Ryan Koehler’s background varies in the restaurant industry and geographically. He was born into a military family in Maryland and moved around a lot, living not only across the country in states including Alaska, Hawaii and Colorado but also overseas in Korea. He eventually moved to Santa Cruz to live close to family and six years ago became the general manager of Riva on the Santa Cruz Wharf. And he has over 25 years of experience in restaurants, having worked his way up the ladder from serving to bartending to management in small mom-and-pop joints, fine dining, hotels and everything in between. Koehler takes pride in breathing life into an established business, defining the atmosphere as “pleasant with enthusiastic service,” the ambiance accentuated with wood tones and panoramic windows to optimize the view.
The menu specializes in seafood with Italian and Mexican influences, and they also offer vegetarian options and a few meat items. The surf ’n’ turf steak and shrimp taco are hits, as are the cioppino and calamari, and they are also known for their broiled oysters with red diablo, Verde and guacamole sauce options. Dessert choices are highlighted by gelato, which Koehler says even Italians love. He spoke to GT recently about his upbringing and what sets Riva apart.
How has your past influenced your hospitality career?
RYAN KOEHLER: Living—not just vacationing—in so many different places has really given me an appreciation for many diverse cultures. It’s added to my care and concern for people, which is a critical component of hospitality and is very genuine for me—and growing up in a military background ingrained in me a relentless work ethic, which is also critical in restaurants. I’ve found that food really has that kitchen table effect, bringing people together and allowing for human connection.
What makes Riva a cut above?
It’s a lot of little things that add up to make a sizable difference. Not only do we have world-class views, it’s also the warm and comfortable atmosphere that is highlighted by the work of talented local artists that adorn the walls and that we curate ourselves. We also have uniquely delicious food served in big portions for very reasonable prices. And our service staff loves working here and is genuinely excited to have our guests in front of them.
Riva Fish House, 31 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, 831-429-1223; rivafishhouse.com.