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Friday, Feb 23, 2024

Seafood Spot Finds Land In Camarillo

You might call Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Co. a recession baby. When John Karayan and his wife Jennifer launched the eatery in 2007, it was as a concession at such Southern California festivals as Ventura County Fair, C Street Long Board Classic and Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, where the fish tacos sold out lightning-quick. He later established a permanent restaurant in Ventura, and earlier this summer expanded to Camarillo. In June, Spencer Makenzie’s Camarillo debuted at 311 Carmen Drive, inhabiting a storefront previously occupied by Chuy’s Mesquite Grill. The Camarillo branch sells all of the Ventura original’s signature dishes, including clam chowder, shrimp and fish ceviche and giant fish tacos. Karayan described his customer base as representing “all walks of life,” from business to beach-bum casual. “I wanted to be ‘Cheers’ on the outside and McDonald’s on the inside,” he said. “We need to be corporate. We’re organized, we’re efficient.” Karayan first developed a knack for crafting seafood delights when his ceviche went over well while visiting Jennifer’s family in Mexico. “I always thought of a fish taco stand. By spirit, I’m an entrepreneur, with a good work ethic,” said Karayan, who entered construction at 19 and got his contractor’s license by 21. So when the Great Recession hit – and his construction business was not bringing home enough bacon – he rolled the dice to become a restaurateur. “The economy took a turn for the worse, but the passion overrode it,” he said. The company’s name represents a portmanteau of the Karayans’ children’s names, combining son Spencer, today 14, and daughter Makenzie, now 12. They have since been joined by Brooklyn, 8, and Parker, 3. Karayan also prides himself on his restaurants’ health-conscious and green approach, with zero trans fat and cooking oil repurposed as vehicular biodiesel. “There’s not a lot of fast casual where you can eat healthy,” he said. In Ventura, Spencer Makenzie has spawned an annual side-tradition. Each August, the location holds the End of Summer Throw Down, a block party with DJs and live bands based on the sport of cornhole. Orignally a lawn game, cornhole involves tossing bean bags at an angled surface with a small hole. On Aug. 24, what Karayan calls the nation’s largest cash cornhole tournament will take place in Ventura with a top prize of $42,000. Meanwhile, Karayan will soon scout for a third Spencer Makenzie site in Newbury Park or Thousand Oaks. “I get solicited a lot for business growth,” he said of corporate chain offers, “(but) I want to have 100 percent control over my brand. My kids’ names are on it.” – Michael Aushenker

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.

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