Operator vows changes at Malibu Pier

File photo, Jun 2013

The concessionaire of the Malibu Pier vowed this week to have three new businesses—a cafe, a bar and a sit-down restaurant— up and running by this summer in an effort to revitalize the historic but long-vacant landmark. 

Since the Beachcomber Cafe shuttered at the end of 2011, the souvenir shop Malibu Beach Supply Co. has been the pier’s only business. A Ruby’s shake shack at the end of the pier closed in the middle of 2011. 

Those vacancies should be filled soon, according to pier concessionaire and Malibu Pier Partners LLC manager Alexander Leff, who said he wants to make the pier a local dining and entertainment hotspot, not just a tourist destination. 

“We’re working hard to create something that’s appropriate for the Malibu community,” the San Francisco-based lawyer and concessionaire said. 

Leff said he took on a different tack after Ruby’s closed, deciding to focus on local needs and find non-chain vendors to serve the town. 

“The Ruby’s turned out to be a mistake,” Leff said. “Although Ruby’s had been successful at the end of piers in Southern California for many, many years, for decades even, it turned out that it just wasn’t right for Malibu … so we’re certainly not repeating that.” 

Leff declined to estimate an exact opening date or month for the new eateries and bar, only promising “sometime this summer.” 

“The summer could mean June, July and August, but there’s always construction issues that come up so I wouldn’t want to label a date like that,” Leff said. “But we will be open this summer.” 

He also declined to comment on rumors that the accomplished restaurant management company Moana had backed out of a deal to manage each of the new venues. Moana manages restaurants in San Diego, La Jolla, San Francisco, Denver and Seattle. 

“We have a relationship with Moana but we are talking to other potential management groups,” Leff said. 

As for the name of each new venue, Leff is going to work with what is already in existence. 

“We have a world-famous name, an iconic name, a name that’s loved by those who know it,” Leff said. “We’re going to end up having ‘The Restaurant at the Malibu Pier,’ ‘The Bar at the Malibu Pier’ and ‘The Cafe at the Malibu Pier.’” 

Jefferson Wagner, Leff ’s estranged business partner who helped win over concessionaire rights from the state in 2003, remained doubtful about having anything open on the pier this summer, citing seemingly slow construction. But Wagner, who has not spoken to Leff in several months and has not been involved in recent negotiations, admitted to being left in the dark about any new tenants coming in. 

“The kind of work they need to do to get a restaurant open that quickly, it takes a lot,” Wagner said. “And right now I just don’t see it.” 

At the end of the pier, where a two-story facility was once home to the Shake Shack, Leff said there are plans to open a “casual” cafe serving “Malibu’s best fish tacos” and food from winners of Malibu’s Annual Chili Cook-off. He declined to name specific vendors or management groups coming in. No renovations have taken place in that space yet. 

“It shouldn’t require as much work as the other two spaces,” Leff said. 

On the side of the pier closest to Pacific Coast Highway, heavy renovations are currently underway. Plans for that site include an indoor and outdoor bar in the building closest to the parking lot, and a sit-down seafood restaurant in the space closest to Surfrider Beach. The bar and restaurant will each be serviced out of a kitchen in the space closest to Surfrider. 

Broken, missing pilings to be replaced next fall 

In addition to three new businesses, the California State Parks Department is also set to do its part in bringing the pier back to life by replacing 19 damaged or missing pilings below the national and state historical landmark, according to Angeles District Superintendent Craig Sap. 

State Parks is responsible for everything “from the deck down to the water,” Sap said. 

The piling replacement and fixes are estimated to cost $400,000. The replacement process should begin in October, according to Sap.