It was 1985 when El Pescador Fish Market first opened its doors in La Jolla, though its history reaches back much farther to a slightly different part of town. In (what was then) the small village of Del Mar, July of 1974, an ambitious 19-year old surfer named Jeff Norris bought some refrigeration equipment for less than a thousand dollars. Now, 40 years later, Sean Shannon’s El Pescador in La Jolla is thriving as one of the best places to eat fresh fish in San Diego.
Two Surfers & a Shrimp Cocktail
Norris recruited another surfer buddy, and together they handcrafted a case out of wood and fiberglass and began selling fresh seafood. In response to a growing popular demand, Norris served El Pescador’s first prepared food shortly thereafter: a shrimp cocktail and lemonade for just $1.00! By the end of 1976 he had built a complete seafood deli. Sean Shannon started working there at age 16, when he traded his paper route in for his first real job — El Pescador’s new “clean-up-kid.”
One of his favorite memories of that year was when he and his fellow coworkers spent their summer putting all their tips into a small box. At the end of the summer, they broke open the box and and took off for a week in Baja using the money they’d collectively earned.
Shannon never looked back. Just seven years later, he opened his own shop on Pearl Street in La Jolla. His dream was to build a simple, comfortable, and authentic experience for his customers, to serve “no-frills” seafood with natural flavors and zero additives or sauces. He started off with cold sandwiches; now, the menu is expansive and offers everything from seafood cocktails to salads. In Shannon’s words,
“It’s just food. No-frills. And it’s food that’s good for you, that you can eat all the time and not worry about it being bad or unhealthy. It was gluten-free [naturally] before gluten-free existed!”
Locally-Sourced Fish (Always)
Shannon’s ties to the community extend beyond just his restaurant. He’s known the local commercial fishermen for nearly 30 years, which means he knows exactly where all his fish is coming from. He tries to buy all-local, which gives him a range from the Mexican border all the way up to Oceanside. Whether it be halibut, yellowtail, tuna, rock cod, or even lobsters, you can guarantee it’s going to be fresh.
One of Shannon’s favorite part about running the restaurant is simply talking with his customers. He has numerous regulars, some of whom have been eating there for years and come in daily for lunch. He maintains close friendships with his employees (some have been working there for 20 years), and likes to “run it like he’s one of the guys.”
This kind of perspective was helpful in building the restaurant’s beautiful new space, which opened just two years ago and was truly a labor of love. It took three years to construct, one of which was dedicated purely to its design and aesthetic. Shannon and an architect friend configured the layout, and he picked out the wood for the inside to maintain a simple yet durable look that was built to last.
Still, one of the most incredible things about the restaurant is the people behind it. Shannon is one of those business owners that doesn’t come along very often; he truly values the relationships with each one of his employees. At least once a year, Shannon closes up shop for the day and takes the whole team out to the beach for a surfing session. And every year, he takes the crew for a 3-day climbing trip in the Sierras – something he’s done for over 29 years.
Visit El Pescador at 634 Pearl Street in La Jolla for some fresh seafood any day of the week; they’re open daily 10am-9pm.
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