How many places in the world are there where there is an attorney in a business suit, a surfer with no shoes, and a well-known celebrity standing in the same line? Not too many. But, the Reel Inn in Malibu is one of those unique restaurants that attracts people from all walks of life.
The Reel Inn offers a wide selection of fresh fish and seafood, including entrées, appetizers, salads and seafood platters, all at a reasonable price.
Owner Andy Leonard came up with the idea for a restaurant when he moved to California from the north shore of Boston and couldn’t find the kind of seafood restaurants that are on the East Coast.
“I drove along the coast and really couldn’t find what I was looking for, maybe two or three were kind of similar, but still not completely,” Leonard said. “I knew that this was a great opportunity.”
Leonard’s wife, Teddy, who is the chief operating officer of the restaurant, said the restaurant is the “In-N-Out” of seafood, where everything is delivered fresh every day and the line goes out the door all day long when the weather is good.
“We make sure everything we serve is environmentally correct,” Teddy said. “We get it from Seafood of the Pacific and from different parts of the world depending on where the fish is fresh. We don’t serve leftover fish or from cafeterias.”
It’s hard to miss the clever and unique fish puns regularly posted daily on the sign outside the restaurant. Andy and Teddy have a list in their kitchen with all the ideas for the puns collected from the Malibu community.
“The neighbors, especially a lot of screenwriters, call in and give us ideas,” Teddy said. “And if we use their idea, we buy them dinner.”
“It has sort of turned into a game,” Andy added.
Although the Reel Inn has been serving Malibu since 1986, the building in that location has a long and interesting history dating back to at least 1946.
According to a former bartender named Ralph O’Hara, it was a Mexican restaurant in the 1950s operated by a gay couple. A 6-foot-3, 240-lb. retired wrestler who went by the name “Fat Jack” McGurk by night and “Fat Jack” Borfona by day muscled the couple out, according to O’Hara, and renamed the restaurant The Raft in 1964, hiring O’Hara as a bartender. Fat Jack was later killed at Big Rock. In 1967 the restaurant was sold to Jim McDonald and remained The Raft until it closed in 1977.
The concept of the restaurant in its modern-day incarnation is “family style, large portions, good prices, right on the beach,” Leonard said. The decor is a cross between surf shack and biker hangout, with vintage bicycles, antique decorations, surfboards and much more lining the walls.
“It is a public version of his garage if you ask me,” Teddy said.
Andy and Teddy live in Topanga and have a total of 10 children and three grandchildren between them. Teddy’s niece and son-in-law work at the Reel Inn.
The Reel Inn has been profiled on several well-known television shows, including “The Chew” and “Man vs. Food.” Many celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld, Michelle Pfeiffer and Paris Hilton regularly stop by.
“The good thing is that nobody’s going to bug you,” Leonard said. “We don’t have waiters or waitresses. You place your order and pick it up yourself. So nobody bothers you.”
Teddy attributes their success to their kitchen staff. Most of them have been there for 20 years.
The Reel Inn supports many local charities and nonprofits, including Heal the Bay, Surfrider Foundation and the local Boys and Girls Club.
“I love the support we’ve gotten from the community,” Teddy said. “And we support the community, so it’s a win-win situation.”
“The affordable rent has enabled us to treat people the way we do,” Leonard said. “We are delighted that we can do it and are still there.”
The Reel Inn Malibu is located on 18661 Pacific Coast Highway near the intersection of Topanga Canyon Blvd.
For more information about the Reel Inn, visit reelinnmalibu.com.