SAN DIEGO — Crab Catcher in La Jolla closed its doors in 2020 after 40 years in business because of the pandemic and ever-changing guidelines.
Husband and wife team Jerry and Jean Burwell opened the restaurant in 1980. They eventually passed the reigns to their two sons, and for the last 15 years, Justin Burwell managed operations while Jon was executive chef.
“It was a destination spot. You didn’t just go there once a week,” Justin Burwell said. “You went there for anniversaries, birthdays, graduation, prom.”
Like countless other businesses and restaurants, 2020 brought serious challenges. Many couldn’t find a way to survive on take-out alone or struggled to find a way to accommodate outdoor seating when indoor operations were prohibited under state guidelines.
The initial stay-at-home order in March 2020 meant a mandatory, temporary closure but June brought a more permanent decision for Crab Catcher.
“Big, fine dining establishments with huge overhead and all that, I think — God forbid — the writing was on the wall,” Justin Burwell said.
Closing shop after 40 years in business was not an easy decision. Both brothers were starting to consider transitioning to entirely different careers when a new opportunity came around.
“It happened so fast. It’s almost unbelievable,” Jon Burwell said of their new chapter at Surf Side Deli in Point Loma. “I ended up in a surf session with the former owner Billy. He was ready to sell. He asked me if I wanted to buy the deli. I think he was just ready to move on, we were looking for something, and it was a blessing.”
The brothers were excited to transition from years and years of fine dining to quick counter service. They’ve now been in business since September 2020.
“I saw that is a good opportunity to get into something that is popular already, to make it even better,” Justin Burwell said.
The brothers grew up in Point Loma and still live in the area with their families. They’re in a new building, working with different cuisine but bringing the same hard work and passion to the restaurant.
“I couldn’t do it without him, he can do it without me in the kitchen. So that’s why this place is going to be, hopefully, catching on and get a couple more locations,” Jon Burwell said. “I could see this place in a lot of the different beach towns up and down San Diego … Together, we’re unstoppable.”
The Burwells said first, the next step for Surf Side Deli is working on a beer and wine license and outdoor patio space.