By Mike Allen
January 12, 2024 (Santee)-- Both Karl Strauss and Trader Joe’s have announced plans to open retail outlets in Santee, although the latter company isn’t saying much other than its intention to come.
Karl Strauss co-founder and president Matt Rattner said the Pacific Beach-based brewer plans an outdoor brew pub at the site it owns just behind the Trolley Square Shopping Center, similar to the one it opened in San Marcos last year.
The San Marcos site covers two acres and features food trucks, Adirondack chairs, shaded awnings, picnic tables, lawn games and fire pits to go with 16 tapped beer offerings.
At its December meeting, the Santee City Council approved an extension on the brewery’s 2015 development agreement for another three years; that divided the 10-acre site into a two separate parcels of two and eight acres.
Rattner said the company plans to begin construction on the smaller of the parcels that borders on Cuyamaca Street sometime in 2024 for a project that should take about six months to complete.
Asked if Karl Strauss its abandoning its original plan for a combined brewery/restaurant/warehouse and office complex, Rattner said no.
“We’ll build the retail portion and then we’ll see,” he stated
. He said the total investment will be between $3 million to $4 million. The site will employ between 25 to 30 people when opened.
“We love Santee, and know about the Facebook group `Where’s Karl,’” Rattner said. “We know people have been waiting a long time for us, but this is going to be a home run….We’re sorry it’s taken so long for our fans to wait but it does look like we have a really clear pathway to get there.”
Rattner said the combination of the pandemic and the fallout from an over saturation of craft breweries caused the delay in getting the Santee project going.
“The state of California’s response to Covid was incredibly difficult on the craft brewing industry and every retail business.” Due to that and other economic constraints, Karl Strauss cut back on its staffing and delayed a number of projects. It now has about 400 employees including 60 at its main brewery and office in Pacific Beach.
When Karl Strauss was launched in 1989 there were about 300 craft brewers in the nation, Rattner said, but the number has increased late
ly to about 10,000. “That’s too many, and we’ll continue to see consolidation and shake out. We’ve had a good run, and we’re one of a handful of independent breweries, and still churning out good craft beer.”
Rattner said Karl Strauss did about 40,000 to 50,000 barrels of beer last year, which was better than 2022.
Among the features the brewery plans for the Santee site are better trees and tent structures (than at the San Marcos site), and possibly live music, but the details are still in flux since it’s working with the city finishing up technical reports, Rattner said.
The Monrovia-based grocery store chain is indeed coming to Santee.
“I can confirm that we plan to open a new store in Santee,” said Nakia Rohde, Trader Joe’s public relations manager, in an email to East County Magazine. “I do not yet have any additional details to share.”
However, Santee Councilman Ronn Hall stated in a recent posting on the community site Nextdoor that the old Best Buy site off Mission Gorge Road near Cuyamaca Street is the landing spot. Hall said the commercial real estate owner of the big box site is converting it into three separate spaces, one of which will be Trader Joe’s.
The company, well known for such items as Two Buck Chuck wine (now selling for $2.99), prepared entrees like chicken tikka masala, and a large cheese selection, operates 15 stores in San Diego County, including the closest to Santee in Grossmont Center.
“People have been asking for (Trader Joe’s) for years,” Hall said. “We’ve worked hard to get them, and other stores that people want to see here….I feel our work attending trade shows like ICSC (a national retail convention) is paying off.”
To an inquiry about when the store in Santee will open, one manager said he wasn’t aware of that date, “but when we find out, we’ll be sure to let everyone know.”