As San Diego continues to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, local chef Ronnie Schwandt says the stresses of the past year served to accelerate his plans to open his first solo restaurant. Spurred by a yearning for an increased work/life balance, combined with the desire to spend more time with his young daughter, the South Park resident has taken over University Avenue’s former Splash Wine Lounge for a new 55-seat restaurant that’s planning to open by the end of June.
Verbena Kitchen will operate Wednesday through Saturday for happy hour and dinner plus brunch service on Sundays. Schwandt says the super seasonal menu will revolve around the North Park Farmer’s Market and the relationships he’s cultivated with local purveyors over his career.
The native San Diegan, who attended culinary school in La Mesa, began his training at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar and spent several years cooking in Coronado where he started as a sous chef at Leroy’s Kitchen and eventually helmed Maretalia Restaurant. Most recently, Schwandt helped the Trust Restaurant Group to open Cardellino in Mission Hills.
While with Blue Bridge Hospitality, Schwandt worked with Matt Gordon, who joined the restaurant group after shuttering his beloved North Park restaurant Urban Solace. Schwandt says he hopes that Verbena Kitchen will encourage more chef-focused projects to open in the neighborhood.
His wife Laura and restaurant partner Jillian Ziska are both in the event planning business and Schwandt says the Adams Avenue Theater, the Normal Heights venue operated by Ziska’s company, To Be Designed, will also be used to host chef’s dinners and other special events on the evenings when Verbena Kitchen is closed.
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