As millions of Americans gear up for summer staycations or short-distance travel, many are looking for alternative options for exploring the arts, entertainment, dining and more.
One such place is Downtown Vista, whose breweries, restaurants and shops have not only survived the pandemic, but are expecting a big boost in foot traffic and energy in the coming summer months. If Vista is not on your summer “to-do list” it may be worth a visit.
Below we take a peek at three new businesses opening in Downtown Vista and why they chose the vibrant city to drop anchor.
Best Pizza & Brew plans to open its fifth San Diego County location in Downtown Vista around mid-June to early July. The Vista location will be the eatery’s biggest so far, with 3,600 square feet and over 175 seats - much of them outdoors.
“Also, this is our first location with a full bar so we are really excited to see how that hopefully enhances our concept even further providing more of an option to people than just beer and wine,” said co-owner Joey Freis.
What’s cool about Best Pizza & Brew? The casual restaurant offers affordable pizza by the slice and has 30 beers on draft, including Vista craft beers.
“We make all of our dressings, dough, croutons, in house daily and believe in serving a quality product,” Freis said. “Not only is our food top notch but we really focus on great customer service as well and want to make everyone feel like we’ve been friends for a long time.”
The family-owned restaurant was launched in 2012 after Freis and his partners - which includes his dad John - had success with another local chain Pizza Nova, which started in 1990. All four owners are San Diego natives and have more than 100 years of restaurant experience combined.
“We like the fast casual vibe and the craft beer scene was blowing up at the time, so we decided to transfer the great quality food from Pizza Nova into a more casual and affordable restaurant that everyone would enjoy,” Freis said about creating Best Pizza & Brew.
Best Pizza & Brew, which will have about 40 local employees, will be one of the first new businesses to move into Vista’s new Paseo Santa Fe corridor following a six-year, $30 million beautification project that was completed in December 2020.
“The city did an amazing job with the renovations on the Paseo Santa Fe Corridor,” Freis said. “We see a lot of opportunity for more growth along that corridor and all of Vista as a city in general and we're really happy to become a part of that.”
“We hope to bring people from other cities into Vista through our brand recognition,” he added. “We believe that more business in the area is great for everyone, so hopefully by bringing in more people to the area they will find out like we did very quickly how great Vista is. We’re excited to see Downtown continue to grow.
The popular ice creamery plans to open in Downtown Vista by early fall, making it the fifth location in the region owned by Travis Campbell and his partners. Handel’s, family owned since 1945, was first started by Alice Handel when she began serving ice cream out of her husband's gas station in Youngstown, Ohio. Her first batches were made using old fashioned recipes with fresh fruit she picked from her own backyard. Since then, Handel’s has grown to include locations in California, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Oregon. Now, Handel’s has 175 flavors, with 40-to-50 flavors in a shop on any given day.
Campbell said one of the most popular flavors is “Oreedough,” while his favorite is Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies. Handel’s is also well known for its unique pie flavored ice cream such as Banana Cream pie and Key Lime Pie.
“We make everything fresh daily,” Campbell said. “We even use peaches and strawberries from local farms.”
While COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to ease, Campbell said Handel’s is uniquely designed to create social distancing because the stores all have a walk up window.
For Campbell and his partners - who opened their first Handel’s four years ago - the venture is a family affair - Two of Campbell’s sons two work for the business, while another partner has three kids who work at the stores. Meanwhile, their wives even help make the ice cream daily.
“It was a great way to bring our families together and work together and be part of the community,” Campbell said.
He added that the Vista shop will hire between 40-50 part-time employees, depending upon the season. “We are always looking for high school and college students. Many times, it’s their first job.”
“My first job was scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins when I was 16,” he added. “I joke that I haven’t come very far in life.”
“Downtown has great foot traffic and restaurants and a lot going on,” he said. “We hope to bring the community together and create more excitement and bring more people Downtown.”
Campbell is even excited about participating in the annual Vista Strawberry Festival downtown this month. The scaled-down, one-day family event, planned for June 20, will include hundreds of vendors, food, and activities.
“After such an incredibly hard year we are excited to give the community a fun and safe outdoor experience,” said Rachel Beld, CEO of the Vista Chamber of Commerce, the event’s organizer. “We also know our downtown businesses have had a tough year and we want to bring foot traffic to them and encourage people to eat at our local restaurants and shop at our local retail stores.”
The City of Vista has already been encouraging residents to shop local during the pandemic, which has helped some businesses stay afloat. Besides sustaining and retaining businesses over the past year, the City has also been successful at attracting new ones.
“Vista’s Economic Development Director Kevin Ham has been a tremendous resource of helping us find locations, processing permits, and more,” Campbell said. “We’ve worked with a number of economic development folks from various cities and he has been by far the most proactive person we’ve worked with.”
While Vista native and entrepreneur Traci Lawson just recently opened her new boutique Public Lemon on Citrus Ave. in Downtown Vista, she has already had positive response from locals and visitors alike.
“The response I am getting is so exciting and reassuring that I have the right location and more importantly, the right mix of goods,” she said. “I have fun coasters arriving with my logo and a QR Code that will send people to my Instagram page to start adding new followers. I will be giving the coaster to the surrounding breweries and bars like Barrel & Stave and Wildwood Crossing & Cantina. I will also be using social media influencers to get my name and shop out there.”
Public Lemon - which is Lawson’s second retail business Downtown - includes uniquely curated items for bath & body, home decor, men's grooming, baby, pet, gourmet spices, and fashion accessories.
As a small business owner, Lawson is grateful to have a City staff that provides valuable resources and support.
“The city has always been helpful and supportive, from acquiring a business license to assistance with my grand opening event. Where else can you contact the Economic Development Director and get one on one attention and commitment. I don't think I could ask for better business partners,” she said.
Owning a business in her hometown is another bonus.
“I grew up in Vista and graduated from Vista High so I am a little biased about Vista; it's amazing and the Downtown vibe is so cool right now,’ Lawson said. “I just love all of the new businesses coming in and I think we are seeing the start of more to come. It's my hope that with the new food and drink businesses coming in that we can attract more retail so we can attract new customers from all over San Diego.”
With COVID-19 restrictions easing, she is also hopeful for the future of her business and the economy.
“A big deciding factor to get back into retail and take a leap of faith with a new business is due to all of the talk about a big boom in retail and spending once cities open up again,’ Lawson said. “I think once the mask mandates are lifted we will see a huge spike of traffic. I think small retail boutiques are the future of retail as well. I believe that customers will flock to small businesses to give their support. I am so excited to see what this holiday season will be like. I am already planning for the holidays and will have all of my shopping done by July for the shop. It's going to be spectacular.”
Vista Mayor Judy Ritter is also looking forward to seeing Downtown continue to thrive.
“I’m thrilled to see the energy and excitement Downtown, even during the pandemic,” she said. “The City will continue its efforts to support our local businesses as we implement our Economic Development Strategy. If our businesses thrive then so do our residents and communities.”