The Team Behind Wonderland Ocean Pub, The Rabbit Hole and More SD Favorites
Written By: S. Alicen Reynolds
Photographed By: Michael Wesley Social Syndicate San Diego
We sat down with Social Syndicate (SS) owners and partners Brendan Huffman, Mina Desiderio and Mark Huber at their Adams Avenue hot spot, The Rabbit Hole, to learn more about what makes this restaurant development and marketing company work. How do they sustain popularity in the San Diego hospitality industry saturated with celebrity chefs, swanky hotels housing high-end restaurants and establishments created by award-winning builders and designers? Take a look around the streets of downtown, East Village, Little Italy and even Oceanside and you’ll notice new posh eateries and bars popping up almost weekly. Or so it seems. You’d think it would be next to impossible to keep up with the next best thing, never mind be the next big thing, but this restaurant concept group seems to pride themselves on it not always being about the aesthetics of their venues; but rather, the true belief that it’s the staff and the community that make their venues successful.
“What’s really cool about ‘Syndicate’ right now is our employees are really starting to take pride in the brand,” says Brendan Huffman, SS Owner and Partner. “Whenever you walk into a Social Syndicate venue you’re going to get awesome, good quality people and good energy. That’s kinda the deal behind it. Customer service is the biggest thing for us. It’s never been what’s on the walls. The core behind it all is that friendly face you see every time you walk in the door.”
Innovative design and stellar décor can go a long way in this industry, but unless the food is spectacular, the staff are welcoming and the vibe is on point, the chances of keeping the doors open for the long haul are slim to none. Maybe that’s why Social Syndicate’s way of thinking has never been ‘build it and they will come.’ Instead, they’ve built their popular San Diego establishments around their motto ‘Concept Is King’ and the virtue that their employees are family, customer service is key and good times are meant to be had.
“It’s basically a big group of friends, like family owned and operated. Everything is grass roots, it’s not a big corporation. Every restaurant venture we do is driven by what’s needed in the neighborhood and the community. We center around the void in the marketplace, but it’s always got to be what would make sense for that community, what they’re missing,” says Huffman. “Even the philanthropy work we do is centered around that particular community and usually the naming of the business comes from the history of the place. We hire local [and] the menu is created using local ingredients.”
The group of three friends combined their branding, building and marketing resources a few years ago after Brendan and Mark opened Bootlegger in East Village. At that time, Mina already owned The Local in downtown. The branding success of The Local had Mina being tapped by many other restaurateurs while concept and design ideas were being sought from the Bootlegger owners. While hiring expensive outside companies to bring their newer ideas to fruition, it made more sense to have their successful backgrounds join forces, keep cost down and do everything in-house. Together, Brendan, Mina and Mark created Social Syndicate as their one-stop concept shop.
Three years later, now with some of the hottest spots in the SD food and drink scene under their belt, Social Syndicate is thriving with their popular restaurants Wonderland Ocean Pub in Ocean Beach, Bootlegger in East Village, Florent Restaurant & Lounge in Gaslamp, The Rabbit Hole in Normal Heights and The Local, now with one location Downtown and one in Pacific Beach.
They’ve recently added the brand Resident Brewing to their portfolio with a brewery and tasting room downtown. The beer, created by award winning brewer Robert Masterson, has become so sought after that they may need to consider a second location already to keep up with supply and demand. And as if Wonderland couldn’t get any better with its spectacular views, delicious bites and tasty cocktails, Social Syndicate has purchased the Shades Oceanfront Bistro location directly below it that will focus on brunchy delights and “swell times.” Although OB Surf Lodge won’t be an extension of big sister, Wonderland, it will maintain the pooch friendly atmosphere that Shades’ regulars knew and loved. We got to witness the cocktail R&D tastings for the soon-to-open spot, and if it’s a hint of things to come, then we’re in for something terrific. Brunch. OB. That view. Food and drink to die for. Hmmm, sounds an awful lot like ‘the next big thing’ to us.
But Social Syndicate doesn’t stop there. They also specialize in logo design, branding, retail merchandise, apparel, web design and social media management. They’re turning their marketing and design department into a whole new entity, Utensil Studio. Responsible for rebranding of two longtime San Diego businesses, Paw Commons Pet Resort (formerly The Golden Paw) and South Coast Surf Shop, Utensil Studio plans to expand their creative reach with new clients in industries outside of hospitality too. Some of their other clients include fitness brands, restaurants, bars, interior design, pet resorts and accounting firms.
“I think too, that although we want to grow big, we never want to seem like we’re big time people, or be big time people. We want to think big but act small,” says SS Owner and Partner Mina Desiderio, “We don’t ever want to change the mentality of all of our operators, the guys behind the scenes, the managers in each spot, the bartenders, the servers, whatever. We want them to feel like they’re taking ownership, that they believe in what we’re putting down. We want our venue employees to know they’re like extended family. The hospitality industry is tough. We can’t do this without them.”
Traditions are another thing that give some of the SS venues a sense of community fun regardless if you’re a local, a first time patron or even a tourist. The ritual of Fireball shots every time a siren-blaring fire engine passes Bootlegger while imbibers cheer “Firrrrreballlll,” how last call at The Local in Pacific Beach is greeted nightly with the Pina Colada Song as everyone sings along, or the sunset toast at Wonderland every night when the sun goes down. It’s the little things like these, all traditions taken from something within the community, that provide neighborly camaraderie, great times being had and moments that are consistently shared on social media. Mostly, though, these places provide memories to take home of special times surrounded with good people.
Partner the traditions with good times, locally sourced menu ingredients, the delicious drinks, exceptional food, a great neighborhood and some of the happiest and friendliest staff in the industry, then it’s no wonder why Social Syndicate’s reputable locales are some of the best in San Diego. They’ve made sure that even though their motto is ‘Concept Is King’—that above all else—good, ol’ fashioned hospitality reigns supreme.
Where to Eat and Drink With Social Syndicate Around the City
– Ocean Beach
Wonderland Ocean Pub
OB Surf Lodge
– Pacific Beach
Florent Restaurant & Lounge
– Normal Heights
The Rabbit Hole
Utensil Studio: Social Syndicate is branching out and turning their once in-house marketing and design department into a whole new entity—Utensil Studio.
The Rabbit Hole
3377 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
The Social Syndicate Team Is Giving Us Major #SquadGoals