La Jolla's entrepreneurial spirit
Jul 19, 2013 | 2592 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A few of La Jolla's many entrepreneurs include the creators of Barnana, Green Door Catering and Blurtopia.
A few of La Jolla's many entrepreneurs include the creators of Barnana, Green Door Catering and Blurtopia.
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Martin Hall has a booth at the La Jolla, UCSD and Encinitas farmers markets every week.
Martin Hall has a booth at the La Jolla, UCSD and Encinitas farmers markets every week.
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Homegrown Meats offers grass-fed beef — which will soon be certified organic, as well.
Homegrown Meats offers grass-fed beef — which will soon be certified organic, as well.
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Homegrown Meats uses cattle raised in grass acreages on Palomar Mountain.
Homegrown Meats uses cattle raised in grass acreages on Palomar Mountain.
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The owners of Pura Vida bracelets got the idea for the business when they took a trip to Costa Rica and saw the handmade bracelets being sold on the beach.
The owners of Pura Vida bracelets got the idea for the business when they took a trip to Costa Rica and saw the handmade bracelets being sold on the beach.
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For those looking to shop local, La Jolla offers no shortage of options, no matter what you’re in the market for. But just what makes the community such a hotbed of unique, locally owned and operated businesses? Here you’ll find a sampling — by no means exhaustive — of some of the business-minded individuals who give La Jolla a leading edge when it comes to avant-garde enterprise. They have sacrificed time, money and sleep to make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality, building their businesses from the ground up. Of couse, we don’t have the space to even get close to including all the ambitious La Jollans who have set up shop in the community, but check back from time to time as La Jolla Today continues to feature our most business-savvy residents.

Blurtopia

Last summer, Ryan Bettencourt noticed a woman trying on shoes at a store in Westfield UTC. She was taking photos of each pair with her phone and texting them to friends for advice on which pair to choose to wear to a party that night. Bettencourt thought, “There has to be a better way to do that.”

After a few brainstorming sessions with friends Grant Bostrom and Keiran Flanigan — some of which took place in Bostrom’s grandmother’s La Jolla home — the three launched Blurtopia.

A groundbreaking social-media platform, Blurtopia uses pictures and questions or statements to start online conversations.

“We call it the real-time opinion network for the things you’re passionate about,” Bostrom said. “It’s a conversation starter.”

Users create questions via their iPhone (an Android app will be coming soon) to start a conversation or simply get an opinion by “blurting” it out to the world. Questions can be polled using a variety of options: “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down,” “Rate 1-5” or “This or That,” depending on the nature of the question. Other users then answer quickly using a simple interface.

A beta product launch quickly got featured in the iTunes App Store and received more than 100,000 votes in the first 10 days.

“We knew we quickly had something that users enjoyed, but when we went to open the funding doors again, the mobile gold rush was over and investors wanted to see more,” Bostrom said.

The creators realized that relying on iTunes as the sole market for the app was no longer a viable route. They branched out by allowing users to post their profile pages back to Instagram to promote their Blurtopia account and to get more followers, a move that proved to be a solid approach.

Then, last month, Blurtopia got a big boost: the app and its founders won the San Diego Shark Tank competition, an event that gives entrepreneurs a platform to pitch their ideas to a panel of potential investors. The win accorded the startup $5,000, but Bostrum said it’s the contacts and exposure resulting from the contest that hold real value.

Bettencourt, Bostrum and Flanigan are currently hard at work improving the app, making it more accessible so that, hopefully, one day, everyone will be “blurting.”

Visit blurtopia.com for more information.

— Kendra Hartmann Green Door Catering

Martin Hall, owner and chef of Green Door Catering, has always had an interest in food and health. The La Jollan has worked for years studying the effects food has on our health, particularly its healing aspects. He has been involved with several local restaurants and markets, and has developed his palate over decades in the food industry.

A few years ago, Hall was involved in the opening of La Jolla’s Finch’s Wine Bar and Bistro, but a desire to focus more on his signature organic vegetarian fare prompted him to branch off and open his own operation, Green Door Catering.

Hall developed a menu featuring locally sourced, seasonal produce. He is a regular staple at the La Jolla, UCSD and Encinitas farmers markets, offering his most popular dishes, including quiches, salads and a customer favorite, the “Bombay Bomb,” a vegan curry burger made using 30 ingredients.

“My business is purely organic and vegetarian,” he said. “I’ve built a real rapport with local farms and farmers.”

Hall’s business is built mostly on catering — he services weddings and parties of every kind — but Green Door is growing and branching out. He recently struck up a partnership with the owner of downtown’s La Gran Tapa, where he’s offering lunch selections Tuesdays through Fridays under the guise of Green Door Café. And on that note, he hopes to open a permanent Green Door Café in La Jolla in the near future. He even catered a meal for vegan Natalie Portman and her family recently when she visited San Diego.

Hall feels his food fills a niche in La Jolla — and the city as a whole.

“I still feel [the food scene] is underdeveloped on [the vegetarian] front. I think my food is different,” he said. “There are a few [vegetarian] places opening up, but there’s still not a lot on the market, and there’s still a need for it.”

For a taste of what Green Door Catering offers, visit www.greendoorcatering.com or hit up Hall’s booth at the La Jolla Open Aire Market on Sundays until 1 p.m.

— Kendra Hartmann Barnana

When Caue Suplicy was a child growing up in Brazil, his architect father one day brought home a broken skylight from a construction site. Upon discovering all the grass beneath the skylight had died by the next morning, Suplicy’s father decided to try out the phenomenon on fruit, creating a homemade dehydrator, with raw, organic, dehydrated bananas being his specialty.

Fast-forward 20 years and Suplicy, a professional triathlete now living in San Diego, realized the dried bananas his father created years ago — which he had been using for years as energy supplements in his athletic training — were more convenient and nutritious than many of the energy bars and gels on the U.S. market.

After sharing the treats with fellow athletes for years, Suplicy decided to turn them into an actual product, and Barnana was born.

“I realized I had this big opportunity, so I started researching it some more,” he said. “I learned a lot about other products like acai berries and coconut water, and I realized no one was doing that with bananas. It’s the best-selling fruit in the world, but no one [in the energy and athletic industries] ever tried to focus on the banana market.”

Suplicy started the company with a few friends in La Jolla nearly four years ago, and Barnana has since grown exponentially. Now carried in more than 300 retail stores, Suplicy said the product is being added to “new stores every week.” He hopes to bring Barnana to international markets in the future.

“It’s really important to us that our goal is to provide other options to people trying to lead a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “The great thing is that it tastes really good, has no sugar added and is really healthy. And you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy it.”

Barnana can be found in the following local stores: Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, The Rush Cycling Studio, Jonathan’s Market, La Jolla Fit, Brick & Bell Café, Lean & Green Café, Living Room Coffee House and Whole Foods Market. To order online or for other locations, visit barnana.com.

— Kendra Hartmann Homegrown Meats

Several years ago, a few friends who had always enjoyed getting the freshest meat and produce they could, decided what La Jolla needed was an old-school butcher shop.

Peter Morris, Dan Snyder and Matt Rimel had all been advocates of hunting for their meat — it allowed them to ensure their catch had lived a free life, as well as providing the opportunity to make the most out of nearly every part of the animal.

The three were also accustomed to getting beef for their personal use from a farm on Palomar Mountain owned by the Mendenhall family. The beef was purely grass-fed, and Morris said it was “the best-tasting beef we’d ever had.”

Then, one day, perhaps fueled by “a beer or two,” the three decided they should put their personal proclivities to commercial use, and thus Homegrown Meats was born.

Specializing in custom cuts, grass-fed beef and meat with no hormones or antibiotics, Homegrown Meats opened its doors in 2008 — a rather unfortunate year to start a high-end specialty shop. Offering all kinds of meat, including homemade sausages, the business grew a bit slowly, but didn’t falter.

“We sort of naively went in thinking we would open up this little shop and people would flock to it because there isn’t one like it in La Jolla,” Morris said. “We did get a lot of early attention, but it didn’t just take off and go by itself. We had to stay really involved.”

Then, two years ago, Whole Foods approached the partners. The organic chain loved Homegrown’s grass-fed beef and wanted to carry it in the region’s stores. At that point, the Mendenhall family came on board in an official capacity, along with additional partner Thad Benshoof to help with the huge inventory Homegrown was now responsible for procuring.

The shop is now thriving. A new management team has been hired, and the owners will celebrate their five-year anniversary with a celebration on Aug. 4 with live music, entertainment — and a lot of food. Morris said Homegrown Meats hopes to branch out into prepared or ready-to-cook food in the near future, and soon their signature grass-fed beef will be certified organic, as well.

“I think we’re absolutely filling a niche. There are a lot of people who want [our products] because they’re healthier and they taste better. Plus it’s local. It’s never more than 100 miles from our shop,” Morris said. “It was something of a leap of faith, but it’s something we’re all interested in and passionate about. We’re all passionate about good, healthy food.”

Homegrown Meats: 7660 Fay Ave., Suite C

(858) 454-6328

www.homegrown meats.com

— Kendra Hartmann Pura Vida

Meaning “pure life” in Spanish, Pura Vida, an international retail jewelry business with a storefront at 737 Pearl St., Ste. 206, started out as an SDSU college graduation trip by business partners Paul Goodman and Griffin Thalls.

During a visit to Costa Rica, Goodman and Thalls crossed paths with two men who were peddling colorful, handmade bracelets on the street. They asked them if they would be willing to make 400 bracelets to take back to the United States.

Those bracelets quickly sold out with people asking for more, which led the pair to conclude they were selling not just jewelry but “a lifestyle representing the simple things.”

Thall said Pure Vida is about being free and living life to its fullest with no regrets or taking anything for granted.

“It’s an attitude,” he said, admitting, “Getting started, we didn’t really know what we were doing.”

That led Thall and Goodman to talk to people and find out how to start a “fashion brand.”

The rest is history. Pura Vida bracelets are now sold in 3,000 retail stores nationwide and distributed to 15 countries around the world.

A portion of all bracelet proceeds benefit the Costa Rican artisans who create the bracelets, and the retailer also sells 160 custom bracelets to benefit other charities around the world.

www.puravidabracelets.com

(858) 444-5477

— Dave Schwab Nekter Juice Bar

Nekter Juice Bar opened recently in a rebuilt historically inspired cottage in La Jolla.

Owners Steve and Alexis Schulze founded Nekter Juice Bar in 2010 as Orange County’s premier vegan juice bar, and have since expanded from Orange County to Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

Schulze said La Jolla was an ideal spot for a San Diego juice bar.

“La Jolla is the quintessential community where Nekter was the perfect fit,” he said. “The beachside community is a friendly blend of locals and vacationers who pride themselves in healthy living.”

Nekter is at the forefront of the juicing revolution. offering a healthy array of all natural, raw and vegan products.

The atmosphere at Nekter La Jolla is comfortable and casual with a WiFi-friendly patio. Customers can enjoy a full menu of fresh juices, smoothies, acai bowls, bottled cold-pressed juices, cleanses, artisan salads and vegan snacks.

La Jolla also now has the first-ever Nekter Cleanse Bar — a full-service bar featuring bar seating — treating customers to samples of the food and beverage menu, including a one-day cleanse system using fresh juices to provide body rejuvenation and restoration.

834 Kline St., (800) 385-1650

www.nekterjuicebar.com, www.facebook.com/nekter-juicebar

— Dave Schwab La Café

Located in University City, La Café is a unique eatery that specializes in kosher creations.

Maija Vyas, formerly a nurse, and husband Rohit, a contractor, completely remodeled a rundown restaurant transforming it into a kosher vegetarian eatery.

“Our slogan is: Get healthy the kosher way,” said Maija, noting she and her husband broke fresh ground in a number of ways with La Café’s opening.

“Neither of us had had a restaurant before, so we learned a lot of things by making mistakes,” Maija said, adding their second biggest challenge was the “kosher aspect.”

“We have to adhere to strict kosher laws, having things inspected by a rabbi, observing Jewish holidays,” she said.

Maija said she and Rohit had to also overcome the stigma that kosher food is “bland and colorless.”

“We actually have pretty tasty food,” she said, adding it’s also been a challenge to coax non-Jewish residents unfamiliar with kosher cuisine into their restaurant to give it a try.

La Café offers a diverse vegan menu, including salads, burekas, pizzas and pastas.

6104 Regents Road

rvyas@san.rr.com

(858) 202 0097

— Dave Schwab

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