Something Inside of Us Sleeps, The Sleeper Must Awaken

Inside National City’s Market and 8th food hall in downtown

Like most food halls, the newly opened Market on 8th in National City serves a mix of international cuisines.

But what makes this 11,000-square-foot venue at East 8th Street and A Avenue unique is that most of the hall’s food and beverage vendors are local residents who will be serving the ethnic foods that they grew up eating in the multicultural South Bay area. Owned and operated by the Tubao family, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in the 1950s, Market on 8th was created to bring community, identity and success to a once-blighted area of downtown that’s undergoing revitalization.

“All of the tenants were handpicked,” said developer Joel Tubao, 54, who was born in Coronado and grew up in Bonita, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach. “We didn’t want to get typical franchises. We wanted to have local flavor with ties to the community. We want people to stay in the community, eat in the community and spend their money in the community.”

Developer Joel Tubao inside his newly opened Market on 8th food hall in National City on Tuesday.

(Ariana Drehsler/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Market on 8th held its soft opening on Monday with just five of its 14 future tenants ready to serve customers. Tubao said his goal is to have all of his vendors — 11 food kitchens, a brewery tasting room and two retail shops — open in time for a grand opening celebration Oct. 28. The challenge, he said, is that COVID-related labor shortages have forced many booth operators to postpone their debuts.

The tenant mix, when complete, will include Weapon Ramen (Japanese-Asian cuisine); Serbesa (Filipino cuisine); MNGO Café & Desserts (Japanese); Moe Coffee; La Central Urban Grill (Mexican); Pacific Poke (Hawaiian seafood); Smitty’s Taste of the Bayou (Cajun-Creole); Pizza Kaiju (Italian fusion); Donburi (Japanese); Ping Yang (Thai); and Cafe Indonesia (Filipino-Indonesian).

There’s also a 20-tap beer tasting room hosted by Novo Brazil Brewing, a Brazilian-style beer and kombucha maker in Chula Vista that Tubao co-founded six years ago. And there will be two retail shops: The Fresh Yard streetwear boutique will open on Monday and also Wordsmith, a culinary and cookbook boutique owned by South Bay native and chef Phillip Esteban, who will also operate the Weapon Ramen shop. The project also includes a fenced, 2,000-square-foot outdoor beer garden.

As of this week, just five vendor booths have opened, including Novo Brazil, Moe Coffee, Ping Yang Thai skewers, La Central and Smitty’s. Doors open at 6 am for coffee and close at 10 p.m., though hours will change in the coming weeks.

National City Mayor Alejandra Sotel-Solis said she expects Market on 8th to generate “more buzz” in an area of downtown that is swiftly undergoing change.

“Being small-business owned and minority-owned, Market on 8th forms a unique partnership with our Filipino and Asian brothers and sisters,” she said. “It’s going to have a mulitcultural flair and literally, flavor, which speaks to the beauty and uniqueness of National City.”

A crowd of people head into the new Market on 8th food hall in National City on Tuesday afternoon.

A crowd of people head into the new Market on 8th food hall in National City on Tuesday afternoon.

(Ariana Drehsler/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Just across the street from Market on 8th is another new addition to the city, Parco, a 127-unit mixed-use housing and commercial development that will share a grand opening celebration at 1 p.m. Oct. 28. Co-living suites, where tenants live together in shared spaces, and small studio spaces will offer rents starting at just under $1,000 a month.

Esteban said opening his ramen and cookbook shops at Market on 8th helps him explore and celebrate his Filipino heritage and support his hometown.

“Growing up in National City and later, in Paradise Hills, they were neighborhoods that weren’t the most sought-after neighborhoods in San Diego. We were like the outcasts,” Esteban said. “Now, as I’m discovering myself through my heritage and my family, it’s all about the culture and it’s about representation.”

For some vendors — like Moe Coffee, La Central and MNGO — the food hall is one of several food ventures they operate. But Tubao said that for some Market on 8th vendors, opening a food stall there is a leap of faith into a new industry because the owners were motivated by a desire to serve their native foods to their South Bay neighbors. That’s one of the main reasons that most of the seating inside the hall is large communal tables.

“The seating is intentionally community style to build the spirit of community for people looking to meet, to do business with and to get to know their neighbors,” Tubao said.

The outdoor beer garden at Market on 8th in National City on Tuesday.

The outdoor beer garden at Market on 8th in National City on Tuesday.

(Ariana Drehsler/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Tubao’s parents, Gerry and Angeles Tubao, were born and raised in the Philippines. Gerry served in the U.S. Navy and Angeles was a nurse who worked at Paradise Valley Hospital in the 1970s. The Tubaos began working in the real estate market in the 1950s, building and operating apartment buildings and other projects through their Imperial Beach development company Pacific Point Properties.

Joel Tubao joined the family business after earning finance and law degrees and has been an active investor and developer in several restaurant and brewery projects in the San Diego area and in Reno, Nev. He came up with the idea for the food hall about three years ago after visiting many similar projects in Orange and L.A. counties, San Francisco, Seattle and New York.

“I’ve always liked the food hall concept,” he said. “This is how people in Europe do their grocery shopping and it has replaced the public squares where people used to gather. It’s a community area where people can meet their neighbors, eat several different types of food and have a good time.”

A family checks out the food stalls at Market on 8th in National City on Tuesday.

A family checks out the food stalls at Market on 8th in National City on Tuesday.

(Ariana Drehsler/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Pacific Properties purchased the lot that Market on 8th occupies about five years ago. At the time, the lot was occupied by a 9,000-square-foot furniture warehouse and a smaller 2,000-square-foot building. The warehouse space became the home of the food hall and the smaller building was demolished to make way for the beer garden. One wall of the beer garden has been decorated with a hand-painted mural by Tubao’s 24-year-old daughter that celebrates National City’s history, including its famous Mile of Cars. Historical city photos also decorate the walls indoors.

Tubao said that while searching for tenants for Market on 8th a couple years ago, he couldn’t get people to return his calls. Now, he fields several calls a day from business owners eager to get in. He’s happy that the project has been so warmly embraced by the South Bay community.

“It’s a full circle moment for me,” Tubao said. “Years ago, my parents lived on the same street that the market is on, so this is really an immigrant success story.”

Owner Kwa Nguyen gets his streetwear shop, The Fresh Yard, ready to open at Market on 8th food hall.

Owner Kwa Nguyen, right, and designer-photographer Fingaz make final preparations to open the streetwewar shop, The Fresh Yard, at Market on 8th food hall in National City.

(Ariana Drehsler/The San Diego Union-Tribune)