The bar at Water Grill
Multi-concept operator King’s Seafood Company has restructured its operations and hired new management to focus growth on the high-end Water Grill concept.
King’s Seafood is known for its five brands, including the 11-unit King’s Fish House casual-dining chain; the premium seafood restaurant Water Grill; two steakhouses under the names 555 East Steakhouse and Lou & Mickey’s; and the one-off concepts Fish Camp and Pier Burger.
Sam King, the company’s chief executive, said the surprising success of the company’s two recently updated Water Grill locations, however, has prompted a decision to grow that brand — a move that has required a shift in structure.
“When you’re so vertical, if you work on one project, the others suffer,” said King. “The goal was to have different teams doing different things.”
Under the restructuring, the company has been split into two groups: King’s Signature Restaurants and King’s Fish House Group. King’s Signature Restaurants now operates the two Water Grill locations, as well as Lou & Mickey’s in San Diego; 555 East Steakhouse in Long Beach, Calif.; and Pier Burger in Santa Monica, Calif.
The Signature division is headed by Mark Augarten, King’s vice president of operations, who comes to the company from Bonefish Grill, where he was regional vice president. Augarten will oversee the opening of two more Water Grill restaurants in addition to the two existing units. One is scheduled to open soon in San Diego’s Gaslamp district in a former location of The Palm steakhouse. Another is planned for Orange County, Calif., though the location is still in negotiations.
The King’s Fish House Group will operate the King’s Fish House chain, which includes locations in California, Nevada and Arizona, along with the fast-casual Fish Camp unit in Huntington Beach, Calif. The group will be headed by Heath Bumgardner, vice president of operations, who is leading an effort to rework the menu for the third time in 20 years.
Overseeing both divisions is R.J. Thomas, who was named president and chief operating officer of King’s Seafood Co. The position is a promotion for Thomas, who previously held the title of chief operating officer.
For King, who remains at the helm, the changes mark a new era for the company, which is positioning itself for a next generation of patrons.
The iconic Water Grill first opened in downtown Los Angeles in the early 1990s, and a number noteworthy seafood chefs have passed through its kitchens, including Michael Cimarusti of the famed Providence restaurant in Los Angeles and David LeFevre of M.B. Post.
About two and a half years ago, the company renovated the original Water Grill to bring it up to date and appeal to a broader — and younger — audience. The menu was reworked, but the restaurant also enhanced its bar program, upgraded the beer selection and gave the décor more contemporary look.
King said the investment has increased sales by 70 percent to 80 percent, and guest feedback has been phenomenal. As a result, the company last year rebranded its former Ocean Avenue Seafood concept, overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica, into a Water Grill.
King said the company saw a different clientele — more families and tourists — but was equally successful.
“So we thought, man, do we have something here we could actually grow?” said King. “We decided to open two more and see what happens.”
Other concepts will also see changes ahead under the new structure. Because King Seafood is also a seafood distribution company, the opportunities efficiencies are inherent.
King noted that it’s a good time for fresh seafood. “I think there’s a voracious appetite right now for the kind of seafood we offer,” he said.
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