Glasspar Restaurant is Now Glasspar Seafood Market. Owner and Executive Chef Rob Wilson Supports Local Fisheries And You Can Too
Anyone who has worked in a restaurant has heard the phrase, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” Last month, Chef Rob Wilson had time to clean. COVID-19 restrictions forced him to temporarily shutter his newly opened (and highly anticipated) seafood restaurant, Glasspar, in Dana Point. Last week on the OC Restaurant Show, Wilson told host Andy Harris that he was lying on his back under the oyster bar, cleaning dust off the refrigerator coils, when he realized what he had to do next. He was in the business of feeding people, so that’s what he’d continue to do— just in a different way. He had access to fresh, sustainable seafood, and because of his raw bar, he had the space to store and display it. He had a customer base wanting fresh seafood that they couldn’t find at barren supermarkets, so why not turn his empty restaurant into a seafood market? So he called his longtime fishmonger at Superior Seafood to see what was happening with the local seafood supply chain. Nothing was happening, they told him— that was the problem. With all the major hotels and restaurants in the area closed, Superior had a mountain of fresh fish, with nowhere to go. That sealed the deal for Wilson. He knew he had to help. So he set up shop and got to selling fish.
You don’t get to where Wilson has gotten in his 30-year career without a Teflon back, an ability to adapt on the fly, and a genuine appreciation for all the people who make the industry tick; even and especially the unseen ones, like the small businesses that provide fresh fish, veggies, bread, flowers, and more.
So far, the restaurant industry has been the unfortunate poster child for the devastating effect COVID-19 stay-at-home measures has had on our economy. The National Restaurant Association predicts that an estimated 5 to 7 million employees in the restaurant industry will lose their job by June. But this figure doesn’t account for businesses who support the industry like the fishermen, farmers, and bakers— many who rely on restaurants for the bulk of their sales. Fishermen have been hit particularly hard. Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations, notes that nearly 80 percent of the domestic catch is sold to restaurants. With restaurants closed, ex-vessel prices have plummeted, meaning that not only do fishermen have limited options on where to sell fish, but the value of their catch is also a fraction of the price it used to be.
However, National Fisherman, a leading resource for the fishing industry, notes that the one silver lining for the seafood economy is the uptick in community-supported fisheries and direct-to-consumer markets like Wilson’s newly formed Glasspar Seafood Market.
An avid surfer and lifelong Dana Point local, Wilson has been an advocate for local, sustainable, responsibly sourced ingredients (especially seafood), long before it was catchphrase on menus. As executive chef, he brought his ethos to the Ritz Carlton and The Montage, thereby elevating each food and beverage program to the upper echelons of which they are recognized today. In addition, he implemented recycling programs at both properties to address the overuse of styrofoam.
When he opened Glasspar at the turn of the New Year, he was quick to join Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurant program. His restaurant was already a model of the program, from plastic-free to-go ware, to solar power, to serving only best choice seafood. Glasspar stands as a bastion of sustainable, responsibly sourced seafood in Orange County. Wilson designed the entire restaurant as an homage to ocean life, with an elegant, vintage East Coast seafood hall vibe, and an extra-long raw bar, now home to Glasspar Seafood Market.
Glasspar Seafood Market is open on Wednesdays from 1-5 p.m. and Saturdays from 12-4 p.m. You can expect to find local swordfish, Alaskan halibut, salmon, mahi-mahi, scallops, clams, shrimp and more. He has bread by Bread Artisan Bakery, a veggie box by Nature’s Produce, quarts of chowder, hand-mixed cocktails and discounted wine. Call ahead to place your order or swing on by during hours.
“We’re doing the same, amazing, sustainably, responsibly sourced seafood that we would normally do here at Glasspar, but we’re just selling it fresh by the pound,” Wilson said.
And by doing that, he’s serving his community and supporting the small vendors who rely on him.