MONTEREY — After a year vacant on Fisherman’s Wharf, the building that once housed Scales Seafood & Steaks could soon see a new tenant redesign its worn walls.
Last week, Monterey City Council received submissions from two interested parties seeking to occupy the 17,509-square-foot, two-story space at 30 Fisherman’s Wharf. A contest between familiar faces and newcomers, the pitches came from Mark Gilbert Enterprises, Inc. — a legacy of the late, longtime local restaurateur Jim Gilbert — and San Pedro’s Fish Market, a chain of restaurants in southern California. California currently operating in six locations.
The two offered a different view if they were to take on the real estate portion of the wharf.
Discussions between business representatives and city officials began in open session but continued behind closed doors.
It is unclear whether a decision was made behind closed doors at last Tuesday’s regular city council meeting. City of Monterey property manager Janna Aldrete said Thursday that staff “received confidential instructions from council.” Asked about the nature of the management, Aldrete said she could not share details, but assured staff would “report back on what we were asked to do” before the end of the year.
The former tenants of 30 Fisherman’s Wharf, which is owned by the City of Monterey, were brothers Chris and Sabu Shake, who operated Scales Seafood & Steaks from 2014 to 2021. The Shakes sublet the building to the previous owners, the sisters Mary Alice Cerrito Fettis and Gloria Brown, whose lease contract for the property with Monterey ended July 31 last year.
Cerrito Fettis and Brown asked the city to renew the lease, but the City of Monterey, as landlord, chose not to renew. At the same time, the Shake’s lease negotiations with the city failed, and Scales closed.
The building, returned to the city, has stood empty ever since. Meanwhile, the effort to find a new tenant has only just gained momentum.
In early June, the city posted a rental opportunity for the space. The period for submitting lease proposals lasted until the end of July.
The city is now responsible for finalizing an agreement with one of the two potential tenants.
Mark Gilbert Enterprises, Inc. hopes to revamp the building with a show kitchen, full bar, and gift shop. The idea is inspired by an existing restaurant – Firefish Grill – that Mark Gilbert Enterprises owns and operates on the Santa Cruz wharf. In the same neighborhood, the company also operates Woodie’s Cafe and Dolphin Restaurant.
If selected by the Monterey City Council, Mark Gilbert Enterprises promises “delicious, fresh, fast food at an affordable price,” according to Tuesday night’s presentation. The company’s proposed floor plan suggests a more tourist-friendly restaurant for the first floor and a fast-casual version of the same menu upstairs, complete with a full bar.
The varied design aims to attract more customers to the second floor, a goal that Mark Gilbert Enterprises says previous tenants have failed to meet.
Beyond full use of the building, however, last week’s hopeful tenant presentation also touted another selling point: knowledge of the area. Mark Gilbert’s father, Jim Gilbert, was highly revered and widely known in the local restaurant community. For decades, Jim Gilbert operated various watering holes and restaurants on the Monterey Peninsula, including a host of businesses on Fisherman’s Wharf. His streak of hits even included a long stint at the address his son tries to snag today, where Gilbert’s on the Wharf stood in front of Scale Seafood and Steaks.
But community links aren’t the only offer on the table.
The San Pedro Fish Market offers a seafood family menu, fish market and retail store for the wharf property. Founded in 1956, the family business has grown over the past 65 years to include restaurants in San Pedro, Long Beach, Wilmington, Harbor City and Rolling Hills Estates.
Mike Ungaro, director of marketing for the San Pedro Fish Market, explained Tuesday night that a new location in Monterey would “incorporate what has worked in all locations.” It is an experiential business model, where customers will have the opportunity to choose their own seafood platters and then watch their selections being cooked in an open kitchen.
“People love the show,” Ungaro said.
Either way, San Pedro’s or Mark Gilbert Enterprises, a cool place to grab seafood is en route to Old Fisherman’s Wharf.
Once selected, the city intends to lease the building on an absolute triple net basis, with the tenant responsible for monthly rent, insurance, taxes, and interior and exterior repairs to the building. Operating expenses are estimated at 52 cents per square foot per month. Monterey will maintain the substructure and pilings, passing the costs through as part of operating expenses.
Monterey seeks the most qualified operator to redevelop, construct and commission a quality project with a focus on the team that best demonstrates alignment with the city’s vision and goals for Old Fisherman’s Wharf and the Waterfront of sea.
The old Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf attracts approximately 3.9 million visitors a year, with 12 restaurants or catering businesses, six boat rental operations, including whale-watching tours, sea fishing and sailboat services, eight retail stores and over 1,800 parking spaces within a quarter-mile.