Common Theory Public House officially opened their doors on June 3rd, 2014, on the corner of Convoy St and Ronson Rd. The restaurant is exactly what the Kearny Mesa area needed, a space where you can go for a delicious craft beer or a casual bite to eat with a coworker. The restaurant is packed with people on a Wednesday afternoon, while Cristian Liang, one of the co-owners (the other being Joon Lee), is pouring a craft beer behind the bar. I’ve celebrated and commiserated here and used this place for work and play – rather more of the latter, thank goodness. They just celebrated their third year anniversary, I was very excited to interview Cristian on how they came up with Common Theory and to see what’s in store for them in the future.
|Before we dive into questions about Common Theory, can you tell us about yourself?|
C: My parents migrated to Rosarito, Mexico during the “culture cleansing” in China during the 60’s and 70’s. This is why I can speak both Chinese and Spanish fluently. When I was growing up, my family opened up Chinese restaurants in both Rosarito and Tijuana. My parents always told me to get a “proper” career and warned me to never open a restaurant (from personal experience, haha), so of course when I said I wanted to quit my job and open one up, my mom had her doubts.
|What led you to opening a restaurant?|
C: Joon and I knew each other in high school through mutual friends, but then we became closer after becoming roommates at UC San Diego. After we both graduated, I began working as an engineer at a 9-5 job while Joon opened up a restaurant franchise called Rice King. We were both on our separate paths for about five years until we re-connected and then decided to try to start something together. We both always wanted to open a restaurant and at a spot in the Kearny Mesa area. Actually, our first idea was to open up a Korean BBQ restaurant.
|So how did you go from Korean BBQ to Common Theory?|
C: We nixed the Korean BBQ idea because it took over two years to actually close the deal after finding a location for it. The location ended up not working in the end. So, as you can guess that restaurant didn’t pan out. By then, Convoy was saturated with Korean BBQ restaurants. Call it fate, but we quickly found another location and came up with a new concept for our restaurant. It was going to be pub-style with an upscale twist. We wanted to incorporate mine, Joon and the executive chef’s backgrounds (Korean, Chinese, Mexican, American) and also bring craft beer into the picture. I remember going out with my friends and picking out craft beers during get togethers, and I told Joon that there was going to be a big wave of craft beer coming soon and we had to be riding that wave (Now, they have over 30 beers on tap).
|What were the first few month like? Wasn’t it a big risk leaving your engineering job?|
C: Yes, 100%. I just had my oldest son Preston, and obviously had to talk to my wife before starting Common Theory. I felt like I needed to take a chance and I didn’t want to live with any doubt. I was 31 and felt like I was young enough where I could go back to my engineering career if this didn’t end up working out. The opening months were chaotic. I was still working full time at my engineering job so my schedule was pretty insane. We were also still getting used to the flow of the restaurant. I would pack Preston’s lunch and drop him off to daycare, then I would go to work then straight to Common Theory. Joon was pretty much living in the restaurant. It was hectic to say the least.
|What finally made you quit your stable job?|
C: After six months of having an insane schedule, there were a few things that really determined that I needed to go full-force with CT (Common Theory). The first being that the restaurant wasn’t performing as well as it should. Just the small inconsistencies such as the service or the food not being up to par. This was absolutely normal for a start-up but I knew the restaurant could do much better. I felt like I was only putting partial energy into both jobs, and decided I needed to put 120% into a project that I’ve always wanted to do. Also, I didn’t want to go crazy either having both jobs and raising a family, haha. So I decided to take the leap, quit my stable job and put all my energy into CT. You really have to do what it takes, whether it’s working behind the bar or helping out with cleaning dishes, to have your business become a success.
|That’s so awesome! And now, you just celebrated your third year anniversary|
C: Yes, we’ve been lucky with how much positive feedback we’ve gotten with our customers throughout the last three years and how we have the regulars who’d come five times a week as well as people coming in for the first time. Joon and I have been keeping busy but it’s been a blast.
|What’s in store for Common Theory? How do you get customers to keep coming back?|
C: We try to change the menu and add two or three new dishes every quarter of the year. Who knows, there may be Common Theory expansions throughout the next few years, we definitely would like to stay local.
These are a few of the reasons why Common Theory has hit such success and become one of the hotspots in San Diego. Their changing craft beer collection and their creative and inventive eats has definitely made a stake in San Diego’s restaurant scene.
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