolla. He also owns Gravity Heights Brewery, which opened last summer in Sorrento Valley, and the Park Commons food hall. Arturo and his business partner, chef Ryan Johnston, opened Whisknladle in La Jolla in 2008. After 12 years in the neighborhood, they had to close the restaurant this spring because of the pandemic. We featured Whisknladle’s closure in the October/November issue of San Diego Magazine, where we also ran the restaurant’s recipe for their mussels appetizer, provided by Ryan.

Arturo has been on the show before, and we invited him back to talk about the latest Stay Home Order. This time around, restaurants can only serve takeout or delivery, and breweries and wineries were ordered to close their tasting rooms. Currently, Catania is open for takeout daily, but Gravity Heights and Park Commons has been temporarily closed.

Arturo shares that he fully supports the shutdown of indoor dining, and he understands the need to move to outdoor dining only, but has several frustrations about the current closures. He says that the hospitality industry represents around 9 percent of the outbreaks that have occurred in San Diego County, which would mean that 91 percent are attributable to other sectors. He feels that the restaurant industry is being scapegoated.

The PPP loans that came during the first shutdown are what kept their restaurants alive—but another shutdown without PPP funds, or any kind of aid, makes the future very uncertain. Arturo says he’s not as panicked this time around. At the first shutdown, he thought he was seeing 14 years of his life’s work come to a crashing halt, and he was devastated. This time around, they were better prepared, compared to March when they had to throw away thousands of dollars worth of food. He remains cautiously optimistic that there will be some form of relief eventually, but admits that hope is not a great strategy. Despite everything, he remains incredibly proud of and grateful for his team, who managed a seemingly impossible situation.

Arturo sees a silver lining in the way the pandemic has forced everyone to take stock of what’s really important in our lives, and believes that on the other side of this, we’re really going to appreciate those simple things—the places we go, the things we do, and the people we see.

In Two People for Takeout, Troy recommends supporting any local caterer, like his favorite, Miho Catering Company. Marie got caldo de pollo at Lourdes to satisfy her chicken soup craving. David recommends checking out Sushi Uno, one of many food trucks that, without local breweries, have lost their biggest avenue of distribution. Arturo didn’t pick one specific place—instead, he encourages people to order takeout from the experiential, full-service dining restaurants in their neighborhood.

Thank you for listening! As always, we want to hear from our listeners. Do you have a question for Troy? Need a recommendation for takeout? Is there a guest you want us to book on the show? Let us know! Email us at [email protected].

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