Dave Martin, the President of the OB Town Council, agreed to meet me at Shades at 1 pm the other day. That was easy – as he has his own table there – the one closest to the kitchen, the bar, and the serving area – for, as many know, Dave owns Shades. Or rather Dave – along with his wife Jennifer, his daughter and her husband; they’re the four owners.
Even though it was mid-week, the inside of the restaurant was about half-filled, with a few outside in the front. The lunch hour had just passed. But everyone in OB knows Shades – it’s a fairly popular place (even the Widder Curry gave it a thumbs-up).
Yet, even though Dave’s at the restaurant from 10 am to 7 every night, as he told me, it’s apparent that he amazingly still has the time and energy to serve in the leadership of the Town Council – a very active group – plus serve on the board of the OB Mainstreet Association, be active on at least one of its sub-committees, and generally maintain a strong and visible voice for a spirited vision for Ocean Beach.
While I sipped a very decent cup of coffee, I listened and scribbled notes as Dave answered my questions about the Town Council and then some. He was just recently elected president. This was, as he explained, his 4th or 5th term as president. “I’m just not smart enough,” he joked, “to dodge the bullet,” meaning once again he failed to avoid taking the mantle of the steward Ocean Beach organization.
He then went on to tell me that one of the key reasons he decided to take the leadership role again, was because “there’s a lot of new energy,” he said. “So I accepted the nomination to season [the council] with history and experience …, to see if we can keep the energy at a good level.” He told me there’s a bunch of new people on the council and involved.
We also talked briefly about his restaurant. “This is our – Shades’ 10th birthday ….” he said proudly. More on that later.
I said, “Dave, I know what the Town Council does, but talk to me as if I didn’t know anything,” which was not a problem at all for him, as I flipped pages on my notepad.
What the OB Town Council does depends on the season. Every year during OB’s Street Fair on Newport Avenue during the summer, they coordinate the famous Chili Cook-Off for the OBMA. This was my first hint that Dave likes to cook.
One of their biggest deals, of course, for the TC is the annual Holiday Festival and events, including the Parade, the Christmas Tree – and importantly their Food and Toy Drive. Everyone in OB knows about the unique and crazy Holiday Parade and the kooky-looking tree at the end of Newport, but not everyone is familiar with the food and toy campaign.
“In Christmas 2012,” Dave said, “we served 92 families with food for Christmas week – and toys if they had kids.” This was a rather stunning number if you think about it. “That takes,” he added, “many thousands of dollars.”
I asked Dave how much the whole price tag was for all the festivities during the holidays. Just the parade, he told me, costs $12,000. I whistled. That’s a lot, I agreed, and people should know what you guys spend on it for the community, I said.
Historically, one of the Town Council’s projects has been OB’s famous Dog Beach.
“The OBTC put in the paw print and the tiles,” Dave said. “We want to re-energize that project, get more tiles, raise money, have more clean-ups,” he said.
“We’re also re-doing the OB sign,” Dave reminded me. The OB entry way sign – the one that greets you as you drive into the community from the freeway. The Council is holding an election – to be online for all the members of the OBTC. “If you’re a member,” Dave said, “you will get a ballot.” So the Council and its members will decide the winning entry – “with input from the community at large,” Dave assured me. He had seen the poll that the OB Rag had conducted a short time ago.
Then Martin told me some history about the original sign that I didn’t know.
“When the sign was first intorduced, to raise money, square inches of the sign were sold – 30 years ago. Since then,” he continued, “it’s been re-furbished and re-painted several times.”
Now, because of it is so termite-ridden, “you can punch a hole in it with your fist,” without much effort. They hope to have it – the new one – picked, and painted and installed by summer, he said.
I asked about funding of the organization. They apply for grants from the City and the County, Dave said. The majority of their funds come from membership fees and money they raise. That money pays for all their events.
“Anything extra,” Dave said, “is given back to the community in grants -to non-profits, or community organizations.”
He rattled off some examples: “Little League, OB Elementary, surf teams, and Friends of the OB Library, the OB Historical Society, the planning board for their website, ….”
“We can’t fund huge donations,” he said, “but we can give $300 to $400 at a time to help OB organizations.” “Some of the funds,” he went on, “go to beach clean-ups” and to some school-based education programs.
“Everything that comes from these events, goes back to OB in some way.”
Our conversation drifted into Shades and Dave’s background. That’s when he told me who the 4 owners are, and that the restaurant Shades is ten years old this month, March. He bought Cecils from the former owner a decade ago. “I spent hours in the grease pit,” he explained in talking how at the beginning he and his family did everything. He’s still very much involved in the daily minutiae of the restaurant.
Yet, his wife, daughter, son-in-law all work there, as well as two grand-daughters and a nephew. “It’s a family-affair,” I said to his agreement.
Like he said, he’s there every day from 10 to 7. They have about 35 employees, he told me in answer to a question, and about 20 full timers. “We have some employees who’ve been with us for the 10 years,” he said. That’s a very good sign, I responded.
“What were you doing ten years ago, before you bought Cecils?” I asked to get him to talk about his past. Before this, he began, “I was the regional operations director for KFC.” Wow, I had no idea. “I worked with KFC for 12 years,” he said.
I prodded him to go back even further. He gave me a mocked pain look, but continued.
Dave Martin was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. He went to the University of Memphis, his interests in business administration and some psychology, he said. But there was a war going on – the Vietnam War.
Some time in 1967 or 68, he and four buddies joined the Marine Corps. The 5 of them joined together on the condition that they get their basic training in San Diego. That was no problem for the Navy or the Marines. Dave ended up serving 2 years in Vietnam and got out of the military in an “early-out” for combat experience. I asked him did all 5 of them make it. No, he replied, two didn’t come home.
When Dave got out – he returned to Memphis and worked some unmemorable jobs. “I wanted to come to San Diego,” he said. His parents then moved to Orange County – our Orange County, so he moved back to San Diego, where he had gotten his basic.
He got married and had twin boys. But the marriage only lasted for 5 years. Later, at some point, Dave met Jennifer – and they must have hit it off for they’ve been married now for 35 years. She had 2 kids when they met, and they are now Dave’s step-children – “they’re my kids,” he said. Somewhere along the line, Dave became the director of training for Boll Weevil, the local hamburger chain. He did this for 10 plus years he said.
“I think there’s only one left,” mentioning the one Boll Weevil remaining – out there in Lemon Grove. OB used to have one, right along Bacon Street where Pizza Port is now located. It was there for years and years.
In 1999, Dave moved back to Memphis and became the KFC’s Regional Operations Director for the entire mid-South region, all based out of Memphis. That’s a lot of fried chicken.
But with time and as he was retiring from KFC, he also got bored. “I wanted to come back to San Diego, to the beach.” And that’s what he and Jennifer and the family did. And it’s obvious that their venture paid off – Shades is very successful.
“Just about all the meals are my recipes,” he said, “or my mom’s.” This was an amazing fact.
We discussed how it was his initiative to open up space for his place out on the concrete in front. “It’s reclaiming space,” I said, “very European.” I am a definite supporter – as I was while I served as Chair of the OB Planning Board 10 years ago – of restaurants reclaiming the space around their establishments – providing alternatives to the concrete and gray.
Dave said, “ask me questions.” So I did. And they were all over the place.
On the issue of a maintenance assessment district – that just was defeated as an advisory proposition during the balloting of the recent OB Planning Board election, Dave said, “We already have a maintenance district – the OBMA.”
On the subject of the proposal of extending the nightly drinking deadline from 2 am to 4 am; “Not in favor of it. Would cause more issues than it solves.”
Dave was on the City Council Task Force on Medical Marijuana, and I had seen him give a report on it in front of the Planning Board a while ago. I asked him how he got involved. “[Councilwoman] Mary Emerald put it together,” he said, “and each council district nominated someone. Kevin Faulconer’s office nominated me.”
“We had a good plan,” Dave said. “If it would have been given a chance – with the controls, it would have been safe,” he said with their main concern that patients who needed access to medical herb get it. I asked him how it compared with Mayor Filner’s new plan – just released. He hadn’t seen it, he said.
What about Filner, I asked. “I’m not sure. I don’t think he’s been in office enough time. Don’t agree with some things. Don’t know yet. Would like to see more cooperation with the City Council,” he offered, referring to the tiffs between the Mayor and the Council.
On the police trailer in the Pier parking lot – he favors it “as a deterrent,” he added. Dave has been told by SDPD very recently, that the police signs are currently in the shop being painted. They’re going on the trailer once finished.
I asked Dave what he thought were OB’s infrastructure needs. He quickly rattled off a whole list: OB still has storm water problems, people still speed down Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, there’s parking issues – especially the over-sized vehicles; the streets – they don’t seem to be kept in good enough shape.
Then there’s the inadequate lifeguard station, he quickly added. The Town Council actually has been over the last few years trying to work with the City in re-designing the public restrooms as well as the whole building. They’re working on refurbishing the restrooms both in the lifeguard station and out on the Pier. “It’s still in our headlights,” he said.
Dave was also on the Alcohol Ban Task Force, formed before the historic vote that was successful in prohibiting booze at the beach. “I was against the ban,” he said, and “I wasn’t very bashful” in getting his opinion out. He wanted the right to have a glass a wine while standing in the sand if he wanted to.
“It turned out to be a good thing,” Dave said about the ban. “I see many families coming to the beach. More tourists, more families, especially on the holidays. I was against it but it turned out in my opinion to be a positive thing.”
On the subject of food trucks in OB, Dave responded, “I’m not neutral. I pay alot of money to be here, as a business owner. We see the food trucks coming in, see them as an intrusion, … until recently they were not held to the same standards,” he said, referring to the recent law requiring the food trucks to obtain ratings.
“There’s a restaurant association,” Dave added, “the OB Restaurant Entertainment Lodging Association – a sub-committee of the OBMA. I’m chair. We’re very vocal on this.”
What about the issue of liquor licenses, I asked, knowing it was a contentious one between bar and restaurant owners and some residents upset about the amount of drunken behavior in and around the bars late at night. His only complaint, really, was that restaurant owners who wish to sell just wine and beer have to adhere to the very same regulations that full bars do. “ABC needs to adhere to their own regulations,” he said. “I have no problem with competition. However, with time, there’s over-saturation.”
There’s a craft beer place opening up, OB Kabob just opened, another pizza place selling beer is being worked on for its opening soon, so there are a number of new alcohol-serving places springing forth in and around Newport.
“I close this restaurant,” Dave Martin said firmly, “at 9 pm every night, because we’re a family restaurant. First and foremost we serve locals. Don’t want to be in the mix in what happens after 9pm,” he said.
And with that, our time together was up. He led me to his back office, through a labyrinth of kitchens, hallways, employee eating areas, the freezers room, and finally to a space way in the remote confines of his establishment, we entered what I called “the control room”, his desk and computer and several others where the managers do their thing.
We shook hands and he led me out to the entrance, where the sun was trying to break through. He congratualed me on the work that the OB Rag does. “Keep up the good stuff,” he said.
This is the kind of man who runs the OB Town Council. And even though we don’t see eye to eye on every issue, I know Dave Martin is dedicated to keeping the community character intact and assuring that it maintains its uniqueness. And this is the kind of person the village needs to keep OB, OB.