In some ways, it felt like a typical lunch hour outdoors at the San Pedro Fish Market on Thursday, March 3.
Folks lined up to carry platters heaped high with fresh fish to the familiar outdoor bench-seat tables at the edge of San Pedro’s shipping channel.
But this day was to be forever different.
The family-owned business was leaving its legacy location on San Pedro’s waterfront — where the restaurant has been for more than four decades — because of a new development that’s beginning construction.
Equipment, desks, chairs and other items were being hauled out of the business — the last remaining vestige of the old Ports O’ Call Village — and loaded onto trucks. The owners, meanwhile, huddled with developers and Los Angeles City Councilmember Tim McOsker as they worked to put a final agreement in place that would provide at least a long-term temporary spot some 200 yards north of the current location — and still on the waterfront.
While the details are far from worked out, San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant CEO Michael Ungaro said this week tthat here was a possibility negotiations could lead to a permanent spot for the historic business at West Harbor, the new waterfront development set to open in late 2024.
McOsker, the area’s new Los Angeles representative and a lifelong San Pedro resident, said it’s important to keep the Fish Market, a landmark in the port town, on the waterfront.
“This is a fantastic brand, it’s a fantastic company and these are fantastic workers,” McOsker said of the restaurant as he arrived to meet with owners on Thursday. “I want to make sure we do everything possible to make sure this is around for another six generations.”
Meetings between the restaurant and West Harbor teams were still ongoing late into the afternoon, Ungaro said.
The announcement of a temporary location that would include a new branding — Fish Market Landing — appeared on “We’re Moving — 200 Yards North” signs Thursday at the restaurant.
But hammering out such an agreement is far from easy.
McOsker said he’s heard the hope is for the new temporary site to be open sometime before the Easter break, but noted a transfer of the liquor license and various county and health permits will be needed.
While an agreement is in the hands of the two negotiating parties, the councilmember said, McOsker remains hopeful something can be worked out.
“It’s my hope and my expectation,” McOsker said, “that it will work out well.”
Plans also are being discussed to assist and re-employ the restaurant’s “hundreds” of full- and part-time employees, though some will presumably stay with the operation if it’s able to reopen soon, McOsker said.
As the talks went on behind closed doors, diners Thursday were relaxed and enjoying the sunny, but brisk, day eating outdoors.
Many, though, also expressed sadness.
“It’s a sad day,” said Sarah Osuna, who was there with three generations of her family. They drove in from Norwalk, something the family has typically done a few times a year.
“It’s the atmosphere, being outside by the water,” Osuna said of the market’s appeal.
“I’m going to miss this place,” Jonathan Aguilar said to his 9-year-old son, Alexander, as they walked toward the order line.
They drove in from Adelanto, about two hours away, to make sure they enjoyed the last day the market would be operating at its familiar location.
“My dad started bringing us here,” the elder Aguilar said, “and now I’m doing the same with my kids.”
The draw, he said, is simple: “The food, the view, the good times with family.”
The market originally was to be part of the West Harbor development, but bowed out, with the owners saying they weren’t being offered enough space. Instead, they’d hoped to rebuild at Berth 93, the cruise terminal in San Pedro about a mile north. But plans for that are “on hold,” Ungaro said earlier this week, as the focus is now on trying to set up a temporary spot near the original location.
The restaurant has opened up other locations over the years, including in Long Beach. But none has matched the loud and off-beat atmosphere found at the main market and restaurant on San Pedro’s waterfront. The venue draws thousands of customers on weekends and has a wide following thanks, in part, to a reality broadcast launched in 2016.
Tim Wasmundt, the executive producer of the restaurant’s quirky reality program, Kings of Fish, was also on hand Thursday to document the move-out, acknowledging he was shedding some tears as it all unfolded.
The show airs on YouTube.
“A lot has changed,” Wasmundt said, adding he’s working with what is the fourth generation of the founding family who are now coming into the business.
“When I first came in,” he said, “I was interested in the family who had owned this business for 65 years.”
What he found was a trove of naturals in front of the camera.
The market has been run by the Amalfitano and Ungaro families, who built a seaside business that’s chaotic, festive and filled with the old- and new-world Pedro character — and characters.
Wasmundt said he’s staying on to document whatever happens next.
“They are just the real deal,” Wasmundt said of the family. “They’re good people.”