This week we are putting the limelight on NINE-TEN Restaurant, which is located in the Grande Colonial Hotel. It is celebrating 20 years as one of San Diego’s pioneer “farm-to-table” restaurants on July 17th. Leslie, the Director of Marketing/Public Relations, shares an in-depth history of the restaurant up until now:
Upon opening, NINE-TEN quickly became one of the region’s finest dining establishments. Holding the reins today is nationally acclaimed Executive Chef, Jason Knibb, who has led the culinary team since October of 2003. Jamaican-born, Chef Knibb is a self-trained chef who has trained under some of the country’s most celebrated chefs including Wolfgang Puck, Roy Yamaguchi, Hans Rockenwagner and San Diego’s own, Trey Foshee. Each of his mentors has a simple common philosophy about cooking, which translates into his style today: Creating regional cuisine using the freshest, local products available. Chef Knibb finds the most culinary pleasure in blending an eclectic mix of classic techniques with modern styles inspired by the ethnic diversities of San Diego and the surrounding region. He couples that with his own vision of new American cuisine by taking traditional dishes and giving them a simple, elegant twist.
“As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, it’s wonderful to reflect on San Diego’s culinary scene and how it has changed over the years,” said Chef Knibb. “Two decades ago, NINE-TEN opened with its ‘farm-to-table’ concept, which today continues to evolve, yet remains true to its foundation of emphasizing fresh, local products, and culinary sustainability. I humbly thank the staff and community for the continued support over the past two decades, many who have stayed loyal since the beginning and through tough times, like this past year.”
Although opening in 2001, NINE-TEN’s history dates back to 1928 when the spot in which it now sits was the local apothecary, La Jolla Drugstore. La Jolla’s population was only 1,000 full-time residents, so it was not the busiest of businesses. Into this scene walked Silas O. Putnam, a Kansas man who, after spending a winter in La Jolla staying at the adjacent Colonial Inn (now La Jolla’s Four Diamond Grande Colonial hotel) never went back.
Putnam purchased the La Jolla Drugstore and renamed it Putnam’s Pharmacy. The pharmacist, employed by Putnam, considered it a big day if he filled more than three prescriptions. That pharmacist was also the father of Gregory Peck. Peck, who grew up in La Jolla, eventually left for Hollywood and became a movie star. Putnam soon added an ice cream fountain and overnight had a successful business on his hands selling more chocolate Cokes and banana splits than medicine. He was so busy seats were put out front on the sidewalk. The combination of ice cream, fresh air, socializing, and people watching was magical. Putnam’s was a hit with visitors and locals alike.
The hotel and Putnam’s Pharmacy made great neighbors for more than 10 years – Putnam and George Bane, the Colonial Inn’s owner, had a great, symbiotic relationship. When Bane drew up plans to expand The Colonial, Putnam’s Pharmacy was incorporated into the hotel. The new Putnam’s had a classic counter for serving ice cream and drinks plus café seating outdoors. When he moved the business inside the hotel’s corner space he advertised “the store where you feel at home”.
During WWII, they were kept busy serving meals to soldiers who were staying at the hotel. The partnership between the hotel and Putnam’s lasted more than 30 years – well into the 1950’s – until Putnam’s son Putty wanted to expand and subsequently moved the business across the street into their own building.
In the late 1970’s, the Colonial went through an extensive renovation, which included the space once occupied by the pharmacy. The prized corner location was turned into a restaurant affectionately named Putnam’s Grille, which quickly became a local La Jolla landmark lasting for three decades. Reflecting the La Jolla of the 1920s, the restaurant was redesigned to feature dark wood paneling, wrought iron chandeliers and ceiling fans, oak dining sets and large picture windows that created an open, fluid environment. The original soda fountain was replaced with a mirrored back bar and martinis were served instead of ice cream sodas. The restaurant also stayed true to its heritage by offering diners sidewalk seating. Then in February of 2001, Putnam’s Grille closed its doors for a brief renovation, and six months later opened as NINE-TEN. The rest is history.
“We’ve come a long way since opening, continuing to evolve our cuisine into what it has become today,” added Chef Knibb. “But one thing has remained constant: Our signature Half-Baked Chocolate Cake. It has been on the menu since day one and we have served up more than 100,000 of them to our guests.”
Today, NINE-TEN remains a world-class restaurant, boasting an abundance of industry honors including a nod for Chef Knibb as “San Diego’s Chef of the Year”, awarded by the California Restaurant Association. Chef Knibb was also a competitor on Iron Chef America, battling Bobby Flay in a seafood showdown. Add to that on-site Pastry Chef, Jose Alonzo III, award-winning Sommelier, Chris Russo, and an exceptionally long list of accolades including Michelin Guide Plate of Distinction recognition and a “very good to excellent” rating by ZAGAT, the restaurant offers the perfect combination of sophistication and casual elegance, making it a must-visit for culinary aficionados.