Crab Cooker, a Newport Beach institution, must be torn down after construction damage from luxury development

Posted by David Feldberg on Tuesday, December 5th, 2017 at 6:27am.

Crab Cooker
The 1930s cherry-red building housing Newport Beach institution The Crab Cooker is slated for demolition, which could leave the restaurant temporarily closed for at least a year.

The seafood restaurant, a fixture in the Newport Peninsula for more than 67 years, suffered slab and foundation damage during the construction of The Vue. The luxury development on Newport Boulevard features 27 bayfront townhomes starting at $2.35 million.

During construction of The Vue “the whole building kinda sunk on one end,” Crab Cooker owner Jim Wasko said.

The restaurant has been deemed safe to occupy by structural engineers. It’s been operating for months with the damage, while Wasko and the city figure out how to best repair the building.

“We tried to lift the building and get it leveled, but that failed,” he said.

The building couldn’t withstand the pressure. Repairing it would have cost more than rebuilding the structure, so Wasko eventually moved to Plan B: Start over.

He’s working with the city to get permits to raze and rebuild with an eye to keeping as much of the building’s nostalgic look.

“It’s a landmark in Orange County and they (the city) recognize that,” said Wasko, who also owns the Crab Cooker in Tustin.

Wasko said he doesn’t anticipate closing the restaurant until next year, possibly by spring 2018. He said construction, paid for by his insurance, would take about a year.

The new building will be built on the same footprint; however, Wasko is adding a second story for storage and offices. He’s also adding a patio and ADA compliant ramps. The dining capacity will be about the same as the current restaurant with 140 seats.

Wasko’s father-in-law Bob Roubian founded the first Crab Cooker more than 68 years ago down the street. The original restaurant was called Seafood Varieties.

“In those days, everyone fried fish,” Wasko said.

But Roubian, a carpenter who loved fishing, grilled his own seafood. At the restaurant, he grilled seafood over mesquite charcoal.

A year and a half later, Roubian moved the restaurant to its current location in the old Bank of Italy space. By that time, he had earned a reputation as the owner who “cooks crab” outside in a boiling pot.

When he relocated the restaurant, he changed the name to Crab Cooker.

“The diners named it,” Wasko said.

It’s been a family-run business ever since. Wasko opened the second location in Tustin near Zov’s Bistro in 1992.

Nancy Luna, Orange County Register

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