San Pedro Fish Market Grille

The owners of the San Pedro Fish Market have imported a bit of their flavor and fare to Rolling Hills Estates in the form of a new fast-casual restaurant, San Pedro Fish Market Grille.

The owners of the San Pedro Fish Market have imported a bit of their flavor and fare to Rolling Hills Estates in the form of a new fast-casual restaurant, San Pedro Fish Market Grille.

The original location, a family-style restaurant on the waterfront at Ports O’ Call shopping center with a view of the Port of Los Angeles, is known for its wide array of cooked-to-order seafood and it’s Instagram-worthy location.

With their grand opening over the weekend, the Peninsula Shopping Center location is the first of three new locations to open. The idea has been in the making for two years and is product of what chief executive Mike Ungaro says is a good problem — increasingly high demands for their food.

The Great Recession spurred the owners to turn to social media marketing to get more customers. It worked better than expected and sales started improving massively and haven’t slowed, Ungaro said.

After selling their packaged products in grocery stores and finding it not as profitable as hoped, the restaurant’s ownership pivoted to e-commerce — shipping and selling platters of their seafood across the US. That turned out to be profitable, but the owners still wanted a way to reach more customers.

Demand is so high it drives up traffic on the weekends and makes parking at the Ports O’ Call location difficult for customers, so the owners went into expansion mode.

“This is our first test,” Ungaro said. “What we speculated on is that with the demand we have … why can’t we bring our products to where the customers live? What we realized is: we’re good at this restaurant thing, so let’s look at a way to build more of these.”

The idea of bringing a restaurant with one city’s name into another city, especially one as isolated as Rolling Hills Estates, did make the owners a little uncertain at first. After all, it wasn’t going to be called “Rolling Hills Fish Market,” Ungaro said.

But, demand has not faltered — the new location was open for several weeks prior to its grand opening for training purposes and it yielded hundreds of orders per day, far exceeding the expected 20 or so orders.

“A lot of people thought we were crazy to take San Pedro and the waterfront and the harbor and put it up in the Rolling Hills-Palos Verdes area,” Ungaro said. “(But) we’ve been averaging 500 meals a day without telling anybody we’re here, so we accidentally hit on something.”

And the owners brought all of the waterfront they could to the new location. Little details in the restaurant’s design — lights made from old rusted chains and pulleys, the sides of shipping containers adorning the walls and even the coordinates of the original San Pedro location painted on the bottom of the lampshades — remind customers of the namesake city.

“The goal of that was to take all the different characteristics that make San Pedro and San Pedro Fish Market unique, and transplant them into these new stores,” Ungaro said.

The next fast-casual Grille location is expected to open in Harbor City’s Storm Plaza by July. The Long Beach location, converted from an old Joe’s Crab Shack in the Alamitos Bay Marina, will open later this year as a full-service restaurant similar to the original location.

The next step, Ungaro said, is to open more California locations and ultimately become a national brand.

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