The Country Kitchen, a popular burger and breakfast joint on Pacific Coast Highway between Rambla Vista and Rambla Pacifico that’s been a haven among locals for over 40 years, has lost its lease and will likely close before the end of the year.
The shuttering of the Country Kitchen comes in the wake of other longtime Malibu businesses closing their doors for good, including Diesel, A Bookstore in the Civic Center this July.
Unlike that business, according to Country Kitchen’s owner Maurice “Maury” Kilbourne, it wasn’t higher rent or decreased business that did the restaurant in.
“Business has been really good the last couple of years, actually better than it’s been in a long time, after we put the burritos on the menu,” Kilbourne said. Kilbourne, 77, has owned the Country Kitchen since 1972, when he purchased it from the original owner after having owned a flower shop nearby for the previous eight years.
“Everyone told me the restaurant was up for sale,” Kilbourne said, “I thought it was really cheap, so I went after it. I borrowed some money from my parents in Michigan.”
The building had been owned by the same woman until she passed away last year at 103 years old.
“We would have fixed it up, but nobody knew she was going to live to 103,” Kilbourne said.
After the owner’s death, there was talk of local business owners bidding for the building, but it was eventually sold to an unnamed outsider, according to Kilbourne.
From the sound of it, dealing with the building’s new mystery owner has been difficult.
“Originally, they gave me a 60-day notice in the mail, and that was a couple months ago,” Kilbourne said. “I was concerned about it, I tried to call them, and I couldn’t get a hold of them. Finally they said it might be as much as five or six months, but I don’t know what they’re doing exactly.”
“We heard through the grapevine that the people who bought it have other restaurants, like six or so up in San Francisco, and they’re called Barney’s,” Kilbourne said.
The manager of the Barney’s Gourmet Hamburger location in Sherman Oaks mentioned that she has heard rumors of the same thing, and though she could not confirm if and when the location would be opened, “it would be really exciting.”
Her excitement isn’t shared by locals like Shelley Coulson, who has been a regular patron of the Country Kitchen for about 25 years. Coulson, who lives in Topanga, works in an office around the corner from the restaurant.
When asked whether she would continue patronizing a burger chain located in the same location, she did not seem enthusiastic about the idea.
“Absolutely not,” Coulson said, adding, “I’d really like to support our local merchants and the mom and pops, as few as there are.”
Coulson said it’s the experience of going to a family-owned business that you can’t replicate.
“It’s a great loss, he’s … always provided us with great fresh food and always a smile and he’s just such a personable, loving person,” Coulson said. “He tries to remember your name and what you like, and that’s the type of service you don’t get anymore.”
Country Kitchen manager Joel Ruiz seemed to agree that any restaurant in that location would suffer without Kilbourne at the helm.
“They say they’re going to keep the employees, but it’s going to be hard because Maury didn’t treat me like an employee. To him, I was like family,” said Ruiz, who has worked for Kilbourne since 1985.
Ruiz was readying to purchase the restaurant and take over from Kilbourne as he prepared for retirement, but that will no longer be the case.
“Joel has been with me for years, and now everything is upset for him. I feel bad for him because he was anticipating this for a long time,” Kilbourne said, “A long time down the drain for him.”
The Country Kitchen should be open for the next couple of months, with no solid closing date, Kilbourne and Ruiz said.