Restaurant industry veteran Jeff King died unexpectedly on May 17, at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, his family confirmed. He was 77 years old.
The cause of death was not immediately available.
King was a co-founder of King’s Seafood Company, a growing multi-concept group that operates the five-unit Water Grill chain; single-unit restaurants Lou & Mickey’s in San Diego, PierBurger in Santa Monica, the 555 East steakhouse in Long Beach and the fast-casual Fish Camp in Huntington Beach; as well as the 11-unit King’s Fish House chain across Southern California.
This summer, King’s Seafood Company is scheduled to open Meat On Ocean, overlooking the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. The meat-centric restaurant will have a charcuterie bar, an exhibition dry-aging room and a selection of prime beef from around the world.
Friends in the industry described King as a people person.
“In Yiddish, he was a mensch or a person of integrity, a good guy,” said Fred LeFranc, founding partner of consulting firm Results Thru Strategy. “We were all better off for having known Jeff. He had a twinkle in his eye, a story to tell and always spoke reverently about his family heritage. In fact, everyone became part of his family.
“His outreach and work with charitable causes was an extension of his kindness, wit and warmth,” LeFranc added. “While his accomplishments in the restaurant industry will be honored and acclaimed, his greatest legacy will be the way he touched all he met. We will miss Jeff, yet he left his mark in all of us in the only way that matters.”
King was a partner in King’s Seafood Company with his cousin, Sam King. Their fathers, Lou and Mickey King, were also restaurateurs who launched a family of restaurants that after 40 years were sold to Tiny Naylor’s Inc., in 1982.
Jeff and Sam King later went on to debut 555 East in 1984, which launched their company, initially called University Restaurant Group, inspired by the friendly rivalry between their two alma maters, UCLA and University of Southern California.
In 1998, they changed the name to King’s Seafood Company, later adding a seafood distribution operation and expanding with new concepts now across three states.
Jeff King was also active in the California Restaurant Association, serving most recently as chairman. He also served on the boards of the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona, the LA Central City Association and the California Travel & Tourism Commission.
“Jeff was an authentic industry leader who lived life unfiltered and with great affection,” said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association. “He will be missed and remembered by an industry thankful for having learned from him and laughed with him.”
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