It took a lot of waiting for Tin Fish owner Ed Kim to reopen his restaurant at the end of the iconic Imperial Beach pier. Kim closed his restaurant on March 17 and did not reopen until June 9.
He was prepared for the news of restaurant closings in March. “I knew it was coming with cases in New York going crazy, then California asked us to close that Monday,” he said.
Still Kim did not expect the news to come so soon, but on the morning of March 17, the staff called him to tell him the lock on the gate of the pier had been changed and they could not get in. “We were heavy hit. We had all the fresh fish, perishables. Whatever I could save I put in the freezer,” he recalled.
The worse part was that Kim thought it was going to be only two to three weeks of closure not months.
When curbside and take out was allowed for restaurants he couldn’t be part of it because of his location, since the pier was closed. Finally restaurants were allowed dining in, but the pier was still closed. “The beach was open a month before and there was still no word. Even the barber shops were open, but not the pier,” he said. “We were the first to close and the last to open. A lot of people in Imperial Beach empathized with us. The council understood what was going on and the city manager tried to do what he could. I was being patient,” he said.
When the pier reopened there were rules, the city placed stripes and arrows on the ground to point out where visitors could walk and maintain safe distance from each other.
Kim said the week before the pier reopened he attended a meeting to learn of the new rules for walkers and fishermen. Currently fishing is not allowed behind the restaurant and the pier opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 8:30 p.m. Normally the Tin Fish is open until 10 p.m. in the summer so Kim is losing some dinner customers.
There was a positive side too. During the lockdown, the Port of San Diego made improvements to the outside of the Tin Fish building, while Kim did painting and other repairs on the inside.
Now that the Tin Fish has reopened Kim is looking at his business in a different way. He started offering Deb’s Cookie Jar treats, serves Granite Hill wines, a local winery with ties to Imperial Beach.
“We have heavy foot traffic. We are in an iconic spot with visitors from Chula Vista and San Diego,” he said.
Kim feels part of the community - which he saw first hand the day he reopened. “We saw the community backing us up with so many people coming in on the first day to support us. It was a Tuesday, and Tuesdays are usually the lowest day, instead it was the biggest,” he said. Because of that sense of community he plans on having a different vendor highlighted every month. In the bar area, which he cannot currently use because of COVID, he plans on having local merchants display their creations there and show his support.
As every restaurant has done due to the pandemic, Kim has moved tables 6 feet apart and that means the indoor area is only 1/3 of what it was before.
Customers can now enjoy their favorite dishes once again like Fish and Shrimps, Fish and Chips and Fish Tacos. The Tin Fish also offer healthy choices like the Crusted Sesame Ahi salad. Sauces are made in house which include Tartar sauce, Cocktail sauce, and Baja sauce. The dairy free cole slaw is also made in house. Kim recommends the very tasty Kaboom Shrimp and explained that the shrimps are lightly battered and fried, tossed with sauce and placed on a bed of cabbage, with sesame and green onions. Kim also serves a Lobster Roll and this summer, he plans on offering oysters as well as Oyster Rockefeller prepared with olive oil, butter, parmesan, salt, fresh parsley and baked for five minutes, “I see more potential, more people we can serve,” he said.
The Tin Fish is Kim’s first restaurant. Originally from Korea he studied in the U.S. first finishing high school and then attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and has an illustration major. For some years he worked for animation and computer games companies and for the equivalent of Google called Naver.com in Korea. After he and his wife had twins he decided to move back to the U.S. and eventually stumbled into the opportunity to own a restaurant. “I love cooking, I was never a chef but I would invite guests and friends and cooked for them,” he said.
Kim can often be found preparing meals at the Tin Fish, and now that he has reopened the restaurant he wears a big smile on his face.