San Pedro Fish Market is leaving its L.A. harbor home

One of the country’s best-selling restaurants is an unpretentious family-owned business on the edge of the main channel at the Port of Los Angeles, with views of the fat oil storage tanks and the waterside of high-altitude green cranes. A loaded cargo ship.

Far from the charming yacht docks of Newport Beach and Marina del Rey, San Pedro Fish Market & Restaurant Quiet loyal supporters who spent about $ 30 million a year before a pandemic occurred on a tray of shrimp, red shrimp, and other seafood heaps shared on a spare metal table on a weathered wooden pier. I built it up.

The vast 3,000-seat restaurant complex has long loved the growing number of social media followers for Latin families to enjoy group outings and squeeze feeds in search of images of decadent food. I am.

People dine outside at the San Pedro Fish Market dock last month.

(Dania Maxwell / )

Like most restaurants, San Pedro Fish Market was hit As COVID-19 precautions have hampered the flow of customers, its owners expect a strong resurgence, at least until they have to permanently close their homes for many years. After 60 years on the pier where the Ports O’Call tourist attraction once stood, the fish market needs to move to pave the way for the development of a new waterfront.

The owner of a development called West Harbor has the fish market operator New food and entertainment complex It replaces Ports O’Call, but their vision of the role that popular restaurants play in West Harbor was far too far away. In short, fish market owners wanted more room they could get.

“The problem for us is that we have grown a lot,” said Mike Ungaro, CEO of San Pedrofish Market and part of the third generation of the family business. It’s “too big” to fit in the West Harbor restaurant space.

Hands to put fish on fish and ice display

Steve Ortiz sells freshly caught sea bream at the San Pedrofish Market.

(Dania Maxwell / )

Every year, the fish market sells about 200 tonnes of shrimp, which he said is the main attraction. On long weekends, such as Memorial Day, the restaurant sells about 200 barrels of beer. Many sell 15,000 loaves of garlic bread and 30,000 tortillas as part of the restaurant’s signature mikalada recipe. It may take two hours to wait for a busy day.

According to credit cardholder zip codes, the majority of customers come from within 100 miles, but people also drive from San Diego, Palm Springs, and even Phoenix and Las Vegas.Social media-led crowds are another matter, restaurants One of the Top 10 Most Popular Restaurants on Instagram In the country.

“People jumped in on the weekends to see it,” he said, before the pandemic broke out. “Millennial crowds were flying from all states.”

Customers typically select some of the uncooked seafood at the fish market to customize their order and prepare for menu items such as: What the website emphasizes As a world-famous shrimp tray.

Ungaro’s team decided to aim for a simpler, larger social media sweet spot by introducing a super tray with red shrimp, whole fish, fish fillets, vegetables, potatoes and garlic bread. It’s about $ 140 and you need to feed at least four.

People dine outside at the San Pedro Fish Market dock

People dine outside at the San Pedro Fish Market dock, one of the top 10 restaurants in the country by sales.

(Dania Maxwell / )

Ungaro and his family then want to make the restaurant super-sized to create one of the largest dining facilities in the United States that can accommodate 5,500 people. Architect Eric McCormack, who works on the design concept, likened the scale to “20 cheesecake factories in one place.”

The plan requires three levels of indoor and outdoor facilities with a kitchen, numerous bars, harbor and San Pedro views for riders on each floor, and tall wheeled attractions that act as fish market beacons. is.

Located approximately one and a half miles north of Bath 93, adjacent to the Catalina Express Shuttle to Santa Catalina Island and the World Cruise Center, if approved by multiple government authorities, with huge passengers on cruise lines such as Carnival, Cunard and Princess Cruises Will be anchored. ship.

The Los Angeles Port Commission reached a non-binding agreement with the fish market this month to occupy a new location. Scheduled conditions such as rent to be paid to the port have not yet been announced.

Preliminary design ideas reflect the spectacular scale that Ungaro and his family want to achieve in a 200,000-square-foot complex, which is nearly four times the size of their current location. It costs more than $ 140 million to build and hire about 500 workers. Ungaro wants to attract 3.5 million visitors a year from the 2 million people who stopped by each year before the pandemic.

Food is cooked at the San Pedro Fish Market

The food is cooked at the San Pedro Fish Market, which is visited by 2 million visitors annually before the pandemic.

(Dania Maxwell / )

McCormack, who was responsible for the design of The Cheesecake Factory before establishing Studio McCormack in Costa Mesa, said:

“It’s really an entertainment facility,” he said of the planned new fish market. “I hope my family can spend the day there, entertain and nourish well.”

The key to entertainment is the wheel attraction, which is expected to stand above the 10th floor, and Bill Butler of Garner Holt Productions, a Redlands company that has worked on attractions at Walt Disney Company theme parks and Knott’s Berry Farm. Says.

The fish market design is in the preparatory stage, but the wheels “will look very good on the highway with many themes, lights and decorations,” Butler said.

As the shape of the restaurant complex becomes apparent, other entertainment elements are planned, according to founder Garnerholt, and Ungaro is working to make the new fish market more than just a dining venue. ..

“When people drive 100 miles, you have to do something else to them,” Ungaro said, like a vehicle or video game.

Unfortunately for the fish market, the road to opening a new restaurant is long and requires approval from port authorities, the city council and the California Coastal Commission. You need a complete environmental impact report on the potential impact of your development.

Ungaro and Amalfitano's family pose for portraiture at San Pedrofish Market

Ungaro and Amalfitano’s family pose for portraiture in a restaurant. The family business began in 1956.

(Dania Maxwell / )

Ungaro wants to launch and operate a new fish market within five years, but it is unlikely that existing restaurants will continue to operate for that long.

As work begins at West Harbor later this year, the fish market will need to give way to improving the coastline with an already partially completed harbor, including the waterfront promenade.

The fish market may operate in a temporary location in an undecided location until the new restaurant is ready, and the director of the port real estate business supporting the relocation of the fish market to Bath 93. Said Mike Galvin. Will remain the landlord.

“It’s amazing to catch them with bigger developments that can allow the brand to grow further, following the exponential growth of the last decade,” Galvin said. “We want to do everything we can to maintain our partnership with the fish market.”

But he added: “That said, there are many steps that need to be resolved. There is a long qualification process to build on the waterfront.”

The planned movement of the fish market is backed by city council member Jove Skyno, who grew up in San Pedro and cooked shrimp and fuzzy at the fish market in high school in the early 1990s.

The success of the fish market founders Ungaro and Amalfitano’s family was a source of local pride, especially for Italian immigrant families like Buscaino, he said. “They put San Pedro on the map.”

The founder definitely has Colorful past. Ungaro’s grandfather McKee Ungaro started his family business in 1956 and sold fish to the locals “to show the income of other things he was doing.”

People dine outside at the San Pedro Fish Market dock

The current location opened in 1982 and expanded in 1990 with the acquisition of neighboring competitor Crusty Crab.

(Dania Maxwell / )

McKee had his son Henry Ungaro and his nephew Tommy Amalfitano in charge at the age of fifteen. The pair succeeded in their own business and moved to the waterfront in 1959. The current location opened in 1982 and expanded in 1990 with the acquisition of neighboring competitor Crusty Crab.

According to Cushman & Wakefield retail consultant Phil Coliccio, it’s rare for a restaurant to survive to third-generation leadership.

“This is a high-risk industry,” he said, with 20% of new entrants unsuccessful in the first year. “It is most unusual to find a prosperous and iconic group that not only survived.”

For most restaurants, it was difficult to survive a pandemic, Coriccio said.

“There was no way to prepare for the asteroid that struck the hospitality industry in March 2020,” he said, with business losses being particularly severe at independent restaurants that were not backed by corporate financial reserves.

Sales at the fish market fell 90% early in the pandemic, and 350 of the restaurant’s 400 employees were fired, Ungaro said. Revenue is now back to about 80% of what it was before.

Colicchio said the pre-COVID sales of about $ 30 million in the fish market were “amazing”, indicating that the owners “have a very profitable business.”

The Fish Market has a satellite restaurant on Long Beach and three small “grills” in Wilmington, Harbor City and Rolling Hills Estate. The Rolling Hills Estates outpost has been temporarily closed, and other branches “because they couldn’t find a hire,” said Ungaro. He hopes to resume at Rolling Hills Estates by September.

Buscaino, who prefers shrimp trays with octopus and sausages, said he wanted the fish market to continue in new locations and port authorities needed to act swiftly to make that happen.

“We have to do this in record time,” said the councilor. “We’re talking about seafood Disneyland, so we have to act urgently.”

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