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Meet Rob Jones and Simran Soin of Dija Mara in Oceanside – North County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rob Jones and Simran Soin.

Rob and Simran, please share your story with us.
Our concept started in Singapore, where I met my partner, Simran. We talked of a shared love for the California lifestyle and of Indonesian cuisine, and how our ‘pipe dream’ would be to open a Balinese restaurant in California. We made some preliminary inquiries into the feasibility of an Englishman and a Singaporean relocating and starting a business in California, our pipe dream became a regular dream! After extensive research into Balinese cuisine (that involved relocating to Bali and traveling to numerous village ‘warungs’ throughout the island), and further research into the US restaurant industry (there appeared to be a gap in the market in California for the type of food we wanted to offer and the type of restaurant we wanted to build) we felt ready to take the plunge and began looking for a location.

We searched from as far north as Morro Bay and as far south as Chula Vista before, eventually, stumbling upon the perfect space in the perfect place; 232 S Coast Hwy in Oceanside. With its beach shops, coffee houses and surf community, Oceanside had certain similarities to Canggu in Bali, and the building we found on the coast highway was ideal for our concept. It was formerly ‘Bessie’s Café’, and something of an institution in Oside. However, it had been empty for a year or so, prior to our arrival, and needed extensive renovations. We wanted this to be ‘our restaurant’ as much as humanly possible, so we designed the entire remodel ourselves; from the position and style of the lights to the wall and floor finishes. After 6 hard months of blood, sweat, and tears, the renovations were complete and the fun part began!

During the period of renovations, our executive chef, Ryan Costanza, contacted us as he’d heard about our venture and was keen to discuss the concept. Fortunately, he had just relocated to San Diego County at around the same time as us and was looking for something new. Having worked as Director of Operations for Crenn Group (Atelier Crenn & Petite Crenn, San Francisco) and set up Nosh (Singapore), his reputation preceded him and we were very keen to get him onboard. After one meeting, we all knew that it was a perfect fit; we share the same ethos and values and he soon became a close friend as well as our dynamite chef!

The rest of our hand-picked team and our menus were finalized during this time, too, and we were ready to rock and roll on 11th October 2017.

Regarding where we are today; Dija Mara was recently voted ‘Best New Restaurant in North County’ by San Diego Magazine, which is huge for us. I attribute this accolade to a lot of factors (having the best chef in San Diego County, having a top-notch team, using only the best ingredients available and changing the menu to suit the seasons, having an ‘all natural’ wine program, offering creative and unique ‘lower ABV’ cocktails, creating a cool space with an inviting atmosphere etc.), but perhaps it’s largely due to the fact that we stayed true to our original concept and we weren’t afraid to be different. We feel that we’ve pushed boundaries by introducing our unique cuisine to Oceanside, and we couldn’t have picked a better city for our restaurant. It’s fantastic and full of awesome people who love good food, good beer, and good wine. We are extremely grateful to everyone in North County for their support and we are stoked to be a part of the community.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Renovating an old building wasn’t without its challenges, but our plumbers (Mikey from Trade of Thornes) and our electrician (Scotty from CLD Electric) did an awesome job and finished their work bang on time.

We were initially very nervous about how the other restaurants in the area would receive us, as we didn’t want to be seen as outsiders muscling in on their patch! This was a potential obstacle, for sure. We didn’t see others as competition, but rather we saw all of us as a community and we hoped this viewpoint was shared by the long-standing establishments nearby. Thankfully, it was! A special thanks to Dan & Gabe from LTH, Davin from Wrench & Rodent, Eric from Privateer, and Willy & Cameron from Mission Bar & Grill. Without these guys giving us such a warm welcome and recommending us to their customers (and dining at Dija Mara themselves, frequently!), we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Dija Mara – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are a Balinese-inspired restaurant that mixes Southeast Asian flavors with Japanese cooking techniques and Western flair! We have an ‘all natural’ wine program and a great selection of beers and ciders. Furthermore, we infuse low ABV spirits and mix them with house-made syrups and spices to create our unique cocktails.

Our most popular dish is the ‘Nasi Goreng’ (fried rice) that Chef Ryan has elevated to the highest level. It’s sublime! Our peanut sauce is also something of a gem, and the recipe will remain Dija Mara’s best-kept secret (our kitchen staff has all signed non-disclosure agreements!! Seriously!!).

Our original ethos from day one was to offer high-end Balinese-inspired dishes in an inviting space with a welcoming atmosphere (created by the décor, the music, and the staff). Basically, we wanted fine-dining quality food without the stuffy atmosphere that sometimes accompanies fine-dining restaurants. We wanted people to be able to sit and eat at the bar (or one of the couches) with a pint or a glass of wine without feeling they need to be ushered to a table before tucking in.

As owners, we’re immensely proud of our team; they truly care about the restaurant and their roles within it. Furthermore, we’re proud of our city and the way it’s embraced something totally different and new. In Oceanside, we really feel like we’re where we belong.

Regarding what sets us apart; we’re not a brewpub, a Mexican restaurant or a pizza joint! Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things (in fact, everything is RIGHT with all of those things!) it’s just that we’re proud to be different.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Opening the doors of Dija Mara on October 12th, 2017.

Also, getting the accolade of Best New Restaurant in North County in San Diego Magazine.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Zach Cordner, Tristan Brickner, Ryan Costanza, Simran Soin

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