“Our goal is to be the best grocer in all of San Diego,” says Pete Najjar, longtime co-owner of the Seaside Market. The market is undergoing an extensive expansion project. Photo by Tony Cagala
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Seaside Market’s expansion is in full swing

ENCINITAS — Seaside Market has long been a focal point of the community of Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

With its imminent expansion and re-branding, it is hoping to become a destination.

The 31-year-old market recently announced the hiring of chef James Montejano, who transformed La Valencia Hotel to a regional food destination the past two years, to lead the market’s re-branding and expansion efforts.

Those efforts, which are the result of a 13,000 sq. ft. expansion plan the city approved in 2014, include the addition of arm-to-table dinners, wine tastings, private parties and cooking classes and the development of an outdoor barbecue kitchen and dining area.

“We were thriving and growing and during all of that we decided to remodel it to make it bigger and better, playing into our vision of creating the ultimate gourmet grocery store,” said Pete Najjar, longtime co-owner. “Our goal is to be the best grocer in all of San Diego.”

Montejano’s hiring is at the center of those plans.

Montejano is charged with revamping the market’s ready-made food section for health-conscious eaters, adding plant-based, paleo and gluten-free offerings, as well as the “destination” events in the market’s news new mezzanine kitchen.

The San Diego native will also develop an outdoor barbecue kitchen and dining area offering carved meats including the market’s signature “Cardiff Crack” tri-tip, and will also develop new offsite catering menus and oversee menu changes at Cardiff Seaside Market’s Petco Park outpost.

“With our new buildout and expansion, we want to bring the food to the next level,” Najjar said.  “We’ve already been successful, but now we want to bring in a professional chef who can transform Seaside Market into a chef-driven destination — someone who has a great eye for creativity and continually increasing food quality.”

Montejano, whose career includes previous posts at Le Papagayo in Leucadia and Pamplemousse Grille in Solana Beach, called the new post a “homecoming.”

“Seaside Market has always been a cut above,” Montejano said. “A movement toward health consciousness coupled with increasing interest in gourmet and high-quality cuisine drove me to make this transition from restaurant to market. I can’t wait to redefine the concept of the neighborhood grocery store by bringing innovative, restaurant quality food to consumers.”

The Cardiff Towne Center has historically been the central point of the coastal enclave. It was previously home to a Vons grocery store before John and Pete Najjar purchased the site and opened Seaside Market.

Teresa Barth, a longtime Cardiff resident who is well versed in the town’s history, credits the Najjars for evolving the market over time to fit the needs of the changing community.

“The Towne Center has changed over time, but the Najjars have been consistent anchors, and they have supported community efforts,” Barth said. “They have kept changing as the community changes, for example with the addition of more organic and locally-grown offerings. It really has been the center of the community.”

Barth said the community has already embraced the most recent expansion is excited about the upcoming additions.

“For many of us who live here and like to walk, we really value having the ability to have the opportunity to socialize and have entertainment within walking distance of our homes,” Barth said. “That whole desire to not have to get in your car and drive to San Diego. It further reflects the fact that the Najjars have their fingers on the pulse of the community.”