Given the rapidly changing and ever more competitive restaurant landscape in coastal North County, I’m making it a point to revisit some of those that have stood the test of time.
Ki’s Restaurant in Cardiff is a prime example and one that I got to know a few years back through a Coast News column and radio show with Lorraine Harland, who owns Ki’s with her husband, Barry Holcomb.
We’ve reacquainted recently through a spin class at the Ecke YMCA, and I thought it would be fun to let them share their story in this week’s column.
LTP: Let’s start from the beginning, where did you and Barry grow up and what are some of your earliest culinary memories?
Barry: I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and my earliest food memories are White Castles — my mom used to take me there every so often after picking me up from school. Once I moved to California when I was 15, our family used to always go to Tony’s Jacal. My mom took a job at a health food store and from then on, she really got into cooking healthful meals.
Lorraine: Vancouver, Canada, and I don’t have a lot of great culinary memories. My mom, while not an outstanding cook, was certainly proficient. My family has a ranching background — my father grew up on a ranch in southern Alberta and still maintained a herd of cattle there until he died in 2007.
My best culinary memory was when we had Christmas dinner at my aunt’s house. She was Italian and cooked lasagna and cannelloni. I was always excited when it was her turn to host the big family dinners.
LTP: Did either of you have restaurant gigs growing up?
Barry: I was a busboy at the Maven Restaurant in Mission Valley when I was 15, then I got into the bar business and worked as a bartender at the Distillery in Solana Beach and several other places until I landed at Dini’s in Del Mar.
Lorraine: Mine was at a pancake house in Victoria during university. They were grueling, long shifts, dealing with the tourist crowds that came in off the cruise boats. The restaurants I worked in after that were mainly dinner service, which is a little better — not so much of the “here’s your food, here’s your bill.”
LTP: How did you meet and what brought you to Encinitas?
Lorraine: When I moved down to San Diego, I got a job as a cocktail waitress at a restaurant in Del Mar called Dini’s and Barry was the bartender there. When I first started, I rarely worked with him because we had different shifts, but he asked me out on a date about six months after I started.
LTP: How did your involvement in Ki’s come to be?
Barry: My mom and I had talked about opening our own business, she would run it, I would build it. She located a place in Cardiff on Birmingham Street. It started with just my mom selling vitamins, produce and fresh-squeezed juices eventually adding sandwiches and soups. It became evident very early on that Ki’s cooking was more popular than vitamins and produce so it became more of a restaurant.
By 1985, the business was becoming successful enough that I was able to quit the bar business to work full-time there. After several years of relative success, we decided we needed a bigger location. When our current location became available in 1994, we moved!
Lorraine: A fun fact is that the very day that we moved and opened at this location, I went into labor with our third child, so it was kind of a crazy weekend. Our daughter and this restaurant are the same age!
LTP: What have your roles been in running the restaurant and building it to what it is today? Did your kids help out?
Barry: I’ve acted as the general manager, hiring and training, ordering, trying to keep the business on course so that we can offer a wide variety of food using better and healthier ingredients. But the main focus is to make sure that we are a customer-oriented business with the goal of building a local and regular clientele. We want to be the “Cheers” of Cardiff — where everybody knows your name.
Lorraine: I started working for the company in 1987, managing a second restaurant that we had at the time downtown. I had a hiatus during the years we had our children, but I started back at the Cardiff location in 1994. Mainly I have been managing the restaurant, doing bookwork, developing menus, HR and some of the marketing. All three of our kids did work here but the only one of our children who stayed in the business is our daughter, who is a baker and lives in Vancouver.
LTP: There seems to be something for everyone on the menu that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. For first-time visitors, what would you recommend?
Barry: My favorite juice is the kicker, my favorite smoothie is the PB&J, my favorite sandwich is the Super Veggie Sandwich. At night, my favorite dinner is the Cioppino or the Salmon in Parchment.
Lorraine: I would say my favorites on both the breakfast and the lunch menus are the Chow bowls. There’s a Healthy Breakfast Bowl with quinoa, spinach, sauteed mushrooms and eggs and at lunch, there’s a Moroccan-inspired Marrakesh Bowl or the Vietnamese-inspired NomNam bowl where you can choose which protein you’d like to add.
For dinner, I love our Cioppino, and the Brined Pork Chop is also amazingly moist and flavorful, and you can’t go wrong with our fresh fish specials, which change weekly. Our chef does a great job coming up with interesting and delicious dishes.
LTP: You also have a full bar with some fun cocktails upstairs and given your location, it seems like a perfect spot to pop in for a cocktail.
Lorraine: We do have a full bar and we change up the drink menu quite a bit. And what could be more perfect than sipping on a cocktail while watching the surfers and the sunset across the street?
LTP: Your juice and smoothie bar is also very popular.
Lorraine: Juices and smoothies are how this started with Ki. I may be biased but I think we make the best smoothies around because we don’t add ice or syrups — what you get is straight juice and fruit.
LTP: Do you still have the line of salad dressings at retail and are you still catering?
Barry: Yes, we sell Ki’s salsa, Ki’s salad dressings, sandwiches, salads, bulk salads, cashew dips, several entrees, lemonades and cold brews to local grocery stores like Jimbo’s, Seaside Market and Lazy Acres.
Lorraine: We do offer catering including weddings, birthday parties, etc. My niece who works for us is also offering in-home chef service. She’s an excellent chef and so far the reviews have been stellar.
During COVID lockdowns, there was a government program called Great Plates. It was a county program funded by FEMA to support the elderly and the immunocompromised. The county hired us to deliver three meals a day, seven days a week. It was a win-win situation: the elderly got fed, we kept our workers employed and we stayed in business.
LTP: Music has always played a big part in the Ki’s experience, who are some of your favorite local performers, past and present?
Barry: My parents were big into music. My mom was a singer all her life, and a fantastic one at that, and she loved to perform! My dad was a huge fan and taught himself to play the piano later in life. In fact, they used to perform here weekly on Monday nights. We started having bands come in on Friday nights in the late 1990s.
Lorraine: Our favorites have to be the Peters: Peter Sprague and Peter Pupping. Also Fred Benedetti and daughters and Robin Henkel. Our performers are all listed on our website.
And there you have it, family-owned and operated, a menu with something for everyone, and a spectacular location in Cardiff on Coast Highway 101 across the street from the ocean. If you’ve not been, please check them out and if it’s been a while, Ki’s is worth revisiting for sure.
Find them at 2590 S. Coast Highway 101 or www.kisrestaurant.com.