Up until a few years ago, everything restaurateur John Stockwell knew about San Diego came from Top Gun. (He did have a closer look than most, considering he played Cougar in the movie.) Even without being SD experts, however, the former actor and his wife, self-trained chef Helene Henderson, knew that the city was a natural fit for a new location of their organic, produce-focused eatery Malibu Farm.
“[San Diegans] live a carefree, outdoor lifestyle,” Stockwell says. “[Malibu Farm is for] people who want to do a hike or come from a run and eat a healthy meal and maybe have a cocktail or two.”
The brand started with backyard dinners and LA pop-ups before landing in a brick-and-mortar location on the Malibu Pier. Eventually, Stockwell and Henderson expanded to Newport Beach, Marin County, Maui, New York, and Japan. Their newest spot, a one-time Harbor House Restaurant in Seaport Village, is their first in San Diego County.
The pair invested $10 million in significant renovations to the 14,000-square-foot waterfront property, trading stained-glass windows for bifold doors to court natural light and creating an airy event space on the first floor. An ice cream shop and espresso bar and a retail shop vending Henderson’s most beloved home goods and pantry staples are also incoming.
The San Diego location will feature Malibu Farm staples like the restaurant’s cauliflower-crust pizzas and coconut French toast, plus new items inspired by regional offerings. “We always try to incorporate a hyperlocal approach, whether that means going to the tuna docks or sourcing from local farms,” Stockwell adds.
Popular California bites like nachos and fish tacos have long had a place on the Malibu Farm menu, but Henderson and her team forgo processed cheese and industrial fryers in favor of simple, vegetable-forward presentations. “[Henderson] tries to create a world in which people who aren’t vegetarians or vegans will try arugula or kale—things which they didn’t think they would like, but end up enjoying,” Stockwell says.
In addition to converting customers into kale-lovers, one of the couple’s goals is to coax locals into Seaport Village. Stockwell admits that restaurants in tourist-heavy areas can sometimes become complacent, relying on out-of-towners to dine there out of convenience and leaving residents wandering in search of better plates. “We’re trying to turn that perception on its head,” Stockwell says. “I think you just have to do really good, unique, interesting food.”
Malibu Farm‘s soft launch takes place this Friday, September 22.