Small Businesses Drive Economy, Strengthen Community in Carlsbad

June 6, 2022

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. There are 32.5 million small businesses in the United States, employing 61.2 million people. That’s 99.9% of the country’s businesses and nearly 47% of U.S. employees. Small businesses are essential in Carlsbad, where they are not only a key driver of the economy but also strengthen the community.

In recognition of May having been Small Business Month, we want to highlight two accomplished and community-focused businesses in Carlsbad. Award-winning Señor Grubby’s has been a staple of the Carlsbad community for 14 years. Located on Carlsbad Village Drive, the local eatery offers an award-winning unique experience in Mexican food and craft cocktails. 

Señor Grubby’s opened in 2008 and is part of a growing North County restaurant empire by business partners Justin Jachura and Nhan Lam. The duo opened their first business,  Los Tacos, in 2005 in Oceanside. The popular street tacos spot led to Grubby’s Diner in 2007 in Oceanside and then Señor Grubby’s in Carlsbad.

 “We took elements from Los Tacos and elements from Grubby’s Diner, and that’s how we got Señor Grubby’s,” Jachura said.

Señor Grubby’s opened in 2008 in Carlsbad. (Credit: Kristina Houck)

The pair chose Carlsbad because that’s where the longtime friends grew up. They met in sixth grade at Buena Vista Elementary School and they both graduated from Carlsbad High School.

 Jachura got his start in the food industry with his first job at Dairy Queen in Oceanside. He later worked as a teenager and through his mid-20s at Kafana Coffee, now Cafe Elysa, in Carlsbad Village.

“I just loved serving people,” Jachura said. “I loved the interaction with everybody and the high-paced energy. The rest is history.” With a love of customer service and an appreciation of street tacos, Jachura and Lam wanted to bring flavorful Mexican dishes and a fast-casual concept to North County.

“We set out to do something new and different,” Jachura said. “And in 2005, nobody was doing street tacos. We were the first in our area to bring it to the masses.”

Señor Grubby’s offers delicious Mexican food and craft cocktails. (Credit: Señor Grubby’s)

A “never quit mentality” contributed to their success, from Los Tacos to Señor Grubby’s, Jachura said. And, of course, great food and drinks.

One of Señor Grubby’s most popular dishes is Shrimp Diabla ​— as well as anything with the house-made spicy Diabla Salsa, which Jachura said has a “cult following.” Another fan favorite is the Pastor, which is served Mexico City-style with cilantro, onions, guacamole and pineapple.

Everything is prepared in-house, from the meats to the salsas. “We do everything fresh, in-house,” Jachura said.

 Building on their success, the business partners opened Grubby’s Poke & Fish Market in 2018 at The Shoppes at Carlsbad and the second Señor Grubby’s location in 2019 in Oceanside. 

“It’s a very family and friendship rich community,” Jachura said about Carlsbad. “It’s one of the best village communities you can be a part of.” 

The community, in fact, rallied around Señor Grubby’s during the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant never closed its doors in order to keep customers fed and staff employed. Señor Grubby’s pivoted to an all-takeout model and even served up to-go cocktails. “The community really came out strong and supported us,” Jachura said.

 The local chain was recognized for its resilience during the pandemic and awarded the  2021 Innovator of the Year Award from the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce. While the community has supported Señor Grubby’s, the company has also supported the community.

 The restaurant launched its “We Care Wednesdays” weekly fundraiser program during the Great Recession in the late 2000s, to support local families, schools and nonprofits. Although fundraisers were paused during the height of the pandemic, Señor Grubby’s modified “We Care Wednesdays” to continue to support the community by delivering free food to families in need.  

 Today, the program donates 20% of proceeds from 6-8 p.m. every Wednesday to a local family, school or organization. And it’s not just Señor Grubby’s in Carlsbad. Every location has a fundraising component, Jachura said.

Señor Grubby’s was honored for its work in the community with the  2020 Community Impact – Small Company Award from the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.

“We integrated ourselves into the community beyond just food,” Jachura said. “Together, we build a strong community.” 

Dempsey Construction is another local company that’s helped build a strong community.

 Dempsey Construction was founded in 2010 in Carlsbad by John Dempsey, a 30-year veteran in the construction industry. The company provides general contracting services for commercial property owners as well as commercial tenants. 

Today, Dempsey Construction is headquartered at its Carlsbad office on Aston Avenue and has licenses in five Western states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho and Washington. The company also has a second office in Spokane, Washington.

 Despite the pandemic, 2021 was the biggest year yet for Dempsey Construction, with the company reaching $100 million in revenue for the first time. The company also grew its staff by 20 people to a staff of more than 70 employees.

“It’s very exciting,” said Michaela Weibel, the company’s director of marketing. “We really pride ourselves on the utmost integrity in our projects and the handling of our clients.”

Weibel attributed Dempsey Construction’s lasting success in large part to its client relationships. In fact, roughly half of the company’s business is from repeat clients, she said. “That really says something about the quality of work that we put out,” Weibel said.

Dempsey Construction’s work can be seen all over North County, including the impressive Hoehn Porsche Carlsbad building on Avenida Encinas.

 The project entailed the complete demolition of the existing 18,800-square-foot dealership and the construction of a new 71,614-square-foot facility. The three-story building features two levels of offices, service areas and showroom space, plus one level of parking.

 “It’s a beautiful dealership,” Weibel said.

Dempsey Construction constructed the Hoehn Porsche Carlsbad building on Avenida Encinas. (Credit: Dempsey Construction) 

Currently, Dempsey Construction is completing the third phase of  the Beacon renovation in Carlsbad.

The project includes façade upgrades and the renovation of the interior of the 5,000-square-foot former bank building that is being converted to restaurant space. The project also includes façade upgrades and the renovation of a 10,000-square-foot, two-level office building.

Dempsey Construction is completing the third phase of the Beacon renovation project in Carlsbad. (Credit: Dempsey Construction) 

“We do so many different types of projects that I believe that we are not only changing for the better of the landscape of North County but also improving the economy,” Weibel said.

Another major project in the works is  The Sandbox, a 242,000-square-foot multi-use development consisting of apartments, office space, retail space, restaurant space, and two levels of subterranean parking on Pacific Coast Highway in the heart of Solana Beach.

It’s the largest project, based on square feet, that the company has ever worked on, Weibel said.

“It’s exciting to be able to bring a completely new development to Solana Beach while retaining the culture and the quaintness of the little beach town,” she said.

 “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to be part of an organization that not only treats their people well but delivers really quality products that people live and work in,” Weibel added.

Dempsey Construction organized a beach cleanup at Tamarack Beach. (Credit: Dempsey Construction) 

While Dempsey Construction is known for its projects that build up Carlsbad and North County, the company also gives back to the community.

 Last year, Dempsey Construction donated a total of $125,000 across multiple charities. The company also donated $20,000 to Grace Community Church for its humanitarian efforts helping Ukrainian refugees. 

Dempsey Construction is a major supporter of  Humanity Showers, which provides access to mobile showers for the homeless throughout North County. Last year, the company raised $25,000 among its employees and network to help the organization purchase a mobile shower trailer, which helped provide showers and laundry services to 3,000 Ukrainian refugees in April alone.

The company also volunteers in the community, including organizing a beach cleanup last year at Tamarack Beach.

 “We try to give back and help our community in every way, whenever we can,” Weibel said. 

In recognition of Dempsey Construction’s work in the community, the company was named Small Business of the Year at the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce’s  2022 Carlsbad Business Achievement & Distinction Awards.

“The Carlsbad community seems very much like a collaborative community,” Weibel said. “It’s nice because we are not unique in our desire to improve our community. I have seen time and time again that companies in the area want to do better, want to leave something better than it was when they arrived.”