The opening of Machete Beer House (2325 Highland Ave.) in National City in February marked the beginning of a renaissance year for craft beer in the South Bay. Since then, two breweries and another taproom have opened in neighboring Chula Vista. A pair of recent standing-room-only events at Machete made it difficult to understand how such a large, underserved market could have been ignored by the industry for so long. Partners Eddie Trejo and Joann Cornejo today appear prophetic because they coined the #southbayuprising hashtag.
But the demand in the market was not always so evident.
Trejo says it was obvious why industry growth stalled where median incomes dipped and the population became more colorful. “There’s been this big idea in people’s heads that certain demographics don’t want craft beer, which is wrong,” he says. “It’s just a perception of cultural differences that caused that.”
Many San Diego breweries and tasting rooms feature an undeniable racial homogeneity in both staff and clientele, which perhaps contributes to this perception. But where the establishment stumbled, the former Brewery Tours of San Diego guide and distributor sales rep saw an opportunity.
“You’re never 100 percent on any business, but I was fairly confident I’d be alright,” Trejo says. “There wasn’t a real taproom anywhere in the South Bay, but there was a market for it, a lot of people who were into beer and just no local outlets.”
Trejo and Cornejo had to take some extraordinary steps to realize their vision for Machete, like scraping startup funds from any and all available sources.
“Part of being able to open this place, I sold my car,” Trejo says. “I got money wherever I could.” Trejo’s experience in the industry has resulted in an impressive and carefully curated rotation of local beer, which he says rivals some of San Diego’s better-known craft destinations. “
I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything,” he says, “but I hear it from customers all the time that we have as good or better list than any of the craft beer bars around the county. We’re as relevant as any other bar that’s craft-focused. We’re craft beer just as much as Churchill’s or Hamilton’s or Small Bar.”
With a one-year anniversary fast approaching, look for more special events and perhaps even a collaborative brew.
“We’ve talked to a couple breweries and we’ve been shooting the idea around, but we don’t have anything concrete yet,” Trejo says.
Machete’s first-year celebration will mark more than just the opening of one bar in one neighborhood. It’s the beginning of the longawaited realization of the potential of this community to support and participate in one of the most exciting sectors of San Diego culture and industry. Trejo says things are just getting started for craft beer in the South Bay.
“I think it’s got a really bright and really huge future, that’s part of why I opened here,” he says. “I’m confident in that.”