Business Spotlight: Duke’s La Jolla restaurant aligns inventive cuisine with surf scene



When Duke’s La Jolla took over the 1216 Prospect St. location formerly filled by the iconic Top of the Cove restaurant, general manager Shaughn Helliar, assistant general manager Alex Hoehn and the rest of the staff knew they had big shoes to fill.

Now, six months after its Nov. 4 opening, Duke’s is flourishing thanks to friendly service, inventive cuisine, commitment to the community and, of course, the beautiful ocean views.

“Obviously the views are insane, both top and bottom levels,” said Hoehn, who has been with the company (the T.S. Restaurant group that runs 14 eateries, including six Duke’s in California and Hawaii) since 1997, working mostly in Hawaii until coming over in July to open Duke’s in La Jolla.

“It’s a combination of friendly, really great service, approachable atmosphere, gorgeous view and excellent cuisine. It’s a California fusion cuisine, Chef Sinsay is just a creative wizard and all of our restaurants are known for their fresh fish.”

The first Duke’s restaurant opened nearly 30 years ago in Kauai, and they all pay homage to Duke Kahanamoku, a six-time Olympic medalist in swimming and a legendary surfer who is said to have pioneered modern-day surfing.

“He was a humanitarian who was known for his aloha spirit. Our thing is to try and embody that,” said Hoehn, who noted that customers are greeted in the front of the restaurant by a huge statue of the Duke, who actually surfed in La Jolla at the WindanSea Beach. “Each Duke’s restaurant pays homage to the local surfing crowd.

La Jolla is a very tight-knit community and people are very loyal to places that are good. We want to be that next restaurant. And we immediately got involved with the local community.”

Before it even opened, Duke’s worked with La Jolla Shores Surfing Association on a beach cleanup in July and got involved in the annual La Jolla Pier-to-Cove Swim, which takes place in an area of the ocean visible from the restaurant’s outside tables.

Duke’s is also one of the sponsors for the La Jolla Shores group’s annual Menehune Surf Contest, for younger surfers. This year’s event is scheduled for May 7. Urban Surf for Kids is another organization that Duke’s has helped sponsor.

Inside the restaurant, Helliar and Hoehn have been rolling out more and more options for local diners to experience the great food and atmosphere, most recently opening for weekend brunch. “We are evolving,” Hoehn explained. “We started out with just dinner and then we opened up with lunch a month later. We first started with just the downstairs level and now we’ve got the upstairs going. People can book it for their own private events … and we open (the upstairs) up on Friday and Saturday nights too now. The response has been huge.

“We did our first brunch on Easter and it was a great success.”

While brunch is available every weekend (Saturdays and Sunday’s from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the restaurant is gearing up for another big one, this time for Mother’s Day on May 8. The fun atmosphere that day will include a photo booth for moms and giving away mimosas to mothers who get their pictures taken.

Duke’s La Jolla, 1216 Prospect St., La Jolla is open weekdays at 11:30 a.m., and closes every day at 9:30 p.m. (858) 454-5888.

The Business Spotlight features commercial enterprises that support the La Jolla Light.