For 25 Years, Restauranteurs Ron Newman and Greg Newman Have Been Bringing the Party to the South Bay

The father and son dining duo.

Freshly graduated from USC in 1993, Greg Newman opened a neighborhood restaurant with his father, Ron, at the corner of 38th and Highland in El Porto. Ron was well known as a successful restaurant owner for 20 years and had a great reputation for quality food. Greg’s degree in marketing and his experience as the social chairman of his fraternity helped him create enticing marketing strategies for this new venture.

Ron originally worked at his family’s camera shop, Newman’s Camera, at the corner of Hermosa and Pier avenues. He was envious of his friend Darrien Campbell and her husband, Don Earle, because they were able to travel frequently after opening their first Red Onion restaurant.

Don and his brother, Bart Earle, were the sons of Harry Earle, who opened the original Red Onion diner in 1949 in Inglewood. Bart and Don followed in the family business and both opened their own Red Onion restaurants. On a couples’ trip to Mexico, the Inglewood High School friends decided to go into business together.

They took over a “blue-chip” store (great potential and low risk) in Westchester and opened their first Red Onion under a group called International Onion. The group went on to open 13 Red Onions in high-profile locations with an emphasis on nightlife and entertainment like Redondo Beach, Marina Del Rey, Orange and Riverside.

This particular chain of Red Onions was known for their crazy party atmosphere: wet T-shirt contests, patrons adorning ’80s Day-Glo, drinks made in buckets and intoxicated patrons. They were massively successful for many years.

The Red Onions faced some challenges in the late ’80s for a number of reasons, including a huge push against drinking and driving—especially by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Dan Haggerty, known for his portrayal of Grizzly Adams on television, sued International Onion after his beard caught on fire from a flaming drink. Rising rents finally pushed the restaurant group toward bankruptcy in 1992.

Greg grew up in Red Onion restaurants, but it wasn’t until he became a barback at the Redondo location that he realized his future was in the food and beverage industry. Armed with a fresh perspective and a skill for drink recipes, Greg dreamed up his first restaurant concept. In 1993, shortly after graduating from USC, Greg and Ron opened Sharkeez in North Manhattan Beach’s El Porto neighborhood.

“A group of girls started religiously showing up, and the guys were blown away. Eventually the men got hooked on the show too, and a couple weeks before the season finale we would have almost 250 people watching. You could hear a pin drop in pivotal scenes.”

Sharkeez was designed to resemble college life. As a corner restaurant bar, patrons from nearby neighborhoods could walk to and from the venue without getting into their cars. El Porto was affordable at the time and filled with recent graduates of USC and LMU. Harry O’s (Sharkeez has since moved to this location) had just opened nearby and was a popular spot with the Los Angeles Kings players. OB’s and Pancho’s were also within walking distance.

Back in the early ’90s, the television series Melrose Place was a Monday night staple for those who didn’t want to watch football. The programs overlapped on television by an hour, so Greg had an employee record Melrose Place on VHS. They would run the VHS down to the restaurant and air it just after the game at approximately 9 p.m.

“A group of girls started religiously showing up, and the guys were blown away,” says Greg. “Eventually the men got hooked on the show too, and a couple weeks before the season finale we would have almost 250 people watching. You could hear a pin drop in pivotal scenes.”

Sharkeez doubled their nightly sales on Mondays. When the bar introduced Friends on Thursdays, a huge line would form to get in before 8 p.m.—something unheard of, as most restaurant bars didn’t get their crowds until after 10 p.m.

It wasn’t too long before a Sharkeez location was opened in neighboring Hermosa on Pier Avenue. Unfortunately, a late-night fire in 2006 devastated the restaurant. The Newmans were careful to adapt to the times following a public outcry about the local bar scene. Sharkeez was eventually able to re-build and still thrives today

Just across the way, Palmilla opened in 2011—the family’s first foray into a more upscale restaurant experience, inspired by Cabo San Lucas. Jordan Cressman, VP of operations for all of the Newmans’ restaurants, recommended that John Fox run Palmilla.

When John first interviewed for the position, he surprised Ron with his many tattoos. Greg suggested he wear long-sleeve shirts to keep them out of view. It was only a matter of time before the sleeves got rolled up. JD, the main bartender, also started getting more tattoos. Then all the waiters started dressing in similar fashion. Soon the women began pouring in.

A few years ago the Newmans purchased Shark’s Cove in Manhattan Beach. The venue will become Esperanza, named after another high-end resort in Cabo. It will be the Manhattan Beach version of Palmilla, so expect a similar theme with the waiters.

Tower 12, a few doors down from Palmilla, is aptly named after the lifeguard tower at the Hermosa Pier. Originally home to Fat Face Fenner’s Falloon, the Newmans successfully converted the space into a popular watering hole with a healthy queue outside the front door. The walls of the second-story venue are adorned with memorabilia from the surf, skate and punk culture of Hermosa Beach.

Twenty-five years after Sharkeez first opened, the Newmans now run 11 Los Angeles area restaurants: five Sharkeez locations (Newport Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Santa Barbara and Huntington Beach), Panama Joe’s in Long Beach, Killarney’s in Huntington Beach, Sandbar in Santa Barbara, Palmilla, Tower 12 and Shark’s Cove. Next they plan to bring the Tower 12 concept to Newport Beach.

With their strong work ethic and a pulse on the next great restaurant concept, the Newman father-and-son duo have transformed the South Bay dining scene and show no signs of slowing down.