We Sat Down With the Owners of The Albright and Rusty’s SM Pier for the Inside Scoop
The Santa Monica Pier draws millions of tourists every year for the sand, ocean and carnival atmosphere. While it isn’t necessarily known as a culinary destination, one local family has been steadily and quietly supplying Santa Monica Pier-goers with great food made with fresh, sustainable seafood.
Husband-wife team Greg Morena and Yunnie Kim have been running The Albright for the past 10 years and recently purchased Rusty’s SM Pier next door, but the family’s ties with the pier go back over four decades.
The Albright was originally Seaview Seafood (later renamed SM Pier Seafood) and was founded by Kim’s parents in 1977 after emigrating from Korea. Kim had been running her own business, the Fred Segal store in Santa Monica, and Morena was working as CFO of The Hundreds. The couple got involved in the family business 15 years ago and eventually took over the restaurant, revamping it as The Albright. “Albright is actually a nautical term,” Morena explains. “It’s a knot that ties two cords together, which for us, symbolizes the joining of two generations of a family business.”
The Albright was renovated to a more elegant look while maintaining the casual fish shack vibe, but one thing remained the same: Live seafood tanks still greet guests when they enter. The tanks were installed by Kim’s father when the family first opened their restaurant. It’s not just about live or fresh seafood—The Albright is committed to using only locally sourced, sustainable seafood. In fact, they’re the first business on the pier to earn the Green Business Certification.
The couple modernized the menu, but the focus is still on the fresh seafood. The live lobsters and crabs from the tanks remain a highlight for guests. There are lobster rolls and crab boils but also shrimp rolls and other more affordable options to make sure people on different budgets can still enjoy their experience there. California wines and craft beers are also now featured on the menu and pair perfectly with the selection of wild-caught seafood.
One dish that’s remained on the menu since the beginning is a nod to the Kim family’s Korean legacy: the spicy seafood soup. This soup is a Korean stew full of mussels, fish, calamari and shrimp, served with a side of rice.
Morena pays homage to The Albright’s continued success to his family. “Mr. and Mrs. Kim helped create the magic formula,” Morena says, “and we were lucky enough to share it with the world.” The Kims had forged decades-long relationships with different vendors for local seafood and produce—many of which are minority-owned small businesses.
A long-standing relationship is also how the couple ended up taking over Rusty’s next door. Being neighbors, the family has known the owner of the restaurant for a while. When the owner was ready to retire, he approached Morena and Kim, who then took over the restaurant in 2019. The couple now runs both The Albright and Rusty’s under the EST 1977 Restaurant Group umbrella. They’ve slowly implemented the same kind of culture and focus on sustainability that they have at The Albright over at Rusty’s.
If The Albright is inspired by a Montauk fish shack, Rusty’s is more of a bar and grill with burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, salads and pasta, but the focus on fresh seafood remains. Rusty’s currently offers a fresh catch of the day based on what they can get from the local fishermen or their sustainable seafood vendors. The market catch entree is one that the kitchen can play around with, serving halibut with mango salsa, rice and vegetables on one day or a roasted salmon with potatoes and salad on another.
In the back of Rusty’s is a small room that looks distinctly different from the rest of the restaurant, with leather couches and arcade games. These pieces came from the speakeasy bar at Pappy’s Seafood in San Pedro, which Morena had opened in 2017 but closed during the pandemic. The plan is to eventually rebrand Rusty’s as Pappy’s: There’s a story that ties them together, and it has to do with Popeye the Sailor Man.
Pappy’s originally got its name partially because it opened in the old Papadakis Taverna space and also because of the cartoon character Poopdeck Pappy, who is Popeye’s father. Elzie Segar, the cartoonist who created Popeye, was living in Santa Monica at the time; there’s compelling evidence that the character was inspired by a sailor who rented boats at the Santa Monica Pier and whose family still lives in San Pedro. Morena thinks it’s more than fitting to have Pappy’s on the pier.
Both Kim and Morena grew up in Santa Monica as next-door neighbors, so they have deep ties to the area and want to attract more locals, starting with karaoke and DJ nights at Rusty’s. “The Santa Monica Pier is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the world,” says Morena. “We’re happy to play a supporting role and [make] guests’ experience the best it can be.”
258 Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Rusty’s SM Pier
256 Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica, CA 90401