San Diego Chefs Spark a Dynamic Scene

Cohn Restaurant Group

For culinary expertise and exceptional restaurants, there’s more than one great California bay area.

Once a culinary wasteland surrounded by beautiful beaches and farms, San Diego is now a seafood, beer, and cocktail destination on the West Coast. The city has changed tremendously in the last decade, and Chef Deborah Scott has seen it all.

One of San Diego’s first celebrity chefs, Chef Scott arrived in the early ‘90s, moving to San Diego from Monterey after having also spent time on the East Coast. Chef Scott started her San Diego career in partnership with the owner of a pizza place who was looking to open a restaurant in Little Italy. The resulting project was the original Indigo Grill, where the pizza owner provided the financing while Chef Scott cooked the food and developed the concept. Indigo Room opened in 1994, one block north of where Indigo Grill exists now.

“When I first started working in San Diego, I would ask for specific items like green and black plantains and huitlacoche—and I’d get a lot of confused responses from distributors,” says Chef Scott. “No one had heard of these things, and it was just me and Bernard Guillas from the Marine Room sort of running the culinary scene for a while. Of course, now there are numerous young chefs who have come in and done very well.”

She left the original Indigo Room after just one year, and gravitated into a partnership with David and Lesley Cohn, experienced restaurateurs who were regular visitors at Indigo Room. In 1995, the team—named the Cohn Restaurant Group—opened its first restaurant, Kemo Sabe, in Hillcrest.

After a healthy run, Kemo Sabe closed in 2010, but, in the span of nearly 20 years, the group also opened other successful concepts, including a new Indigo Grill that opened in 2001 near the site of the original. In 2005, Cohn Restaurant Group opened Island Prime on Harbor Island, which claims annual revenues of $14 million serving steaks and seafood along the San Diego waterfront. In 2012, the group opened Vintana, a 20,000-square-foot restaurant in Escondido. Now, the Cohn Restaurant Group has 21 restaurants in Southern California and Maui, Hawaii, and is continuing to grow its portfolio.


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