Wind & Sea Restaurants Inc.

Pacific Rim fusion flavors in award-winning sister restaurants
Written by: 
Molly Shaw

It’s no secret in the restaurant industry that the degree of first-time failure tends to be higher than success. Few restaurants can say they’ve been in business for 42 years, but that’s how long Robert Mardian’s collection of California and Hawaii-based restaurants – Wind & Sea Restaurants Inc. – have been running strong and steady.

Mardian, founder of Wind & Sea, as well as sister restaurants, Harpoon Henry’s, The Kona Inn and The Kona Canoe Club, was just 24 years old when he started it all. “I founded my company like Betty Crocker makes cake; from scratch,” says Mardian. “At 24, I went out and raised money from private investors and started the first restaurant operation, Wind & Sea, in 1972.”

It is evident Mardian is proud of how far the companies have come. “One thing that sets us apart is that we operate four longstanding restaurants,” says Mardian. “Three of our four restaurants opened in the 1970s and are still thriving today – you just don’t see that in the restaurant industry. Kona Inn is the youngest of the original three and it’s been in business for more than 35 years.”

Side-by-side reinforcement

When he started out, Mardian’s original plan was to open multiple Wind & Sea restaurants, but as he opened the first one in California’s beautiful Dana Point Harbor, things changed. “The builder of a neighboring restaurant went bankrupt and he couldn’t complete the project,” he tells. “The landlord of the bankrupt restaurateur asked me if I wanted to take the half-built restaurant over, but I told him I was out of money. He offered to finance it and I immediately became a two restaurant company.”

With two adjacent buildings, it was clear Mardian couldn’t name the new restaurant Wind & Sea, instead, the name Harpoon Henry’s came in to existence. Situated directly on the Dana Point waterfront, both restaurants could not have better locations. “We offer our guests a spectacular waterfront views, both from our dining room and our harbor side outdoor patios,” shares Mardian.

Providing the best in ambiance, fresh seafood cuisine and service, the first two sister restaurants were so successful that Mardian was able to take his next big leap: Hawaii. “I decided to purchase The Kona Inn, a historic waterfront building originally built in 1928 on the Kailua-Kona coast,” recounts Mardian. “It started as one of the first hotels on the Big Island but as larger multistory hotels started sprouting up, it just wasn’t competitive as a hotel so the developer turned it into a retail-restaurant space.”

Today, The Kona Inn Restaurant and The Kona Canoe Club are Mardian’s Hawaii-based sister restaurants. “This is another thing that sets us apart,” he adds. “Being side-by-side makes it a lot easier to operate both restaurants, in terms of supplies, employees, management and accommodations. If one restaurant runs out of something, we’re not scrambling, we can borrow from the next and vice versa. It also makes accommodating large groups and reservations easier through the holidays.”

Mardian says the goal is to have shared resources, but not competing restaurants. “When you build side-by-side, you go to great lengths to make the restaurants different –that’s why the menus do not match, they’re completely unalike,” he explains. “Even though wine, ice, basic food stuffs, management and personnel can be interchanged behind the scenes, at the end of the day we want two restaurants that complement each other, but don’t compete with each other.”

The fresh-catch of the day

Another thing the complimentary restaurants in the Wind & Sea family have in common is access to the freshest seafood. At Wind & Sea there are up to 10 fresh-catch selections offered daily, from the house favorite macadamia nut-crusted Mahi-Mahi and going on to other perennial favorites, such as Ahi sashimi, beer battered fish and chips, teriyaki shrimp and seafood pasta complete with bay scallops, green-lip mussels, calamari and shrimp, which are just a few of the restaurant’s specialties.

This bodes well with what the National Restaurant Association cites as one of the top culinary trends of 2014; locally-sourced meat and seafood. “We’re constantly changing our menus to reflect seasonal offerings prepared by our fine executive chefs,” adds Mardian.

It’s no surprise the restaurants have earned numerous accolades, including Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence and Open Table’s Dinner’s Choice award. Receiving these honors has been especially important through the recession, where people hold tight to their wallets and tend to dine out less. “The economic climate is certainly improving, there’s light at the end of the tunnel and we’ve managed to remain profitable through it all,” adds Mardian.

The economic outlook is especially promising for the restaurant industry. According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual forecast, the restaurant industry is work an estimated $683.4 billion in 2014; up 3.6 percent from 2013 and the fifth consecutive year of restaurant sales growth. The outlook is certainly promising for new restaurants and the Wind & Sea Restaurants Inc. will sustain success, running for a steady 42 years and counting.