Crab Cooker is no-frills relic of Newport's past

January 06, 2006|By By Greer Wylder

The Crab Cooker is caught in a charming 1950's time warp, full of nostalgia, kitsch and incredible classic seafood.

The nautical no-frills diner and fish market is a Newport Beach institution. Locals, celebrities and tourists from all over the world pine for the delicious fish served at this candy-apple red corner eatery with its trademark green and white awnings wrapped above its windows.

The restaurant began when owner Bob Roubian (a carpenter in the late '40s) helped remodel the fish market on the corner of 28th Street and Marina (its original location) in Newport Beach. When the market's owner asked Roubian if he'd like to take over the business in 1951, he accepted. Roubian was also a fishing enthusiast and enjoyed working in the seafood business.


In the early 1950s, Roubian worked 12 to 15 hours a day, with not much to show for it.

"Our gross sales were $14 to $18 a day up until the mid-'50s," Roubian added. "There were some very lean years. We were behind on our bills, we owed everyone: the IRS, abalone divers, sword fishermen and utilities."

Luckily for the Crab Cooker's fate, Roubian was also moonlighting as a musician. In the mid-1950s he sold a hit song to Capitol Records, and "The Popcorn Song" saved the Crab Cooker from closing down.

"The good Lord came in and let the song go; he wanted me to stay in business," Roubian said. "It brought in big money [at the time] about $12,000 in 1956."

Roubian traveled and performed with the likes of Abbott and Costello, but he preferred working at the Crab Cooker and returned home.

The restaurant has evolved into a Newport Beach institution, where hungry loyalists can wait for hours for a chance to eat here on weekends, and in the summer. The waits are bearable and worth it to customers, who know that a seafood treat is around the corner.

Its trademark is premier seafood -- yet it never smells fishy. The reason is that they're extremely selective about fish. They catch fish by hook and line only, never with nets, to preserve the reproductive cycles of fish.

"And fish has to be eviscerated while it is flopping on the deck," Roubian said.

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