New owners of Malibu Inn find fortune with ‘faith and barbecue sauce’

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The Inn, an institution in Malibu for more than 80 years, is brought back to its former glory by couple who went from riches to rags, and back to riches again.

By David Wallace/Special to The Malibu Times

For anyone driving along PCH by the Malibu pier, it’s hard to miss the sparkling, fresh appearance of the venerable, 83-year-old Malibu Inn restaurant. And the golden, sand-and-white color scheme (copied from a 40-year-old photograph) is only the wrapping around a quarter million dollar, floor-to-ceiling renovation of the interior. There is also a new staff including four chefs, an upgraded kitchen and a new menu, completely revamped from the previously eccentric “tacos and sushi” theme to one more traditionally American.

There is a long tradition of such American family fare at the Inn. Built in 1920 down the road from where it is today (it was probably moved sometime in the late ’20s or early ’30s, but that’s only a guess as there are no records), the Inn was originally a general store and soda shop to which patrons would commute on horseback. It would be eight more years before what would become known as the Malibu Movie Colony was developed and quickly became a hideaway for such stars of the time as Clara Bow, Ronald Colman, Harold Lloyd, Gloria Swanson and Cary Cooper. Many of them would stop by often for a chocolate soda and, eventually, a burger. Early surfers (who used to crawl through a hole in a fence at Carbon Beach to reach the ocean) also patronized the Inn, many of whom were taught the sport in 1927 by another patron, the legendary Duke Kahanamouku. A generation ago, Neil Young owned the place for a time and changed the name to the Crazy Horse Saloon. Incidentally, for nostalgia lovers, in the 1950s, the price of a T-bone steak was $1.75.

The changes currently taking place are the result of a vision of Calabasas and Malibu residents Mitchell Stewart and his Israeli-born wife, Nurit, who bought the restaurant and the adjoining 1.1-acre vacant lot (of which one-third is paved, permitting the parking of some 80 cars) a couple months ago.

“We then asked the people of Malibu what they would like the place to be,” says Stewart, CEO of First City Funding, a mortgage banking company. “Everyone who responded to our newspaper ads said they wanted more family-style fare and delivery service,” he says.

They also wanted more music.

Accordingly, in addition to a menu highlighting burgers, ribs and omelets, he and Nurit have responded with a broad spectrum of music including jazz, blues, local bands and rock, and reggae, and R&B, on different nights of the week. Monday night is presently devoted to football, carried on six plasma television screens. Off the main dining room there are also eight Internet gaming systems set up for kids from six to 18.

“The family can eat together, the parents can listen to music and the kids can play Internet games,” Mitchell says.

To the Stewarts, who also own the Malibu Sands Shopping Center (where Johnnie’s Pizza is located), creating a family-oriented place in Malibu follows their philosophy as well as their own needs.

Two years ago the couple bought a home on Broad Beach where they spend weekends with her 14-year-old son, Devin, (Mitchell’s son, Nathan, also 14, lives in Minnesota but spends summers and Christmas in California), and their twins, two-and-a-half-year old daughters Ariella and Analiese.

Malibu has long been home to larger than life people-driven, creative personalities who find refuge from their intense lives in this laid-back community. Mitchell Stewart, who zips around town in a new, dark blue Ferrari 575 Marenello (Nurit drives a blue Bentley Arnage LeMans, one of 58 made), certainly fits the pattern.

For one thing, he’s also larger than most people, as befits a former football linebacker who played for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers where he subsequently earned a master’s degree in economics. He then joined the Chicago Board of Trade.

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Mitchell moved to Illinois where his father, McKinley, earned a Ph.D. in psychology and education from the University of Illinois. Eventually, Mitchell followed his family to Los Angeles after his father was appointed superintendent of schools in Inglewood, and opened his own mortgage banking business. Within a few years he was a millionaire.

Then he lost it all.

“When I met Nurit I was pretty much broke,” he says, “I had made millions and lost it all by the time I was 33.”

With Nurit, a real estate broker, by his side, it took only six years to return to the top. Together they now own some 35 properties, ranging from single-family homes to shopping centers, worth an estimated $40 million to $50 million.

“The difference between a decade ago and now? ” he asks rhetorically.

“Instead of building a base on stocks and greed as I had done before, we built a base on real estate and a commitment of tithing to the Fred Jordan Mission in downtown Los Angeles (which primarily ministers to the homeless). We are now giving of ourselves. I would make the money and Nurit would invest it in real estate instead of stocks. When we make money, the first thing we do is give away 10 percent of it. Then we take the rest and buy property. Now, it seems that the more we give away the more we make. God has truly blessed us.”

In fact, over the past few years, the couple has given several million dollars to the Jordan Mission, helping establish a vocational school, a men’s housing and rehabilitation center, and scholarships.

“We fell in love with Malibu years ago when we would drive over from the Valley and walk our dog, Winnie (a golden retriever), on Broad Beach, and then go and have breakfast at the Malibu Inn. Now we have a house on Broad Beach and we own the Malibu Inn. Being true to my Louisiana roots made all of this possible,” he adds with a smile. “Faith and barbecue sauce.”