OB Farmers Market celebrates 30th birthday as a birthplace of many new businesses
With more than 130 vendors, the Ocean Beach Farmers Market is more than just an array of flowers, fruits, vegetables, meats, clothing, jewelry, snacks, meals and entertainers — it’s a community.
It’s a place “where people come to hang out, see friends and try something new,” according to Dave Klaman and Diem Do, who manage the weekly market, which is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays in the 4900 block of Newport Avenue.
The market celebrated its 30th anniversary May 11, and Klaman and Do have seen vendors turn into friends and many turn into successful businesses.
Do had run a farmers market before, but Klaman was working for a farm when the pair took over the OB market at the end of 1998.
“A lot of folks have been with us 25 years or so. My favorite thing is watching their businesses grow. Some vendors stay with us, but a lot go on to bigger things,” Klaman said.
“You never know who or what you’ll see,” Do said. “All the vendors are like my family.
“We have a lot of vendors from other countries — Turkey, China, Italy and more. It’s like working at the United Nations. And everyone is so hard-working and just good people.”
The Ocean Beach MainStreet Association held a celebration of the Farmers Market’s anniversary, as well as several successful local brick-and-mortar businesses that got their start there. Some are among the most popular local eating spots: Cesarina, The Cravory, Dougie’s Best Steaks & Hoagies and Mad Munch Grilled Cheezer Co.
Cesarina opened in 2019 at 4161 Voltaire St. in Point Loma, offering fresh pasta, regional Italian entrees, vegan options and tableside desserts. It soon was recognized by the Michelin Guide with a 2021 Michelin Bib Gourmand honor, which goes to restaurants that serve “great food at reasonable prices.”
Chef Cesarina Mezzoni appeared in June last year on “Chopped Next Gen,” a spinoff of the popular Food Network show “Chopped.”
The restaurant strives to create an atmosphere “that nurtures the community as a mother would,” said Niccolo Angius, who co-founded it with Mezzoni, his wife. The pair opened Cesarina with their business partner, Giuseppe Capasso.
In 2019, a triumvirate of two young Romans and one Napolitano created a brick-and-mortar trattoria named Cesarina in honor of its culinary muse, who started selling her handmade pastas and sauces at roving farmers markets when she first planted her roots in San Diego.
“Love is our secret ingredient in every dish and in every day,” Angius said. “My wife is the name of the business and she adds love to the food she makes.”
The couple credit the OB Farmers Market for their success.
“We started in the market selling our pasta fresh and from scratch and our all-natural sauces,” Angius said. The couple moved to San Diego from Italy in 2015, and the market gave them time to develop their ideas and dreams without a huge financial investment.
After selling at the market for about a year, they opened Cesarina.
“The market is amazing with a really good vibe, and while we were there, a lot of people fell in love with our story and our pasta. And now a lot of those people are our guests at the restaurant,” Angius said.
The restaurant’s plans for expansion were slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But by the end of this year, the partners plan to open their second restaurant across the street from Cesarina.
Angelo — named for Angius’ father — will include a pizzeria with an in-house Italian cheese factory, a full bar, a bakery and a catering operation at 4160 Voltaire St.
Angius and Mezzoni haven’t forgotten their many loyal followers from their Farmers Market days. They’re such fans of the produce and goods available there that they continue to go to the market nearly every week for their personal shopping.
“We’re big supporters of the market, and it’s always nice to go back and see our friends,” Angius said.
For more information about Cesarina, visit cesarinarestaurant.com or call (619) 226-6222.
The Cravory is known for its unique flavors of cookies, both sweet and savory. The shop at 3960 W. Point Loma Blvd. reveals six new flavors every month. May’s selection includes Mango Con Chili, Oreo Churro, Pink Squirrel Nuts and Tiramisu.
The new flavors join old favorites such as Pancakes and Bacon, Rosemary Balsamic, Birthday Cake and Red Velvet. In the past 10 years, The Cravory has sold more than 5,000 unique cookie flavors.
The Cravory was founded by three friends who went to high school and college together. The basic idea was to create a cookie business similar to the ice cream and cupcake crazes, in which buyers could mix and match items to create just what they wanted.
The business is now run by Chief Executive Nate Ransom, Vice President of Sales Collin Smith and married couple “Ta” and “Eddie” — Talita Koppe, executive chef and “cookie goddess,” and Jose Eduardo Sidi, also an executive chef.
“When the business started in 2009-10, one of the original founders would bring the cookies to all kinds of events. He was at the farmers markets every week and people there really started following us,” Smith said. “At the OB market, more than any other, you can really feel a sense of community.”
He said they didn’t need to do much marketing because the business thrived on word of mouth. The OB market was “influential to how we grew up as a company,” he said.
When they opened their Point Loma store in 2014, “it was a hit,” Smith said. At that point, two of the original founders moved on. In 2016, The Cravory opened a store in Poway that is still in operation. A Carlsbad store that opened the same year closed during the pandemic. In 2021, they opened a store in the College Area of San Diego. They also have partnerships with Hanna’s Creamery & Cafe in the Westfield UTC mall and with San Diego’s Petco Park.
The Cravory has teamed up with renowned restaurateur and TV personality Geoffrey Zakarian for the Zakarian Collection, updated classics with a soft center and baked surface for a cookie that is both gooey and crisp. The Cravory also has appeared on QVC seven times — four with Zakarian as host and three with Smith.
“It’s been a fun collaboration and helped launch our brand nationally,” Smith said.
Plans include expanding the business both online and onsite. The operators recently launched a test kitchen in Los Angeles.
But they don’t plan to forget their roots.
“Local support has always been one of our main drivers,” Smith said. “OB is home to us.”
For more information about The Cravory, visit thecravory.com or call (619) 795-9077. All cookies are baked to order and shipped immediately from the online store.
Dougie’s Best Steaks & Hoagies
For those who love them, there is nothing like a cheesesteak or a hoagie. Whether it’s called a Philly cheesesteak or a cheesesteak sandwich, the classic is made from thinly sliced beef steak, onions and melted cheese on a long hoagie roll.
A hoagie usually refers to a bread roll sandwich filled with cold meat cuts, cheese, dressing and fixings.
For folks outside of Philadelphia, authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwiches used to be hard to find — until Dougie’s Best Steaks & Hoagies opened its food truck at 1869 Cable St. in Ocean Beach.
When Kelin Jones and Scott Breshears met at one of their first kitchen jobs, they had no idea that 20 years later they’d end up working together again, much less going into business.
The pair had the idea to sell authentic sandwiches like the ones they remembered and loved. They started at the OB Farmers Market, selling Philly cheesesteaks under the name Culinary Elite.
“As we started getting closer to being able to get a shop, we rebranded,” Jones said. “Culinary Elite is now our catering and kitchens aspect, with Dougie’s Best Steaks & Hoagies a more approachable name for the food truck.”
“The [OB] market is a great way to get a new business out there,” he said.
When they first started, there were more than 30 farmers markets across San Diego County, Jones said.
“We started at one market, and by 2015, we were doing 10 markets a week,” he said. They were booking “quite a bit of private and corporate catering.”
But in 2020, the pandemic caused all the local farmers markets to close for a time. Since then, the pair has worked back up to five markets a week. Jones and Breshears purchased a food truck, and now Dougie’s Best is open every day.
“Our biggest success to date is our food truck. We made it through two years of a global pandemic and came out at the end of it in a better position,” Jones said. “We used our downtime to evaluate and expand, with the end goal being to get a restaurant — or even a few — open here in San Diego.”
“We have our heart set on having a restaurant in OB one day,” he added. “We have a really good following here and we like the vibe here. It’s a good town — a little wild and we like it.”
For more information about Dougie’s Best Steaks & Hoagies, visit dougiesbest.com or call (619) 955-3165.
Mad Munch Grilled Cheezer Co.
As long as there have been colleges, there have been hungry college students. Mad Munch began feeding those students at Lincoln College in Illinois as far back as 2003 with a single electric griddle and the idea that students could charge the food to their dorm rooms.
By 2013, founder Zach Heinz wanted to start the idea in his new home of Ocean Beach and, with Kate Uhle, began working at various farmers markets.
When the pair married in 2019, they had became so close to their friends at the OB Farmers Market that all of their wedding needs, except the venue and music, were provided by their fellow vendors.
Even on their wedding day, they were open at their first brick-and-mortar shop in Ocean Beach. With a menu full of comfort food and “punny” names, Mad Munch, at 4871-B Newport Ave., serves unique grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast cheezers include the Hashy Larry, which includes a hash brown patty, scrambled eggs, sauce and two types of cheese, and Cheezy Like a Sunday Morning, which includes scrambled eggs, tomatoes, chives, pepperoncini and four types of cheese.
For lunch and dinner, the choices include Bacon Street, Cape MayHam and Hot and Heavy, along with vegan options such as Dill Griffith, Steve Urkel and Jimmy Pesto. A kids menu, sides and soups also are featured.
Kate Heinz considers their biggest success to date “staying open during COVID” and joining with a nonprofit to raise more than $5,000 and feed more than 500 people during the pandemic. With Frontline Foods, Mad Munch raised more money than any other restaurant in San Diego and delivered meals to frontline workers at major hospital intensive care units, senior care centers, cancer therapy centers, veteran rehabilitation centers and the county psychiatric hospital.
The couple credit the OB Farmers Market and their devoted customer base for their success.
“You can learn a lot from a farmers market, including figuring things out and getting your foot in the door,” Kate said. “We still support the OB market and shop there ourselves.”
For more information about Mad Munch, visit madmunchcheezers.com or call (619) 269-1110.
Vendors big and small
In addition to those successful establishments, several local businesses that have a brick-and-mortar presence also see the value of being part of the Farmers Market from time to time to attract new customers, said Denny Knox, executive director of the OB MainStreet Association.
Other locals appearing at the market fairly regularly include Shara Boutique, Nova Easy Kombucha, OB Meat Co., Long Story Irish Pub, Creations Boutique, Ruby to Blue handmade shirts and jewelry, OB Gift Shop and OB Electric Bikes. Several of them have storefronts in multiple locations and a large online presence.
There also are smaller vendors that use the market to promote their online business.
“We’re proud to have helped in some way with these businesses expanding and growing,” Knox said. “They have all worked hard to develop a following, and we hope they will all continue to thrive.”
To learn more about the Ocean Beach Farmers Market, visit OceanBeachSanDiego.com or call (619) 279-0032.