By Lynn O'Neill
The vibrant and relaxed beach town soul of Ventura, CA is visible throughout the city’s space. From downtown to the east end you will find art, surf culture and history are thriving. And many locals and visitors will agree that an exemplary instance of this appeal is found comfortably tucked in Pierpont’s beach neighborhood at Duke’s Griddle ‘N Grill.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Duke’s hard-to-miss barn red exterior catches the eye with its large, side view sign that boost its name and its playful tag “Beach Food, Island Attitude” is an open invitation to guests and their families looking for a flip-flop friendly break from the sun and sand. Beach goers need not trek far their beach chair to get their “Whole Ball of Wax” (Duke’s bacon, avocado signature burger). Located just steps away from the main beach entrance on Seaward Avenue, makes this spot a culinary delight of convenience.
While outdoor seating is available on both the front and back patio, the real Duke’s experience comes from within. From the entrance, to the bar, to the extended dining room, the restaurant’s décor is a love note to summertime beach fun.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE OLD
In 2013, Duke’s was scheduled to temporarily close for a few months while it underwent a few renovations. But alas, as anyone who has ever undergone a remodel can attest, unforeseen setbacks quickly came to fruition that would ultimately extend the construction timeline. “The remodel was initially based on the need to upgrade the original walk-in refrigerator and that’s it!” recalls new owner, Theresa Johansing. “Fortunately, our landlords worked with us and we just went all in with the remodel.”
All-in indeed. In January 2015, after nearly 15 months of intense renovations, Duke’s reopened its doors to an excited public eager to see the new digs. A few highlights from the remodel include the ordering station’s new copper counter, the previous graphic intensive menu board is now replaced with trendy blue and green chalk boards, and a decorative new “Duke’s” mermaid sign placed on the front dining room wall. The most exciting addition to come out of the remodel is the full-service bar installed in the extended dining area. “Duke’s is famous for being a weekend family spot, but the bar is great for bringing in a steady group of locals throughout the year,” comments Johansing. “I recommend trying the house made Bloody Mary. Customers rave it’s the best around.”
In efforts to stay true the original theme put in place by founder Mike Blue in 1991, many of the surf décor that was previously used has returned to the restaurant. Back on the walls and ceilings are colorful surf boards, including authentic boards from 1950’s surf icon Greg Knoll, and 100% vintage balsa wood boards. The freshly painted murals that are now in the place of the former ones, are an ode to the previous artwork, and of course, the antique diving suit known as “Diver Dan” has returned to the front dining room to greet customers.
THE DUKE’S OHANA
“Diver Dan” isn’t the only familiar face. Despite the added time tacked on to the closer of the building, many of the Duke’s loyal staff and customer regulars have returned. “We love this community and the joy we get to bring to our customers,” said Johansing. “My favorite thing about Duke’s is the family we’ve created here with both the employees and the customers. I am pleased to say that after our return back to business over a year ago, nearly all of our former staff and customers are still with us today. That, to me, is the most encouraging part about Duke’s.”
The mix of the old that came with the remodel left Johansing to think about what to do with the menu. While there are a few changes, overall the menu remained the same. “90% of the menu is still original,” said Johansing. “The Kona chili bowl, the Whole Ball of Wax and the fish tacos are just a few of the favorites that have remained on the menu.” Instead of a menu overhaul, Johansing chose to simply upgrade a few of the staple ingredients used to create their selections. “Everything here starts and ends with our burgers, fries and onion rings, which means quality must be topnotch.” She continues, “We are now using a new gourmet fry seasoned with sea salt, 100% fresh ½ lb. ground beef patties, and we work closely with Jordano’s to get fresh proteins and seafood from local vendors as often as possible”.
PARTNERING WITH JORDANO’S
The successful partnership between Duke’s and Jordano’s can be greatly accredited to Jordano’s Account Executive, Ryan Connell. Ryan works diligently to ensure that Johansing and her staff are fully stocked with quality provisions and fresh protein selections of fish, chicken, tri-tip, and pastrami. “I can’t say enough about Ryan,” beams Johansing. “He’s always available and reliable and has a wonderful personality. Since opening and partnering exclusively with Ryan and Jordano’s, he’s never let me down. Not once. I completely count on him and trust him emphatically”.
The Jordano’s/Duke’s partnership strength comes from a mutually strong foundation focused on the commitment to their customers, staff and community. “Jordano’s fits within our vision of family,” said Johansing. “As a partner in sourcing, and in their support they gave us as we grew to another level after the remodel,” she continues, “they (Jordano’s) go above and beyond for us with donations to special events or by providing trailers for the weekend long annual Ventura Surf Rodeo Festival held here at Seaward Avenue.
THE ENDLESS SUMMER
Surf Rodeo aside, Duke’s likes to keep the good times going with local band “Rinkon Tiki”. The Duke’s quasi-house band, composed mostly of local attorneys, play their sweet island jams on the 2nd Saturday of each month between 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Johansing remarks “Our customers LOVE listening to the music on a warm afternoon, while enjoying some food and drinks out on the patio. Come on, that’s just great summer living year round!”