.High Tide Event Leaves Restaurant Owners Scrambling

Businesses from the county talk about how the high tide event affected their restaurants, and how they're recovering.

Dolphin Restaurant, the business at the end of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, sustained major damage during a yesterday’s high tide event. 

The extent of the damage remains unknown on Friday afternoon as the city examines the underbelly of the wharf. The restaurant’s support was seriously undermined, and the building was leaning to the side, according to owner Mark Gilbert. After more than forty years working out on the wharf, Gilbert is sorry that he might bid farewell to his favorite greasy-spoon.

“It’s probably going to get torn down. I don’t see how they can shove a cap under there and a new piling you know but maybe, we’ll see. I mean it’s not completely gone,” Gilbert said. “But it doesn’t look good from my experience, being out there for 40 something years.”

Repairs would require a new piling to replace the one that is dangling and a cap to support the deck above, according to Gilbert.

The area under the Dolphin was already weakened, Gilbert said. There were several “a-frames,” load-bearing wooden beams attached to pilings to spread the load, in the area that is now leaning. 

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Gilbert’s lease on the restaurant was month to month because of the Wharf Master Plan which calls for the restaurant’s demolition to make-way for a historic pavilion. 

Gilbert took over what was then Malio’s in 1989 from his father, now the Firefish Grill. In 2011, he proposed a restaurant shaped like a whale to replace the Dolphin Restaurant. 

Mark Gilbert and the city are working together on a new restaurant at the site of the old Miramar Fish Grotto with an oyster bar, an exhibition kitchen, and second-floor outdoor seating. 

Meanwhile, at the Rio Del Mar Beach esplanade, Santa Cruz County Public Works crews were out early Friday with two loaders shoveling up giant heaps of tangled driftwood, seaweed and sand. The debris blanketed much of the esplanade and the area was still closed off to traffic as cleanup crews worked.

Sean Venus, owner of Venus Cocktails and Kitchen at the esplanade, was busy with a shovel clearing sand and debris from the front of his popular eatery.

“I’m thankful that not many other places around the county got hit like this,” Venus said. “It was certainly much worse last year. But I’m glad to see the crews out here alongside us cleaning up.

Venus said that the restaurant is booked up for New Year’s Eve. He’s hoping to open back up by Saturday night.

“I hope the cleanup is speedier than last year,” Venus said.

Over in Capitola, Mary Ann Orr, who has owned the popular restaurant, Margaritaville on the Capitola Esplanade, stood by on Thursday morning during the peak of the high tide as waves pummeled the shop fronts where Soquel Creek meets the sea.

“It was worse last year in the floods,” she said. “But this is really bad. This looks like the second worst. We’ll definitely be closed for several days to clean up. The waves crashed through a door at my restaurant. We’re trying to get some lumber in here now to protect what we can.”

Tarmo Hannula made contributions to this article.


  1. I’m very sorry to hear about the precarious and doubtful future of The Dolphin, where my lifemate and I had one of our first dates, enjoying fish and chips and the ocean view. I hate to hear our beloved Dolphin referred to as a greasy-spoon, but I’ll accept that it’s a term of endearment. Shame the wharf couldn’t have been storm-proofed in some way.

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