Restaurateur Profile: Michael Cigliano
Co-Owner: Santa Monica Seafood
1000 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Yelp: 4 stars
Interview Date: Friday, August 6, 2010
Michael Cigliano and his four brothers and sister took over Santa Monica Seafood from their two Uncles, and have continued the business as a family affair. Santa Monica Seafood was started by Jack and Frank Deluca in 1939 on the Santa Monica Pier, and then moved to Colorado Street in Santa Monica until last year, when it launched on Wilshire Blvd. with a full-service retail fish counter and café with table service.
“Our Father and other Uncle were in the fish business together in San Pedro,” says Michael. “So we grew up in this industry, and when our uncles were ready to retire in 1981, our father bought the business for us to run.”
“It wasn’t really my intention to get into the family business – I wanted to be a firefighter or in the military,” says Michael. “But after college I came to work here – I started behind the counter and eventually got into sales.” Ever since, Michael has worked alongside his siblings to grow Santa Monica Seafood into the largest seafood distributor in the Southwest.
“90% of our business is wholesale,” says Michael. “But when we got the opportunity to move to this store we saw the chance to finally give our customers what they wanted – a restaurant.” In fact, Santa Monica Seafood was somewhat forced into opening the restaurant portion of their Wilshire operation because the space had a conditional use permit that the landlord didn’t want to lose. The only way to keep it alive was to open the café, which customers had been begging for.
“We envisioned a little oyster bar with self-service, casual dining,” says Michael. “But we tried that during the mock opening and the flow just didn’t work. We went to full-service – it happened overnight from one mock-up to the next.” Moving from the wholesale and retail counter service into full-service restaurant business wasn’t too much of a leap for the siblings. “We didn’t have any experience running a café, but we have a lot of experience running a business,” says Michael. “Some of our employees had restaurant experience, and we relied on them to help us all.”
In addition to the Santa Monica location, Santa Monica Seafood also operates in Costa Mesa, and they plan to expand that location to include a café with similar features as the one in Santa Monica.
To manage the business, the siblings get together twice per year for shareholder meetings with their Board of Directors and Advisors. In addition to his own two children, who are still too young to work in the business, Michael has six nephews and one niece, two of whom have already begun to make inroads at Santa Monica Seafood – one in purchasing and one in the oyster bar.
“Running a restaurant is like any business,” says Michael. “If you have good employees, a good product and good training, you can succeed.” The numbers in the restaurant are proving that concept – they have increased month over month and customers report being very satisfied. “We keep the menu simple, and keep the quality of our product center-stage,” says Michael. “We work in a little bit of our Italian heritage, but keep things really pure.”
The hardest part of running the restaurant business, says Michael, is the staffing. “The restaurant requires much more staff than the wholesale and retail businesses,” he says. “We have a great team, but we didn’t realize until we got into it just how many people it takes to run a restaurant.”
Michael says the company doesn’t have any immediate plans to expand into additional restaurant locations. “Our core business is food service distribution,” he says. “The stores offer some great branding opportunities, and we love having them in the family, but I don’t see us building any more in the near future.”