The founder of Cucina Urbana in San Diego makes a culinary pivot: She will open a Jewish grocery store this month

Pioneering restaurateur Tracy Borkum, long known for her portfolio of Californian Italian restaurants, is turning to a new concept inspired by her family roots: the Jewish caterer.

At the end of this month, she and her chef partner Tim Kolanko will launch Gold Finch, a 1,400 square foot restaurant to be housed on the ground floor of a newly renovated life sciences office campus in Torrey Pines. . Designed as a breakfast and lunch spot, the restaurant represents Borkum’s modern take on classic Jewish deli meats.

Fans of traditional charcuterie have nothing to complain about. Versions of the beloved noodle kugel, potato latkes, knish and corned beef on rye will be well represented on Borkum’s extensive and varied menu.

“A lot of American Jewish deli meats have focused on Ashkenazic and heavier northern European cuisine, but there’s the other side of Jewish cuisine that’s very much based on the Californian palate, which is Middle Eastern, from southern Europe – more Sephardic cuisine that comes from warm countries,” said Borkum, whose Urban Kitchen Group opened the now famous Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill 13 years ago.

“We call it the modern delicatessen. It’s definitely not kosher – we have bacon on the menu. So it’s not like your traditional grocery store, which I’m not sure exists in most places today.

She’s right. Cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, long the epicenter of Jewish deli meats, have seen a gradual decline in the iconic homage to Jewish immigrant culture. In an article this month about a museum exhibit documenting Jewish deli, The New York Times reported that at one point there were about 3,000 such delis in New York City in the years 1930. Today there are only a few dozen, according to the New York Historical Society.

Gold Finch marks a turning point in the evolution of Borkum’s Urban Kitchen Group, which has eight restaurants, including two new ones at the Mingei Museum in Balboa Park, as well as culinary offerings at Rady Shell in Jacobs Park. Since opening the original Cucina Urbana, Borkum has been in expansion mode, expanding more of its iconic California Italian restaurants into San Diego and Orange counties. It currently has five Cucina locations.

“Our intent and commitment is still to Cucina, and we are currently pursuing a lease for another Cucina in the county, so we’re certainly not throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” she said. “It’s just an interesting time to have other experiences.”

Exterior of Gold Finch, which will open at the end of August. The outdoor space is not yet finished.

(The RMR Group)

Gold Finch is located in the Muse at Torrey Pines, the former longtime home of Scripps Research. Redesigned last year at a cost of $100 million, the updated three-building campus on Science Park Road has 186,000 square feet of office and lab space, as well as panoramic, east-facing views. is since its all-glass buildings.

The grocery store will be housed on the lower level of one of the buildings and will provide a convenient dining location for office workers in the area. The new restaurant, however, cannot rely solely on traffic from the office park, especially given the still widespread practice of remote working, Borkum said. For this reason, it also markets it as a gastronomic destination.

“Right now in the office market, there’s more of a hybrid scenario happening where a lot of people are going back to the office but not five days a week, and I’m not sure that’s going to change, so I think there’s a commitment now to get people back into the workplace with things like food and drink and a lot of people in the science industry have to go back to work, so that’s a positive outlook for we.

The Gold Finch space, which will be designed to be light and airy with stone and wood accents, will feature a glass facade, a floor-to-ceiling glass door and an outdoor patio.

Borkum says she’s excited about a concept — and a menu — that evokes her own memories of growing up in Jewish neighborhoods in London. She is particularly enthusiastic about the banana fritters and halva ice cream dessert which were inspired by her memory of her grandmother making banana fritters.

A menu item that aligns more with Sephardic cuisine, Borkum said, is shakshuka, made with a poached egg in a green tomatillo sauce with spinach and za’atar. Some of the offerings sure to whet the appetite of charcuterie lovers include challah French toast, matzo ball soup, Berber-spiced fried artichoke with sumac aioli, and chocolate babka bread with cream. with orange and streusel.

If the new location proves successful, Borkum said she would like to open more locations.

Even as Borkum and her team prepare to launch a new concept and also build on the Cucina brand, she recognizes the lingering challenges rebounding from a pandemic that shuttered indoor restaurants at the height of COVID- 19. Now she is struggling, like everyone else, with rising costs.

“We’ve been lucky with the financial support we’ve gotten not only from the federal government, but also from our landlords,” Borkum said. “But the cost of doing business is now above and beyond anything we’ve ever seen. Work, food, construction – everything goes through the roof. And the gear, either you can’t get it or you’re paying twice or three times what you paid a few years ago

“We have not financially compensated the loss during the pandemic, but our financial situation is very encouraging. Maybe we’re greedy for punishment by doing another project. At least once a day someone tells me I’m crazy.