Chef Jason Quinn took to Instagram Live on August 27th to announce that his polarizing Santa Ana restaurant, Playground, had burned through almost all of its reserves due to financial struggles with COVID-19, and is all but finished:
We’ve put a final day on our experience here and that will be December 31st of 2021. Our goal is to make it sixteen months and go out with one hell of a f***ing party. Even more heavy, we intend to close Playground as it currently is on this Saturday and just move to a 1.9 and Dough Exchange model. We are in a spot where that portion of the business is not doing enough to stay around and people who are surprised right now, you shouldn’t be, because I’ve been talking about this as a very legitimate possibility for the entire pandemic. We did one takeout order last night, no one is surprised that that is not sustainable.
Quinn went on to mention that December 31, 2021 is also the final day of its lease and falls six weeks after Playground’s ten year anniversary. “Personally, this feels like a perfect time to walk away,” he said on the now reposted live video. “When we opened this restaurant, I simply could not imagine it actually going for ten years.”
Quinn’s career encapsulated last decade’s Southern California food-world trajectory like few others. He first gained a following in 2010 with The Lime Truck, a luxe lonchera he co-ran with then-partner Daniel Shemtob that distinguished itself from competitors with brazen confidence and an enfant terrible attitude. The two parlayed that into winning Season 2 of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. Quinn took his share of the prize to open Playground in downtown Santa Ana in 2011 as part of the area’s continuing gentrification.
Quinn was both blasted as a hothead and hailed as a service-industry hero after he responded to a bad Yelp review with a rant that ended, “Burn in Hell.” He teamed up with Jarred Dooley, Playground’s director of libations and built a bar program worthy of its food.
Success followed with multiple write-ups, most notably, ranking number 66 on the late Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants of 2016. This led to a huge expansion of Playground which saw the venue grow to 8,000 square feet that included a separate bar and an event space. And he also launched Playground 2.0, where Quinn himself would take customers through a multicourse meal nearly every night that easily topped $200.
But not everything worked. He ran three food stalls, a corner market, and a bar when the nearby Fourth Street Market opened in 2015; all have since closed except the bar, which is still in operation. Quinn also opened a bakery called Dough Exchange that closed in 2015, although he recently reopened it. Plans for a lounge upstairs from the original Playground never materialized.
For the remainder of Playground’s lease term, Quinn says he’ll put their energy into Dough Exchange and 1.9 concept, what he refers to as the COVID-19 version of his Playground 2.0 except now via Zoom and iPads until restaurants are allowed to resume indoor dining.
Update: Quinn responded with the following:
“This title is clickbait garbage. If you’d like to know what’s going on please follow the restaurant directly. They are still very much open and have plenty of options on how to feed you. All gift cards are still live and active. “