What do running one of the city’s most successful couture businesses and a popular seafood restaurant have in common? Not much -- unless you’re talking to Yunnie Kim Morena, the name behind Fred Segal Couture, and now, Santa Monica Pier’s hottest summer dining destination, The Albright.
“My dad loved fishing,” says Morena, who grew up in Santa Monica. “Being an immigrant, he was looking for a way to support his family, and an opportunity opened up to have a business on the pier.” SM Pier Seafood fish market debuted in 1977, quickly becoming a go-to spot for local fisherman who flocked there its famous shrimp tempura, prepared by Kim’s grandmother, Keum Hyun Lee.
The menu grew, as did the space, which moved to a larger spot and remodeled in 1983 following a hurricane that wiped out more than a third of the pier, and once again in the mid 1990s to its current location. Morena’s father, Yong Kim, ran the business until his passing in 2008, when her mother, Hae Ju Kim, took the helm. Upon her 70th birthday in 2013, Hae Ju announced she was ready to step down -- and Morena and her husband, Greg Morena, CFO of the fashion brand The Hundreds, decided to step in and give the family business a fresh new look and name.
The moment marked a major career shift for Morena, who had chosen to follow a path in fashion over food, starting with part-times job at Fred Segal and as a stylist while she pursued a degree in merchandising from FIDM. In 2000, when Morena turned 19, she opened her first shop-in-shop at Fred Segal selling hair accessories. Quickly, the store expanded into a jewelry business, and in 2004, Kim partnered with her cousin Wonnie Tagliaferroto to launch the ready-to-wear boutique Fred Segal Couture. “We were very heavy on European brands before the recession,” says Morena, who counted Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni and Roberto Cavalli amongst the labels carried in-store. In 2012, Fred Segal sold half of its Santa Monica retail compound, a move that prompted Morena to begin exploring opportunities outside the realm of fashion. Fate came knocking when Hae Ju announced that she was ready to hand over the reins to the family business.
So how has the couple’s fashion background translated into the restaurant world?
“The bottom line is, service industry is service industry. Offering exceptional service in whatever you do is number one,” says Morena. Together with David Alvarez of Studio Alvarez, the couple completely overhauled the restaurant, from the interior design to the new name -- and even a snappy new logo designed by The Hundreds.
The menu also received a total update, with a renewed commitment to locally sourced ingredients from the likes of Santa Monica Farmers Market and Santa Monica Seafood, and options that cater to a diverse group of both locals and international tourists, who make up the pier’s reported eight million visitors annually. The Albright also boasts a new wine and craft beer program, and an expanded kids menu, much to the delight of the Morena’s four-year-old son, Oz, who is following in his mother’s footsteps, spending his childhood on the pier. “I had full déjà vu the other day. My son is me growing up!” she laughs The spot has also drawn a slew of other parents since its re-launch, including Selma Blair, David Beckham and Rebecca Romijn, who have all been spotted noshing at The Albright with their offspring.
With a revamped patio that looks out onto the pier and beach, diners have one more reason to frequent The Albright this summer -- especially with the announcement of the Santa Monica Pier’s 30th annual free Twilight Concert Series that occupies the shoreline on Thursday nights, starting in July through the end of the summer.
And just when you thought Morena had abandoned her roots in fashion entirely, the entrepreneur has just announced plans to launch a Popeye-themed clothing line, a nod to the beloved cartoon character, who supposedly blew in from the sea and landed on the Santa Monica Pier.
Consider us sold -- hook, line and sinker.