Paradise Cove's Family Legacy
By Caroline Laganas | Photography by Julie Wuellner
The Morris family loves to say, “What comes around goes around.” Considering their history in Malibu and Paradise Cove, this saying could practically be a family motto. In the 1950s Bob Morris’ father, Papa Joe, bought 70 acres of land on Paradise Cove, when Malibu was still a sleepy beach community, just on the brink of stardom thanks to shows like Sea Hunt and Malibu Run, both of which were shot at the cove.
“We’ve been around the beach forever,” said Morris, a third generation Californian.
Customers can feel the same sense of nostalgia when they step inside the seaside café. Grainy black and white photo graphs of Malibu and the family adorn every inch of the walls. Prints of the Malibu Pier construction hang next to portraits of Papa Joe on a motorcycle. Morris has always felt passionate about collecting old photographs, doing so in most of the restaurants he has owned. Still, Paradise Cove is special. This place is more than a restaurant – it is a sandy time capsule for the Morris’ and Malibu community.
“If you want to understand what Malibu’s all about, come to us,” said Morris. “The difference between us and another restaurant is people come [here] for the whole environment. We think we’re a niche in the community.”
Bob and his brother Bryant grew up on the cove when it was still primarily a fishing destination, with hundreds of fishermen a day sitting on the pier or launching boats. Eventually Papa Joe sold the land, and Bob went on to build a formidable career in the restaurant industry, opening hotspots such as Gladstone’s Malibu, The Jetty, RJ’s the Rib Joint, the Malibu Sea Lion and Gladstone’s Universal, among others. When Bob and Kerry’s son Timothy was born in 1996, however, he decided it was high time to return to his coastal roots, and bought back the Paradise Cove land from the Kissel family, to whom his father had sold. In the beach café, Bob says he has infused everything he has learned during his long career in the service industry.
“We’ve had lots of restaurants, one restaurant, no restaurants,” said Kerry Morris. “We once owned six restaurants and our Friday night thing would be to go around to all of them.”
Each of the family-owned establishments aim to be destination spots for locals and tourists, said Bob. “We’re trying to be the best we can be by ourselves,” he said. “Everything we know now, we’re trying to put all of those experiences together and have it as a California beach restaurant.”
With 88 menu items at the café alone, Bob said he wanted to provide customers with quantity and quality. “Originally when I started, I wanted to serve four types of fish and have four types of booze in the back bar and that was it,” he said. “It built up to 88 now.” Many of the family style servings come from the Morris’ other restaurants. All of the barbeque dishes on the menu originated from RJ’s the Rib Joint, which Morris owned for 15 years.
“There’s always a story behind everything we do,” he said. Other recipes are adaptations dishes the Morris’ enjoyed at other favorite eateries.
“We improve and improvise,” said Kerry.
Paradise Cove’s top-selling clam chowder is a rendition of a chowder Bob ate at the famed, now-shuttered, Jimmy’s Harborside in Boston. “It was the best clam chowder I ever had,” said Bob. “I went back into the kitchen and gave the guy 100 bucks and I said, ‘I want that recipe.’” Bob returned home with the recipe but when he tried to duplicate it for the restaurant, it just wasn’t the same. “I got on a plane the next week and went back again,” said Bob. “It turns out, I ordered what I thought was clam chowder but it was fish chowder. We’ve been making it that way now for 40 years and we sell thousands of gallons of it a year.”
Traveling on a plane for a recipe isn’t out of the ordinary for the Morris’. A family trip to the Spanish/French border inspired the popular paella on his menu, made with traditional saffron rice and heaping with jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels and sausage. “Every restaurant that you walk by over there serves this big pan of paella,” said Bob. “I thought, ‘Damn, we’ve got to do that!’ So, we came home, put it on the menu and it went over crazy.”
The Morris’ even offered others to travel by plane to obtain a recipe for the restaurant to serve. “We ate this grilled fish in a market in Barcelona,” said Bob. “We returned a few years later and the chef was still there. I said to him, ‘Tell you what, I’m going to fly you to California so you can show the guys how to make this.” The chef ended up being unable to make the trip to California, but that didn’t stop the Morris’. Instead, the family sent the vice president of the company to Barcelona to learn how to make the dish.
“The statute of limitations doesn’t really exist for us,” said Kerry. “You have to get out of your environment to see what others are doing so you can figure out how to do it better or different in order to make the experience better.”
Experience is paramour at Paradise Cove Beach Café. On any given afternoon, waiters snake through the wood-paneled dining room balancing colossal martini glasses overflowing with golden fried calamari or fresh shrimp cocktails heaping with red sauce. “Who’s going to do that at home?” said Kerry. “You want to get something that you can’t do yourself. That’s the treat of going out.” The waiters carry the glass like the Statue of Liberty’s torch while customers turn their heads.
“People are much too serious about food,” said Bob. “It’s supposed to be fun and what we’re trying do is keep it light. We want everyone to kick back and have a good time.” Items such as the Mile High Chocolate Cake, which weighs in at a whopping xix pounds, have the same head-turning allure and impact as the calamari. “When the cake goes through the room people can’t help but look at it,” said Kerry.
The restaurant’s-family roots continue to this day. Bob’s son, Timothy, began as a trainee, worked on the line and in the kitchen, and is now in charge of the bar program. In fact, he started managing the bar before he was even legally allowed to drink. “I’ve been everywhere,” he said.
“Coming in as the owner’s son, I don’t just get respect. I have to earn it,” said Timothy.
“Working in the dish room, working on the line, it shows that I’m serious and I respect what they do, and in turn, they respect what I do.”
Many of the staff members have worked for the family for upwards of 30 years. “We try to get rid of them but they don’t want to leave,” joked Bob. “We’re happy to have them. It’s a reason why Kerry and I can live the way we live because they’re such a super group.”
All of the workers are like an extended family, said Timothy. “It sounds corny and cheesy but you know, we are a family,” he said “Especially when you work 50, 60 hours a week, in the summer, every holiday. Sometimes I’ll say to the servers, ‘We might not be the family you guys want to be with right now but we’re the family you have to be with so you might as well make the most of it.’”
When they’re not tirelessly working in the restaurant, the Morris’ try to visit their home in France as much as possible, enjoying time off and scouting future recipes for a couple of months a year. “We do a lot of around-the-world traveling,” said Bob. “We learn a lot in Europe that ends up on the tables here.” Whether it’s acquiring new recipes or being inspired to try their own, the Morris’ always return to Malibu ready to get back to work.
“I’m not going to retire, nor is Kerry,” said Bob. “We’ll always keep our fingers in it.”
Customers of the café can appreciate the family-feel when they see the photo of Morris’ parents standing on the patch of land where the restaurant now resides. The photo serves as a reminder of what comes around goes around.
“We hope Paradise Cove is a part of the family for others too,” said Kerry. MM