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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Restaurant Group Looks to Stand Out, Blend In

Wonderland Ocean Pub was named after Ocean Beach’s rich history, which featured a park by the same name 100 years ago, according to Huffman. Photo courtesy of Social Syndicate

Chairman and CEO: Brendan Huffman

Revenue: Approximately $40 million to $50 million in 2018, and projected 20 percent increase in 2019 and annual revenue of nearly $60 million by 2020

No. of Employees: 650

Headquarters: Ocean Beach

Year Founded: 2014

Company Description: A restaurant development group that specializes in creating casual neighborhood concepts.

For Brendan Huffman, the purpose of all Social Syndicate restaurant group’s properties is simple: provide genuine, good old-fashioned hospitality.

“We call that a casual approachability,” says the chairman and CEO of the vibe and atmosphere he aims to achieve at each of his locations. No matter which part of San Diego a Social Syndicate restaurant may be, from Pacific Beach to Del Mar, the goal is to create “a place where people high-five each other and give side-hugs, hang out and get away and where employees and maybe even some of the usual patrons know you by name.”

Nine locations and four years later, it is that very level of comfort and informality across the venues that have made Social Syndicate, which specializes in revitalizing and/or creating casual neighborhood restaurants, successful. With financial backing from investors and with a handful of business partners that provide a collective 45 plus years of experience in the food and restaurant business, Social Syndicate is behind local venues such as Wonderland Ocean Pub in Ocean Beach, Bootlegger Plates & Pours in the Gaslamp Quarter, The Rabbit Hole in Normal Heights and OB Surf Lodge, also in Ocean Beach, among others.


Last year, the company’s revenue hovered around the $40 million to $50 million mark. This year, Huffman projects Social Syndicate, with 650 employees and headquartered in Ocean Beach, will see a 20 percent increase in annual revenue. By 2020, thanks in part to a property in Del Mar that is in the works and another as-yet-to-be-revealed project in development, Huffman believes Social Syndicate will be close to a $60 million company.

Another key aspect of the company’s success is that once it lays down the “casual approachability” foundation, the partners take their time in figuring out how to make each location resonate within its community, says Huffman. By this, he means the addition of specific elements that speak to the demographic of any given restaurant, which may include menu items, presentation and greeting style, among other things.

One example of this is the Del Mar property, a $2.5 million to $3 million project set to begin renovation in the next six to eight months and open in the middle of next year. Huffman says some of the design features, the way the food is plated and even the way the bartender will greet customers will be, in his words, “kicked up a notch” to better cater to the Del Mar crowd. You have to be sensitive to the area and the people in the community, he says, while still providing good, quality service and good food.

The OB Surf Lodge is a brunch-driven, dog-friendly concept in Ocean Beach, said Brendan Huffman, CEO of Social Syndicate restaurant group. Photo courtesy of Social Syndicate

Past Is Present

Another case is the name of some of his restaurants, like Wonderland, which was named after the area’s rich history, according to Huffman.

“There was a park called Wonderland there 100 years ago, which opened its doors back in 1912 or 1913,” he said.

“So, we wanted to tie that into our spot. We hired local Ocean Beach employees in an attempt to tie all our efforts within the community and tie ourselves to what was going on around us.”

Within the first two quarters of opening in June 2013, Wonderland had turned profit, says Huffman. He says one of his favorite aspects of the program there is what they call the daily “sunset toast,” which is when the bartender rings a bell and stops everyone in the house to have a collective toast as the sun sets on the edge of the Ocean Beach pier. “It creates a shared energy,” he says, “and goes back to that causal approachability mentality.”

There’s also Rabbit Hole. Huffman says, unbeknownst to many people, that area of Normal Heights, where the property is located, used to be a green field inhabited by rabbits.

Community Driven

“We have nine concepts in San Diego County and every single one is driven by what is needed in that community,” he said. “We just try to figure out how we can transcend roots and be timeless while creating casual neighborhood spots with good food, craft beer and that caters to everyone.”

Stephen Zolezzi, president and CEO of the Food & Beverage Association in San Diego County, says the unpretentious Social Syndicate approach is a major component to its restaurants’ success.

“It always goes back to great food, great experience and value,” he said. “When you can put those components together, the concept will work and you wind up appealing to more of the public and be successful.” He adds that a tight management system and obtaining, training and retaining good employees is also imperative to the longevity of any food place.


Huffman shares that within the first two to six months, all of his properties have been profitable. He says part of this is because he purposely seeks low-risk investments and/or restaurants that are failing and puts the Social Syndicate stamp on it.

“If the restaurants have good swagger, if the team members have each other’s back and as long as you have good food and true hospitality, then, profits will come,” he said.

That’s why Social Syndicate signs 20-year leases every time, Huffman adds, because, its plan is to stick around for the long-haul.

Travel & hospitality reporter Mariel Concepcion can be reached at

mconcepcion@sdbj.com or 858-634-4625.


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