The Gluten-Free Connection
The Trails Eatery is a favorite among San Diego’s gluten-free community for its caring approach to guests and dedication to preventing cross-contamination.
Owner Stacey Poon-Kinney added a gluten-free menu when neighboring restaurant owner Samuel Golding of Mountain Mike’s Pizza approached her to inquire if The Trails could accommodate his daughter, who has celiac disease. His family had not eaten breakfast in a restaurant since she was diagnosed.
“As a mom, I connected with his desire to normalize eating breakfast out with his family. It spoke to me,” she said.
Because the kitchen was already outfitted with two griddles, she was optimistic that she could accommodate allergen-sensitive patrons. She started sourcing safe ingredients and diligently training her staff. Now the kitchen is fully celiac-safe.
As a person who has multiple food allergies and whose kids do too, Poon-Kinney understands the need for separate storage areas, separate utensils, and other measures to keep guests safe.
She cares deeply about her patrons’ health and conducts regular training for employees to ensure they understand the menu, safe food handling, and the severity of food allergies.
The bright, cheery dining room of The Trails Eatery is filled with family portraits, vintage finds, and tree branches that reflect owner Poon-Kinney’s sunny nature and the nearby natural environment that draw so many hikers to the neighborhood.
Her philosophy of “open arms communication” is reflected in the service. Friendly staff go the extra mile to make guests feel especially welcome.
“I want guests to feel at home, like at the old time filling stations where the attendant had a chat because he wanted to know about you as well as provide excellent service,” she explained.
Things weren’t always so cheerful at The Trails.
During a particularly difficult financial time, a regular suggested that the owner, Poon-Kinney, audition for a new Food Network show called "Restaurant Impossible”. Her dad, who is also her business partner, agreed to give it a shot.
The resulting renovation was a success, but the restaurant faced a new challenge when it experienced a big flood.
“You can’t celebrate the good times without acknowledging the hard times,” she said, explaining that she had to close for seven weeks, during which time she and her team went to extreme measures to salvage water-damaged elements from the remodel.
Upon reopening, Kinney launched “when life gives you lemons” specials like fresh lemonade and lemon ricotta pancakes.
The restaurant came back stronger than ever and continues to grow.
Following The Trail’s success with Restaurant Impossible, Poon-Kinney auditioned for The Next Food Network Star and, to her surprise, made it as a finalist.
"I never imagined myself in front of the camera, but what I love most about this experience is being able to contribute to organizations I’m passionate about,” she said of her work as a Board member for The Home of Guiding Hands and donor to Keep A Breast Foundation, a breast health education charity.
Breakfast menu favorites include a variety of gluten-free pastries, pancakes and omelettes served with fresh fruit or savory homefries.
“The cinnamon roll pancake is our rock star,” said Kinney of the generously sized short stacks of fluffy, gluten-free pancakes that come topped with a cinnamon roll icing swirl.
The lemon blueberry muffins baked by Moxie Bakery for The Trails are moist and topped with a light sugar-coated crunch. The perfect crumb is reason enough to order an extra to take home.
On the savory side, the generously portioned feta omelette is filled with fresh veggies, and though the biscuit looks modest, it is packed with flavor and has a perfectly springy texture.
Highly anticipated, gluten-free eggs benedict are rumored to be added to the menu this summer.
Sandwiches are toasted and piled high with hearty roasted turkey and beef, and served with a simple side salads. A lunchtime crowd pleaser is the club sandwich topped with crunchy, perfectly salty bacon and thick slices of avocado.
“I don’t serve meals filled with preservatives,” Poon-Kinney explained. “We roast our own meats and make fresh dressings because you can taste the difference.”