Tale of two diners: Rosie’s in, Vinz’s out

Filming 'Restaurant Impossible Ambush's 'Great Reveal' meal service. Mural depicts Rosie's owner Kaitlyn Rose's grandmother, Rosie, restaurant namesake/Andy Granger

It was the best of times, for Rosie’s Cafe; it was the worst of times for Vinz Wine Bar/Continental Deli.

Grand Avenue Escondido’s restaurant scene this week saw Rosie’s get a reality TV show makeover while Vinz Wine Bar and its associated Continental Deli went bye, Felicia.

“Some exciting news from our neighbor, Rosie’s Cafe (formerly Champion’s,)” said Andy Granger, also known as Andy the Barber, in his monthly email blast. “They were selected by the Food Network to appear on the show, Restaurant Impossible. After a whirlwind three days of filming (and lots of hard work.)”

Granger added: “Rosie’s reopened Friday night with a fresh look, some new menu items, and lots of enthusiastic praise. Make sure to check them out next time you’re downtown.”

That was Friday, Jan. 11, following three days of Reality TV makeovers. Show host and chef/consultant Robert Irvine spent one day getting the lay of the land, then put his crew to work for 36 hours before the cafe re-opened.

“Turning around a failing restaurant is a daunting challenge under the best of circumstances,” Irvine’s crew said on the Restaurant Impossible Ambush website. “Can one man, in two days, with just $10,000, turn the tide of a failing restaurant and pave the road to a successful future?”

No word on Rosie’s makeover air date. The series airs Wednesday nights on the Food Network with the 14th, and next, season slated for sometime in late summer to early fall. Rosie’s owner, Kaitlyn Rose, 29, signed a non-disclosure agreement, so the word on that story is mum.

Rosie’s, and a Grand Avenue saga

Rosie’s December 2016 menu. Champion’s menu ran on to 18 pages long/Grapevine

Rosie’s Cafe opened in December 2016. Rose was an Oceanside resident formerly attached to French Bakery Cafe, a well-known bakery and fancy American comfort food spot off East Vista Way in Vista.

The 117 W. Grand Avenue location had been owned and operated as a restaurant since at least the early 1920s. Hoffman’s Pharmacy was across the street. JC Penney was down the block.

“It started out as a cafe known as the ‘Chat ’n’ Chew,’ then changed hands and names several times before it was taken over in the 1970s by Ted and Violet McCain, who introduced Ted’s grandfather’s signature cinnamon rolls to his customers,” according to Pam Kragen in the San Diego Union Tribune.

Enter Oscar and Eva Champion, who turned it into Champion’s Family Restaurant..

Champion’s old menu read like a trip down memory lane with page after page — 28 pages in all — of historic photos and references mixed with food choices and history.

“There have been millions of cups of coffee served at 117 Grand Avenue for the past ninety years,” the menu, with page after page of food choices and historical photos, said. “First called the ‘Chat-o-Chow,’ the lunch counter served as the center of the city gossip and small town politics from 1923, when Escondido’s population was 1,734 residents, to 1948.

Champion’s patrons celebrates its last hurrah in January 2016/Grapevine

“In the mid-1960s, the diner was refurbished into a traditional family restaurant by Mr. & Mrs. John Knowles who operated the eatery until then former Escondido Mayor Theodore ‘Ted’ McCain purchased the business and building and the early 1970s he and his wife, Violet, moved ‘McCain’s’ to a new location.

“It was in 1972 when Oscar and Eva Champion brought their Burbank business ‘Oscar’s Rite Spot’ to its new home at 117 Grand Avenue and renamed it ‘Champion’s Family Restaurant.’ Today, Oscar and Eva’s daughter, Annette Champion continues with her parents; belief that ‘There is no substitute for quality.’”

Citing the desire to retire, Annette Champion, 52 at the time, said of the 80-seat labor of love, “I’ve been getting up at 4 a.m., six days a week for 31 years. It’s time to slow down, retire and enjoy life. I hope people understand. It’s been a long run.”

Champion closed the restaurant in January 2016, later that year leasing the building to Rose, along with some of the famed Champion’s recipes.

Poor ole’ Vinz bites the dust

View on Vinz Wine Bar in better times/File

As for the worst of times, consider the sad tale of Vinz Wine Bar and Continental Deli, a few blocks from Rosie’s at 201 E. Grand Ave. and Kalmia Avenue.

Owners Vinnie and Machelle Griffin shuttered up at the adjoining eateries earlier this month, January, 2019. They had undergone a series of challenges in the last two years with permitting hold-ups, suspended liquor licenses, financial difficulties, controversial service and, finally, eviction for unpaid rent.

The Griffins even held fundraisers to try to float their boat. After being temporarily closed in 2018, the Griffins started a GoFundMe page that raised $3,860 of a $25,000 goal when the charity music site song ended in August, 2018.

“We are a small town wine bar/restaurant and New York-style deli that needs funds to pay a semi-small California government liability and our payroll to open again” Vinnie Griffin said.

“We have always striven to give our best,” Griffin continued, “from our original dishes, short rib cannelloni, lobster watermelon salad, New York Pizza, Grinders, Wine Bar Cuisine and much more original dishes to great  service.

“We employ 23,” Griffin added. “Have the most incredible guest and employees since 1967 in the deli and wine bar. We want to pay our employees to continue their employment in both places. All our employees and guests are family”

Street sign greeting customers outside Vinz Wine Bar/Facebook

Griffin once waxed optimistic about wine bar that also hosted open mic nights and private meetings in a 2016 Grapevine interview.

“We’re in a constant state of building,” Griffin said, referring to branching out from the Vinz Wine Bar he founded in 2008 to the purchase of the classic 51-yer-old Continental Deli; a Vinz V-Lounge, a beer garden, regular entertainment program, reserved dining room and wine tasting room, among other destination concepts. The Griffins also partnered with Playhouse patio upstairs from the deli.

Speaking of which, Continental Deli first opened on Escondido Avenue in 1967 and it relocated to 120 S. Kalmia St. in 1984, according to Kragen of the Union Tribune.

“In its early days, it was more of a German/European deli and market,” Kragen continued. “The Griffins purchased the business in 2001 and it gradually transitioned into more of a sandwich/salad shop and pizzeria.”

Doing an exit interview with Kragen, Vinnie Griffin said the recession hit the deli hard in 2007, with business dropping off 40 percent virtually overnight and it never fully recovered. But that didn’t stop him from opening his dream business, Vinz Wine Bar, in the vacant space just across the patio at 201 E. Grand Ave. in February 2008.

He came up with the idea for Vinz in the mid-1990s during a visit to Oregon’s wine country. There he found a restaurant that sold wines by the bottle with a hot and cold buffet.

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