It’s late afternoon on Friday the 13th. I just got off the phone with David Cohn of the Cohn family restaurant group – and owner of Thee Bungalow – he confirmed the rumor that we had heard: that Thee Bungalow – the Peninsula’s five-star European cuisine, high-end restaurant – was closing. It appears that Sunday, August 15th, will be the last day of this favored place.
This is tough news for the loyalists. There’s two world-known restaurants in the Ocean Beach/ Point Loma area: Hodad’s and Thee Bungalow. Thee Bungalow has been around for nearly half a century. It has one of the oldest liquor licenses in the County of San Diego.
Yet that’s just the beginning of the story, for the Cohn’s – owners of a dozen other restaurants throughout San Diego – took over Thee Bungalow from the old owner, Ed Moore with plans for changes. Now it’s time for the changes to happen. They plan to reopen in mid-October.
The big change – a new name. Thee Bungalow will be renamed Bo-Beau’s Kitchen & Bar. The old, white-tableclothed, formal atmosphere will also be changed, as well as some changes to the interior. The exterior, however, will basically remain the same, with a new paint job.
“The interior and the menu will both be more casual,” David told me. “It’ll still be European.”
“Why the name change?” I asked David.
“It’s all about the changes we’re doing,” he said. The interior, the menu, the prices, the atmosphere. They had always had plans for changes when they first bought the place. But other things got in the way. Now it’s time. They had already made some changes to the old building, like adding air conditioning, improving the restrooms.
I asked David, “Isn’t it risky to change the name of a reputable restaurant with such a history?”
Cohn came back without a skip and said matter-of-factly: “No, it’s not risky to change the name. It’s actually just the opposite. Today young people look for new things, for new businesses. They don’t want to drive their parents’ Buick,” – he had made his point well.
Cohn quickly explained that, yes, the old Thee Bungalow was a special restaurant, actually a “special occasion restaurant” for those special occasions. But, he said, they can’t survive on customers coming in just for those occasional special occasions. Not in today’s market. I could relate to that. I was taken there for a birthday by my family two years ago but haven’t been back there since (especially on my OB Rag salary).
“There was a time,” David said sadly, “when being in business for fifty years meant something. Nowadays, people don’t care about that.”
The hope is that the new place – more casual, more moderately-priced, a more modern menu – will attract a younger customer base, a younger crowd, and attract more locales, in fact. Right now, Cohn estimated, maybe a 80-20 percentage split in clientele where the 20% are local people.
They’ll keep the bar, of course, and have more moderately-priced wines. They’re thinking of a weekend brunch. “We’re changing with the times,” David summarized.
As for the employees, he only has two full-time right now. But David expects many of the part-timers he has now will return when they reopen in the Fall.
Finally, I asked David Cohn about his relationship with Ed Moore – the previous owner of Thee Bungalow – and current owner of the 3rd Corner – right across the street? “We’re great friends,” Dave said. In fact, they’re partners, as together they just opened another 3rd Corner in Palm Desert.
“One last thing,” he pleaded, “tell your blog readers that we don’t own the parking lot next door. That’s why we don’t pave it. We can’t. It’s not ours.” I chuckled as I knew that but a lot of people don’t. It’s a public lot, and belongs to the City.
I offered him a genuine “good luck” with the new endeavor. The new re-open. It might be a riskier venture than he admits. Changing the venerable name like Thee Bungalow into something totally new could be very dicey as now he would be up against every other California Cuisine place that dots the coastal landscape – all with similar menus and bars. But David Cohn’s the restaurateur, not me.
this weekend is Thee End of Thee Bungalow.