Background: David Spatafore and Blue Bridge Hospitality
In 1998 David Spatafore, who was born and raised in Coronado, opened Moo Time Creamery. Since then Spatafore, along with his Coronado restaurant group Blue Bridge Hospitality, has successfully owned and operated some of the most beloved eateries in Coronado, including Village Pizzeria, Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge, Stake Chophouse & Bar, Lil’ Piggy’s Bar-B-Q, Coronado Coffee Company, and its most recent addition, Maretalia Ristorante. From handcrafted premium ice cream to authentic NY style pizza to farm-to-table artisan fare to a chophouse to Memphis style BBQ to fresh roasted coffee to Italian seafood, Spatafore’s restaurants offer an impressive variety of culinary delights.
Introduction: West Pac Noodle Bar
This October when Spatafore and his Blue Bridge Hospitality team officially launch their newest restaurant, the casual Asian-fusion West Pac Noodle Bar, Coronado residents and tourists alike will be able to experience the cuisines of the “Western Pacific waters from Japan to Singapore, Thailand to Hawaii, and everything in between.” Menu offerings, according to Spatafore, will range in price from about $6 to $20, with the majority of items costing about $10 to $12.
Located at 1166 Orange Avenue (where Islander was formerly located), West Pac Noodle Bar’s name pays homage to the Navy’s WESTPAC deployments from San Diego to the Western Pacific. Explaining the inspiration for the restaurant’s name, Spatafore says, “I met my wife in high school, and she was a Navy brat. I remember as a kid, friends would say, ‘My Dad’s going on a WESTPAC.’ I’ve never been in the Navy, but so many people I’ve been lucky enough to know over the years have been in the Navy or affiliated with the Navy.”
With both indoor seating as well as seating on the re-vamped patio, West Pac Noodle Bar’s “interior design inspiration will integrate the area’s neighboring military base with Pacific Asian-style decor.” The 1,600 square-foot, full-service eatery will feature a communal bar outfitted with 24 local craft beers on tap, 8 more than Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge offers. West Pac Noodle Bar will offer a selection of sakés, and Spatafore says, “We’ve applied for a full liquor license. If we are approved for the upgrade, we would like to offer tiki cocktails as well.”
David Spatafore’s Concept of West Pac Noodle Bar
Back in December of 2016, Spatafore was approached by the owner of Islander, who was interested in selling his restaurant. While it took a few months to iron out the details of Blue Bridge Hospitality taking over that space, Spatafore and his team got to work planning. “Our drive is to do things that are creative and different, to think about what we don’t have, and to try to bring some new flavors to Coronado,” he says, continuing, “I think it’s been an evolving process over the last 19 years since we started with Moo Time.”
The idea of West Pac’s cuisine stemmed from Spatafore’s personal affinity toward Asian cuisine of all sorts, especially noodle soups like the Japanese style ramen and Vietnamese style pho. “I love that food, and there’s not anything like that here in Coronado,” he says enthusiastically.
While Spatafore hasn’t necessarily spent a lot of time in Asia himself, he is a frequent visitor to Hawaii. Of Hawaii’s cuisine, Spatafore notes, “The Hawaiian culture is heavily influenced by multiple Asian cultures, and I’ve gotten to experience a lot of Asia’s flavors there.”
Spatafore, who’s grown accustomed to authentic Hawaiian dishes such as poke, is intent on ensuring that West Pac Noodle Bar’s poke is made from high-quality fish just like it’s prepared in Hawaii. “We’re committed to only using fresh ingredients,” Spatafore promises.
Asian-Inspired Dishes from Diverse Asian Countries
With multifarious Asian dishes to choose from, how did Spatafore and his team go about deciding which items will be featured on West Pac Noodle Bar’s upcoming menu? “It’s really stuff that we [Spatafore and team] like. Menu items will be fun spins on our favorite dishes,” he shares. Lumpia (spring rolls originating from China that are popular in the Philippines), Korean fried chicken, and gyoza (Japanese dumplings) all stem from what Spatafore refers to as “totally different” cultures, but will be featured in harmony on West Pac Noodle Bar’s menu. “If it works,” he says, “awesome!”
On the “soup side of things” in regard to ramen versus pho, Spatafore suspects that, just as it is within his own family, customers will enjoy both while preferring one over the other. “My house is very split on what we like,” he shares. “My wife really likes pho because it’s lighter, but I prefer ramen.” Of West Pac Noodle Bar’s soup offerings, Spatafore comments, “Everything is broth based, and it’s really the noodles in each particular soup that make them different from each other. We’ll have a variety of soups that represent different cultures.” According to Blue Bridge Hospitality, “All broths and sauces will be made in-house and served alongside various authentic noodles, farm-fresh vegetables, and protein-options from both land and sea.”
“The menu will constantly evolve based on flavor profile and based on the clientele,” Spatafore predicts. With such a large military population in Coronado, Spatafore is intrigued to see which dishes will be customers’ favorites. For example, which dishes will the military families who’ve been stationed in Japan crave versus which dishes will be the most sought after by those who’ve been stationed in Hawaii? “We might end up selling more of one thing versus another because that’s what they [clientele] want,” he speculates.
Small Plates, Sharing, and Quick Order Noodles
One aspect of West Pac Noodle Bar that Spatafore is particularly excited about is the concept of small plates, which encourage customers to try a variety of flavors rather than just order one big meal. Spatafore’s favorite way to enjoy Chinese food is for each person to order a dish, put it in the middle of the table, and then share it with the rest of the group, and he’s eager for those trying West Pac Noodle Bar’s offerings to eat in similar fashion. “Who wants to eat a whole plate of just one thing,” he asks. “I think by us offering dim sum and smaller portions, people will get to experiment, and it will keep the price points down, keeping it super approachable.”
He continues, “It’s light, beachy food, in a sense, where you can sample lots of these foods, and then throw on your bathing suit afterwards without feeling like you ate a giant burger.”
While the concept of “quick order noodles” may sound like it’s fast food, West Pac Noodle Bar’s menu items will be made from the freshest of ingredients. “One of the beautiful things about ramen and pho is that the broth may take ten hours to make, but once you have the broth prepared, the rest of the dish goes together so quickly.” With a ton of things to do in Coronado, Spatafore’s vision of West Pac Noodle Bar and its quick order noodles is that it will be a “light and fun” place where people can grab something delicious to eat without it being a long, sit-down experience.
Culinary Team’s “Fun, Communal Experiment”
With Executive Chef Tim Kolanko and Executive Sous Chef Jared Becker leading the way as Blue Bridge Hospitality prepares to open West Pac Noodle Bar, Spatafore remarks, “It’s funny because we have several chefs within the company, and everybody loves Asian food, but no one’s ever really done it; they’ve all tinkered with it.” Of the quest to perfect menu items, Spatafore says, “This has been a fun, communal experiment, in a sense. We’ve been testing making dumplings, tempura, and other dishes. This isn’t like you go to Grandma’s house, where she just teaches you, ‘This is the way to make it,’ and you’re done. There’s no one way to do it; there are so many different styles, and as the chefs try different methods, we’ve gotten to sample everything and discuss what we collectively like best.”
Highly Anticipated Menu Items
Which West Pac Noodle Bar menu items does Spatafore foresee being the most popular? “I definitely think the soups,” he says. “They’re filling, inexpensive, and nourishing. I think the poke will go over well too.”
While the restaurant isn’t open yet, Spatafore, of course, already has menu items that are personal favorites. “I’m definitely all about the ramen, and I love fried rice and poke. I could eat that stuff every day. I love adding spice!”
Gluten-Free and Special Dietary Needs
For restaurant patrons wondering if West Pac Noodle Bar will offer gluten-free menu items, Spatafore emphatically responds, “Yes! A lot of the noodle items are rice based. There are a lot of gluten-free options, including poke.” He points out that guests with specific dietary needs can, at most of the Blue Bridge Hospitality restaurants, feel free to ask the chefs to adjust the menu items to suit their needs. “We do it all the time,” he says reassuringly. “Nine times out of ten, our chefs will be able to accommodate you. Just because something isn’t on the menu, doesn’t mean our chefs can’t make it for you.”
Those interested in trying West Pac Noodle Bar when it opens in October can head over to the Orange Avenue location, or can enjoy the new eatery’s food from the comfort of their homes. “West Pac will deliver! I think it’s great that there will be more options for delivery in Coronado. The food from West Pac is very transportable, which is a huge bonus,” Spatafore says.
Spatafore’s/Blue Bridge Hospitality’s Success
As Spatafore prepares to add another restaurant to his life’s work of building eateries, he says he never envisioned owning so many restaurants. “With the way things are economically with labor conditions, rent, and all the requirements, having multiple places is the only way to keep your overhead in check,” he reflects.
His goal, he says, is to “keep doing things that are creative, fun, and different.” Spatafore in earnest, shares, “Our commitment to quality and creativity in what we’re trying to do for the town has changed things from when we started in 1998,” remarking how back then Coronado was “a hot dogs and hamburgers kind of place.” Spatafore explains, “We’re trying to give people a reason not to have to go across the bridge, and to make Coronado on par with some of the other communities in San Diego.”
While some cynics may suggest that Spatafore is trying to monopolize as much of Coronado’s restaurant business as possible, he’s quick to point out that in the case of his newest restaurants, Maretalia Ristorante and West Pac Noodle Bar, he was approached by the previous restaurant owners, who came to him to ask if he was interested in taking over the restaurant spaces. “I think there’s this perception that I’m out with this master plan, trying to knock on people’s doors, buying everybody up, and that’s not the plan at all. When I was asked if I wanted to buy Vigilucci’s and Islander, I said, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’ They’re both great locations,” he reflects. He poses the questions, “Would a real estate agent be accused of listing too many houses? Would a contractor be accused of building too many houses? If they’re good at it, no one knocks them.”
Spatafore continues, “People are coming [to Blue Bridge Hospitality’s restaurants] because we’re apparently doing something right. We have a lot of talented people. If we [Blue Bridge Hospitality] only owned one or two places, we couldn’t afford Tim Kolanko, Jared Becker, and these folks who are an integral part of making our product and our businesses successful. I feel lucky, and if people are going to criticize, then they’re going to criticize.”
Giving Back to the Coronado Community
What drives Spatafore to continually give back to the schools and community here in Coronado? “I grew up here, met my wife here, and we’re raising our children here. We live here, and are part of Coronado just like Coronado’s a part of us,” he says with great pride.
“I’ve seen a lot of new businesses come in, and they give back the first year or two, and then they just fade away, and stop giving. They’re in the community, but they’re not connected in the same way. We’re happy to give back because we’re a part of it, not because we’re being asked or told to do it,” Spatafore observes.
What are Spatafore’s goals for the next five years? “I want to continue to improve upon everything that we have, to continue to look for new or creative innovations that we can put in our current restaurants,” he answers.
Spatafore, who travels a lot, is constantly making observations when he’s out dining, noting what he can do in his own restaurants to make improvements. After revisiting a few well-known, high-end restaurants on Maui recently, Spatafore felt “infuriated” as he realized that nothing on the restaurants’ menus had changed since his previous visits. “They never change their menus for years and years and years because they don’t have to. It’s like a shooting ducks on a pond mentality, and I hate that,” he observes. He continues, “I want to say to them, ‘You have these incredible locations and amazing talent. Change it up a little bit! Don’t take advantage of your guests because they’re tourists. Be innovative!'”
Yes, Coronado has a lot of tourists, but Spatafore wants his restaurants themselves to be as fresh as the food they prepare. “Over the next five years, that still continues to be an underlying foundation goal, to never settle. I think someday it would be great to have some non-food kind of business, whether it’s hospitality or service or something, to expand in that kind of arena. We just haven’t found the right thing yet,” he concludes, adding, “As long as there are still fun things to do, we’re going to keep doing fun things!”