Sometimes the same old thing needs a change, and sometimes it absolutely doesn’t, as is the case with Pismo Beach Fish and Chips.
Located on the corner of Cypress and Stimson, the iconic Pismo Beach eatery has been successfully doing it their way since 1963, ever since it was established by Ann and Jack Zechner. The couple emigrated from Holland in 1959 with their young daughter, Janie, working several jobs until Ann got the chance to run a small fish market in 1962.
As Janie recalled, her mother was a customer of the already established Pismo Beach market, “and one day the owner said he wanted to sell.” Even though Ann knew nothing about the fish business, she took the plunge, relying on friends such as her Portuguese clientele to show her the ropes. She made the business such a success that people started urging her to start a restaurant as well.
She heeded their suggestion, and opened Pismo Beach Fish and Chips, serving up a menu of recipes gleaned largely from locals “and from our family trips throughout California,” said Janie. “We’d try something somewhere, bring it back here and make it work.”
Not surprisingly, Janie grew up working every aspect of the restaurant, so when it came time for her parents to retire in 1988, she and husband Phil Graham took the reins with the full intent of staying the course.
Many of the original recipes are still in play, including the chowders that Phil makes every day, by hand, from scratch, right down to the homemade base. There’s a white clam chowder, and a red seafood chowder “that’s almost like a bouillabaisse, but with a little kick,” said Janie.
Phil also hand cuts the white cod filets for the fish and chips, “and we make our own tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, ranch dressing and often even the Thousand Island dressing,” said Janie.
Obviously, the restaurant is renowned for its fish and chips, but it also serves up great salmon and chips, and halibut and chips — all available either grilled or breaded and battered.
The ample fish or shellfish dinners are also very popular, and include everything from ling cod to king crab, sandabs to scallops, catfish to lobster. The numerous sandwich options encompass both surf and turf, such as a crab sandwich or a hamburger, a deep-fried shrimp sandwich or an au jus French dip.
Janie also noted that it’s not just the recipes that have stayed the same over the years, explaining that “most of our employees have been with us forever, some almost 20 years, and everybody knows them. Most restaurants end up like families, and we’re lucky to have the employees we have. You always hear a lot of laughter in here.”
It’s ironic to consider that, despite its status as a local institution, Pismo Fish and Chips almost didn’t happen.
When the Zechners first had the opportunity to open the restaurant, they didn’t have the money or the necessary qualifications for a loan.
However, some months beforehand, Jack had found a wallet with $900 cash in it — a princely sum in any era — and immediately called the owner to return it. Jack refused any reward, but the grateful man insisted that he call if he ever needed a favor. As it turned out, the wallet’s owner was the local bank president, who approved the Zechners’ loan using good old-fashioned honesty as worthy capital.
From a bit of serendipity and a lot of hard work came much success, and today, Pismo Fish and Chips is going as strong as ever in its 45th year of being family-owned and -operated.