Twenty-two years of myths, legends, rumors, and pies

Bill Miller of Malibu Kitchen says goodbye after more than two decades

By Benjamin Marcus

Special to Malibu Times

Think of the final scene of Cinema Paradiso, where after many years away, the famous movie director returns to the small Sicilian town that shaped him, and he sees all the characters who were part of that shaping — older faces, happy faces, crazy faces. 

That was kind of the vibe of the final day of Malibu Kitchen, which closed on Dec. 4, exactly 22 years after it opened.

Two decades of familiar, famous, and anonymous faces came by to say adieu and thanks for the meatloaf, the bagels, the tsunamis of Peet’s coffee, and all the food, ’tude, Sinatra and atmosphere that flowed from Malibu Kitchen going back to 2000.

Many, many faces, famous and anonymous, including 90-plus-year-old Jimmy, a World War II veteran who got shrapnel in his knee during the invasion of Normandy. A regular at Lilly’s most of the week, Jimmy had a regular corner at Malibu Kitchen on Sundays, where he would watch the world go by, listen to the Lambos rev, and reflect back on a long, long life.

Jay Leno showed face — as the Hawaiians say — and his face looked pretty good, considering he had been badly burned while working under a steam car in the middle of November.

Leno rolled up in a yellow supercar, and he was joined by Spike Feresten, whose “Spike’s Car Radio” podcast on Apple Radio had turned Malibu Kitchen into a kind of mecca for auto enthusiasts past, present, and futuristic.

Leno, Feresten and Adam Carolla sat at a table inside for the last broadcast of “Spike’s Car Radio” from Malibu Kitchen. 

Malibu Kitchen has generated a lot of myths, legends, rumors, and lies over the years. One of the myths is that the place was founded by a cabal of celebrities who pitched in to establish an island of New York cuisine and atmosphere on the other side of the continent. That rumor is true, although the names of the founders can’t be disclosed.

Originally from New York, Bill Miller had a long career in show business as a road manager for everyone from Frank Sinatra to John Denver to Led Zeppelin to Kiss. Working with Judith Haenel, he brought Zabar’s smoked salmon, H&H Bagels, New York rye and comfort foods like meatloaf, pulled pork, roast turkey, and fried chicken with mashed potatoes and all the fixings to hungry Malibuans.

And for breakfast, oceans of Peet’s coffee, along with cinnamon buns to die for, coffee cake, croissants, cupcakes, cakes, and pies that were especially popular around the holidays.

“We would sell over 200 pies every Thanksgiving,” Miller said. “Would you think more?”

Malibu Kitchen became a nosh away from home for homesick New Yorkers, including the likes of Jerry Seinfeld. The comedian is one of the busier men in show business who always made it a point to motor out to Malibu Kitchen when he was on this side of the country.

Seinfeld regularly visited Malibu Kitchen to get a taste of the Hamptons while soaking up that warm California sun and talking show biz with Spike and Bill and others.

“They would come here for the driving,” Miller said. “Malibu Kitchen was a haven for Seinfeld. Because he could sit here in peace and quiet and watch the herons poop on all the high-end Ferraris.”

Seinfeld couldn’t make the closing day, which was kind of a shame, although Miller said Seinfeld phoned in to say mazel tov and thanks for the bagel. 

Another of the myths, legends, rumors, and lies about Malibu Kitchen is that Miller had inspired the Soup Nazi character in Seinfeld. Not true, although it is true that Feresten had been a co-writer of the “Soup Nazi” episode; however, that fictional character had nothing to do with Miller or Malibu Kitchen.

There was a long line out the door and down to Starbucks on this final Sunday. Some who came to say goodbye, others who read the closing signs and audibly expressed their shock and sadness that Malibu Kitchen would be no more — at least at that location. 

Dr. Jay Grossman is a dental surgeon who regularly rolled up for a nosh en route to his office in the Palisades. 

Grossman expressed remorse: “I am now taking antidepressants as my daily stop to the office, was to see Bill and have a New York bagel cream cheese and lox sandwich.”

Chiropractor Dr. Mitch Carter D.C. lives in West Hills and his wife Randy — also a chiropractor — are two of many outsiders who come to Malibu for the blue skies and ocean breezes, and Malibu Kitchen for the atmosphere. 

“Malibu Kitchen was about the only place I could unplug and just sit for hours in the glorious, interesting, beautiful moment,” Mitch Carter said. “For me and my wife, it had it all — great cars, eccentricity, comedy, love, the dogs, coffee, and the old Malibu vibe. We’ll miss it!”

By Monday, Miller, Haenel, Cathy Goodman, estate expert Katie Ladyko and Benny — the hardest working man in the deli business — were putting up white paper on the windows and beginning to disassemble the interior for a storewide sale of memorabilia on the weekend of Dec. 10 – 11.

As for the future of Malibu Kitchen and the space it held for 22 years, it’s a mystery wrapped in a blintz. Malibu Kitchen survived fires, floods, COVID, road closures, Bill’s broken hip and everything up to locusts and frogs falling from the sky, but couldn’t survive the 21st-century transformation of Malibu from small town to a California version of Cannes — a transformation that has claimed Radio Shack, A&B Lumber, the Regal Malibu Cinemas and now Malibu Kitchen.

There are many myths, legends, rumors, and lies about the future of Malibu Kitchen and the space it no longer occupies. 

“Jay Luchs is sad that we are leaving this location,” Miller said. “but we are going to need a new home and Jay has made it his mission to find a new spot so he can continue to get his 8-inch Jay Luchs Chubby Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie.” 

It is hoped that Malibu Kitchen and crew will find a spot in the Cross Creek Ranch shopping area going up between Whole Foods and Santa Monica College.

As for the space, it is likely the landlord will gut, rewire and reconfigure the interior, add bathrooms that connect to the new sewage system and bring it all into the 21st-century world of computerized, efficient service. But that space will most likely be closed for at least a year.

Regardless, the food and atmosphere will never be the same. 

Jay Leno (left), Adam Carolla, and podcast host Spike Feresten (black cap) conduct the “Spike’s Car Radio” podcast in Malibu Kitchen on Dec. 4, the last day of business for the restaurant at its Malibu Country Mart location. Courtesy Photo

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