Enterprise Fish Co. is likely to close after 41 years of serving up seafood to Santa Monicans and Southern California travelers.
Having first opened its doors in Santa Monica in August 1979, Enterprise Fish Co. recently announced the permanent shuttering of its Santa Barbara location, and now the property at 174 Kinney Street is for sale.
The restaurant would like to continue operations if a buyer can be found but they acknowledge reopening is a longshot.
“Right now, if I had to lean on one side more than the other, I’d probably say we’re closer to the permanent side (of closing),” Chief Operating Officer Fred Serra said in an interview Monday when he discussed the restaurant’s past, present and future. “But what makes this location a little different than Santa Barbara is we knew it was going to be permanent out there when COVID happened but in Santa Monica, we never thought it would be permanent until the landlord listed the building.”
Last year, owners Mike Bank and Randy joined Serra and staff to celebrate four decades of success by offering Enterprise Fish Co.’s loyal customer base an opportunity to purchase meals at the same price they could in 1979. Everything was going well, Serra remembers, until March when COVID-19 came to the sunny shores that lie only a short distance away from the restaurant’s front door.
“Back in March, we never saw us being shut down or closed for dine-in operations this long,” Serra said. “We thought it was going to be a two or three-week thing because the thinking back in March at the time was COVID was like a strong flu that everybody thought would pass and then we would open up business as normal.”
As time went on, Serra and restaurant staff learned they would likely not be returning to work anytime soon though. “We were allowed to try to open for to-go and delivery but that’s just not our wheelhouse,” Serra said. “Literally 99.5% of our sales are dine-in. We do fresh fish so if it’s on a hot plate longer than 15 minutes (then) it’s overcooked and it’s no good anymore. So travel times of over an hour for a piece of fish didn’t make sense.”
And with so much misinformation out in the world, Serra said the company also didn’t want to put any employees at risk. After all, some have been with the restaurant for decades.
“We normally have about 200 employees working and I would say a good 25 percent of our employees are have been with us for at least 15 years — some even 40 years — so we’re not dealing with only college kids and we couldn’t put them at risk of something we didn’t know much about,” Serra said, mentioning, that’s not even considering the customers who could also be at risk, But when outdoor dining started to open back up, “We were planning to put up a small menu like a lot of restaurants and, literally, the day before Newsom did the rollback and closed everything back down.”
Even though the restaurant was closed, the owners and Serra felt a responsibility to make sure everybody was safe and taken care of since nearly all of the employees had lost their main source of income.
“A good handful to a dozen employees have families have two or three kids and work two jobs so we did a GoFundMe for those who were hardest hit and I think we raised close to $3,000 and we distributed 100% of it. They were very appreciative,” Serra said, describing how he has also been on the phone daily offering recommendations in an effort to help staff find jobs at other establishments. “That’s probably the hardest part… losing (the staff) because you want them to succeed and have a new job but then you know once they go somewhere, then you’re probably not going to get them back.”
There’s been a lot of good stories to come out of here and it was a great place for relationships and friendships, not just food, Serra added, but everything is out of his hands.
“In a perfect world, an owner-operator would purchase the building and they continue the Fish Co. restaurant because that’s such a great legacy. We were lucky to have such a great following, such a great fan base, and customer base that kept us alive for all these years so I hope we get the chance to continue doing so.” But after 15 years in the food industry, Serra said, “whenever you think something’s going to happen, it could change in the last 30 seconds and then you have to adjust. So that’s why I can’t give a timeline or deadline to everything because, really, anything could happen.”