All photos by Ed Solt
A Dewey Weber “Performer Model,” a Greg Noll “Da Cat Model,” a Rick “UFO,” a Bing “David Nuuhiwa Model,” and a Hap Jacobs Balsa as well as other local surf memorabilia adjoin the ceilings and the walls of the Riviera Mexican Grill in the Riviera Village of Redondo Beach. When many restaurants go for a “surfing theme” or are advised by their corporate consultants to go “beachy,” the Riviera Mexican Grill, or “the Riv,” just is. Nineteen years ago this October, owner Danny Williams simply made his restaurant a reflection of his South Bay surfing upbringing and lifestyle.
“One day I took my wife ML to lunch at this Mexican restaurant that was on the verge of bankruptcy, with a menu that wasn’t really Mexican, and a tattered up booth,” he said in a recent interview. “I asked her, ‘What do you think?’ I think I am going to buy it.’”
Williams, who was in commercial real estate for 20 years prior, confessed that he really didn’t know what he was getting into. He invited his buddy, architect Ben Burkahlter, to advise him.
“I said to Ben , ‘You know what? Let’s do what we want,’” Williams recalled. “‘Let’s make a surf joint.’”
Williams, a lifelong surfer, went back and forth during the interview, answering questions and “talking surf story,” especially about growing up in the 1960s.
“I was from San Pedro surfing one-to-two foot Cabrillo slop almost every day and before having a license, catching a ride to surf Torrance Beach was like going to the North Shore,” he said. “Seeing the Irons brothers [pro surfers Andy and Bruce’s uncles and father] out in the water, I was in awe.”
Right next to the beautiful Hap Jacobs Balsa Surfboard is a framed copy signed of Alex Gray’s first cover of Surfing Magazine; under it is a framed memorial to Alex’s brother, Chris, who passed away a decade or so ago. Nearby is a Catalina Surfers Clothing ad from the 60s featuring South Bay surfers John “JJ” Joseph, John Teague, and Bob Moore.
“JJ comes in whenever he’s in town and likes to sit by his ad,” Williams said (later during the interview, Williams called JJ for a friendly barb and asked when he was coming back to town, beer on him). ”Hap Jacobs likes to come in on Tuesdays at four and jokingly gives me guff about any posters taped to his balsa board by the hostess stand.”
Williams also was a coach for the Peninsula Surf Team with another local legend, Chris Bredesen Sr. If you were in the South Bay Surf League in 1990s and early 2000s, you remember coming to Riviera Mexican Grill for all league events. Many of the league’s achievements are on the walls.
“I’m very fortunate to have the local community involved,” Williams said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be what we are.”
As an active participant in the local surf community, Riviera Mexican Grill supports local paddle competitions like the R-10 race as well as local surf teams and the St.Baldricks foundation.
You’ll see familiar faces at Riviera Mexican Grill. In addition to employing local surfers — many who you see out in front in the water just down the street — much of the staff has made the restaurant home.