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Grand Avenue loses another iconic eatery

The closed and shuttered Vinz and Continental Deli have closed in downtown Escondido.

Escondido has lost another pair of landmark restaurants in the downtown. The Continental Deli and Vinz Wine Bar have closed. The 52-year-old deli closed on Saturday, and Vinz followed suit on Monday. 

Owners Vinnie and Michelle Griffin  closed after being served an eviction notice for unpaid rent.  They had been fighting to stay open for several months. They had also tried to find an investment partner or someone to assume the lease. 

In August Vinz had it is alcoholic beverage license suspended for several days after it fell behind in paying sales taxes to the Board of Equalization. 

On Monday, the last day for Vinz, customers were lined up to take advantage of the 50% off on everything prices and to sample their favorite food items for the last time. 

Michelle Geller, Escondido’s economic development director, told The Times-Advocate: “Vinnie and  Michelle’s restaurants have been assets to downtown Escondido for decades. They have always been generous supporters of local non-profits and community events. We’re going to miss them and wish them well.”

They may have just missed out on being able to take advantage of an expected downtown boom that could happen once the old Palomar Medical Center building is torn down and replaced by a 450-unit residential development. This should bring new customers, especially foot traffic to the downtown.

Continental Deli originally opened on Escondido Avenue in 1967 and relocated to 120 S. Kalmia St. in 1984. The Griffins bought it in 2001 and gradually switched over from a German/European deli to a sandwich shop and pizza restaurant.

Vinnie Griffin decided to open his wine bar in 2008 after visiting Oregon’s wine country, where he visited a restaurant that served food and sold wine by the bottle.  It inspired him to open Vinz next door to the deli.  Eventually it had a full menu and occasionally hosted live music.

Downtown Business Association President Alex MacLachlan told The Times Advocate: “It’s a sad day when we lose another iconic name on Grand Avenue. Vinnie and Michelle were always supportive and enthusiastic about anything happening downtown and essentially pioneered the Kalmia street corridor. The Vinz hub, with H Brothers, Laurel Glen, Vinklectic, Plan 9, Burger Bench and Esco Gelato as spokes, is a powerhouse on the east end, and now we’ve lost our hub.”

He lays the blame on the rising cost of doing business imposed on all businesses by the state’s increased minimum wage, among others. “Unfortunately, this was all too predictable though, when Sacramento puts you in their crosshairs. The Mom and Pop full-service restaurant business model has taken the full brunt of ‘The March to $15’ minimum wage hikes, which started in 2014. What most people don’t know about full-service restaurant owners is tips are included in gross payroll paid, when figuring employer taxes and worker’s comp insurance rates. 

“You don’t have minimum wage employees, you have $30 an hour employees that you owe taxes on, so your highest paid employees are getting state-mandated raises and your cook’s wages are stagnant because they rarely get paid minimum wage and it’s illegal to force servers to share tips with the kitchen,” said MacLachlan.

“It’s a very difficult situation to manage from a company morale standpoint and from a financial standpoint,” said MacLachlan. “This is why fine dining restaurants have started charging service fees on top of the bill, so the kitchen can get raises, and why more and more mid-level restaurants have gone to the counter service business model that eliminates the high combined cost of tipped servers as employees. It’s all about mitigating the damage caused by the unintended consequences of ambitious politicians in Sacramento.  Realistically, Vinz could not escape these skyrocketing business cost increases, because servers are needed when selling fine wine and gourmet food to a mid-priced clientele. They are your point person educating customers on the wine and the menu in order to fulfill the full service model. Vintana can just raise prices and add service fees to a customer base who expects to pay a $100 per couple to dine out, Grand Avenue does not have that luxury.”

MacLachlan concluded, “So Escondido, hug a small business owner today, and while you’re at it, a California farmer too. They’ve both had their business costs double in the last five to ten years, so we don’t know if they’ll be there tomorrow. There is a real human cost to having everything just a click away brought to you by Delivery Incorporated. Yesterday it was Draper and Damon and Intertwined, today it’s Vinz, let’s join together and prevent the next one, shall we?”

Gary Vest, president of Vestco Food Equipment, offered another view of the problem facing Grand Avenue business owners. “Why look at downtown during the week. No one down there. Parking not hard to find and people walking the streets are few. Rent is getting to be too much for the owner. I believe most of one block is own by the same landlord. He hasn’t help Swami’s or many others that are trying to stay alive. The city hall and many other larger business just are not staying downtown to spend their money. The few that are making it own their own building and not having to pay more every year to the landlord.”

Vested added, “The leadership has changed in Escondido.  I hope they take a good long look at how they can help the small business person stay alive in Escondido.”

Vest suggests: “Keep the homeless out of downtown so people would want to come downtown. Get more functions happen downtown to draw more people. Cruisin’ Grand is all they have right now. Street fair on Wednesday but they don’t help the people paying rent downtown. I have a couple of good friends that own business on Grand and they are hoping every night that someone come in. Hit and miss most of the time.”  

Most of the restaurant’s equipment will be sold at auction. 

6 responses to “Grand Avenue loses another iconic eatery”

  1. anotherview02 says:

    Hikes in the minimum wage have happened before. Businesses survived these hikes at the time.

    As a bystander, this citizen asks, “Why cannot the businesses today copy the business mechanisms used in the past to meet the rising costs of doing business?”

    Yes, a business may have to change its business model to meet evolving conditions. And doing so may mean increasing the price of a product or service.

    In the situation here, regarding the state-mandated jump in the minimum wage, all similar businesses must absorb this new cost. This increase only raised the floor for all involved businesses. So, the competition dynamic did not change, only moved to another level.

    Further, this added cost the business operators knew well in advance of this coming cost. Hence, a bystander must ask the obvious question: “What efforts specifically did the involved businesses make to adapt their operations to this known cost factor?” As well, how did the local business associations advise the affected businesses to cope with this change?

    A citizen must also suppose that in our democracy, the special interests affected by the increase in the minimum wage had every opportunity to present their economic concerns to the decision-makers. A citizen must presume that this presentation described all the pertinent concerns, including the ones heard now.

    Crabbing about the process as the outcome of it goes into effect seems like too little, too late.

  2. Joanne says:

    I went to Vinz 3 times over the last few years. Food was good but the service was ALWAYS slow and horrible. I hope something good moves in!

  3. Dr. Bettina Heinz says:

    The revenge of the trees! Grand avenue was one of the most beautiful main streets in small-town America, due to the elaborate center divide of 17 age old flowering, song-bird populated eucalyptus trees and the picturesque buildings flanking them. They should have been maintained and trimmed by city arbor specialists. They had no diseases. They just were not popular anymore. Now Grand Avenue downtown is ugly, naked and dying. The hoped for revival via gentrification is no solution. Ambiance, charm, and quaintness makes the difference, attributes that made Escondido special and lovable – with the magnificence of the grand old trees. They are gone and irreplaceable. Nature bites back.

  4. Pete Tomaszek says:

    A few months back I swear I read an article about Vinz blaming an accountant for missing payments to the state for a liquor license. And they had to close due to fines owed to the state. Not sure about how much truth is there
    I agree that wage increase suck for business owners, but like someone else said, you can see that coming. Seems like they are using that excuse to make some odd political statement. Inflation happens, deal with it.
    Whom ever made the comment about Gentrification saving Grand is brilliant. You can see the changes in the air. Gangs are being replaced by Soccer moms and strollers. City hall using gentrification as a “grand will be saved” is pathetic. They need to have another plan. One that involves making it more inviting to business.
    I am one of the “gentrifiers” we have put our money on the line. We see where Old Escondido could go, but not on the backs of homeowners. The city needs to lend a hand.
    Either way Vinz will be missed.

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