Duke’s Malibu holds a celebration to mark its 10th anniversary.
By Darian Lane / Special to The Malibu Times
Duke’s Malibu celebrated its 10th year in the city with a big party on Friday.
Before guests entered the restaurant, they were bombarded with tropical island music from the Blue Hawaiians. Two beautiful women from Island Inspirations dressed in Hawaiian garb greeted them with purple and white leis they place around their necks.
“Aloha,” the women said, and the guests were whisked off into the pleasant, yet distant, sounds of Hawaii.
Fresh Strawberries, cantaloupes, grapes, chocolates, shrimp, barbecue chicken, sushi, tuna and a plethora of drinks were available to satisfy everyone’s appetite. And many of those in attendance spoke fondly of the decade-old restaurant.
“We come mostly for the atmosphere,” said Jack Foley, who frequents the restaurant with his wife, Jill. “We live across the street. And it’s reasonably priced at the Barefoot Bar.”
Bo Bright, a member of the local band Facehumper said, “Duke’s has been here since I graduated high school. So it’s synonymous with my coming of age.”
Duke’s opened in 1996 at its location on Pacific Coast Highway across the street from the Las Flores Canyon Road intersection. Named for famed surfer Duke Kahanamoku, it is owned by TS Restaurants, which owns several other Duke’s in California and Hawaii and other surf-themed restaurants.
TS Restaurants chief executive officer Bill Parsons said the Malibu location was selected as a tribute to Kahanamoku.
“We tried to pick locations that honored Duke,” Parsons said. “When Duke was doing movies out in Hollywood, he spent a lot of time surfing in Malibu.”
Kahanamoku, considered “The Father of Surfing,” is regarded by many to be one of the greatest in the sport of all time.
“Duke faded out in Hawaii when the missionaries were there, because they didn’t approve of people with [barely any] clothes surfing,” said Cal Porter, a local 82-year-old surfer, tennis and volleyball player and world champion body surfer. “He brought it [surfing] back in the early 1900s. He started surfing in Waikiki and then he traveled all over the world introducing surfing to Australia, America, everywhere. And that’s what started the whole surfing craze.”
Also attending the festivities was Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, whose life inspired her father to create the fictional “Gidget” that became a legendary character in books, film and television. Zuckerman works at Duke’s as a greeter, known as the “Ambassador of Aloha.”
“I greet the people,” Zuckerman said. “I take them to their tables. I show them my picture on the wall. I try to sell them a ‘Gidget’ book, the book my Dad wrote. Back in the day people never went out to eat, now I come here as much as I can, even when I’m not working.”
When Duke’s first opened, its menu was pure Hawaiian. But general manager Josh Morgan said that quickly changed.
“[Duke’s] had a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch for food; macaroni salad and white rice,” Morgan said. “The Mainlanders didn’t catch on to that entrée, so we switched to traditional crisp cut fries, homemade potato chips and adapted our cuisine to California. And it worked amazingly.”
Morgan began working at the restaurant when it opened, and moved his way up through the ranks. Beginning as a busboy, he soon graduated to a lunch server, then a greeter and later a salad boy, valet, bar buss, bartender, bar manager and eventually his current position. At Duke’s, Morgan met a waitress named Sarah, who—m he eventually married.
“I use to work at Duke’s,” Sarah Morgan said. “I met lots of friends and ate lots of fish.”
A non-scientific survey determined the fish taco is the most popular item at the restaurant, with nine out of 10 party guests calling it their favorite.