After facing the challenges of opening a restaurant during a pandemic, husband-and-wife owners Alex and Meghan Murray celebrated the second anniversary of Newport Beach restaurant Mutt’s in April, and are currently looking to add a new location.
Mutt’s continues the nearly 50-year legacy of the iconic local beach bar Mutt Lynch’s near the Newport Beach pier, originally founded by Meghan’s parents Gail and Dan Lynch.
“I grew up in a bar,” quipped Meghan Murray, when accepting the Business Journal’s 24th annual Family-Owned Business Award, in the up-and-coming category, on May 31 at the Irvine Marriott.
Among her first chores at the beach bar: refilling the cigarette machine.
She left behind the machine, but took notes on what worked at her parent’s location when opening Mutt’s, which took the spot previously held the former Provenance restaurant space in the Eastbluff community of Newport Beach.
Alex and Meghan kept some of Mutt Lynch’s classic dishes such as the Pterodactyl Wings and made-to-order pizzas, but also elevated the menu by introducing entirely new entrée and cocktail sections.
Residents of Eastbluff themselves, Alex and Meghan saw a need for a family-friendly place in their neighborhood, so when the space at the Irvine Co.-owned shopping center became available during the early days of the pandemic, they jumped at the opportunity to make their upscale sports bar concept a reality.
“It took some businesses out and we had an opportunity to go in there and to create this vision for our community,” Meghan Murray told the Business Journal.
Attempting to open a restaurant amidst a pandemic did not come without its struggles.
Besides delaying the opening, Alex Murray described not having the ability to soft open and properly prepare staff due to large turnover rates in the kitchen.
Fortunately, their partner Jaime Flores brought 25 years of architectural and woodworking experience to create Mutt’s’ distinct decor, including a chandelier made of beer schooners.
“Everything except the chairs and the stools are made in-house, so it just gives it that level of warmth that most restaurants don’t have because we built it with our own hands,” Alex Murray said.
Now, Mutt’s has become a gathering space for people like the Murrays’ 10-year-old son’s baseball team and even celebrity comedian David Spade, who inspired the biggest-selling menu item, the Joe Dirt pizza featuring Italian sausage and pepperoni.
When Jason Gwin, senior vice president and manager of City National Bank, presented the award to the couple, he attributed their success to “their genuine care for the community.”
Alex and Meghan are on the lookout for the next possible location for Mutt’s in Southern California. They have already seen close to 30 spaces, but aren’t in a rush this time around.
Between Mutt’s and Mutt Lynch’s, the two manage a team of 138 employees and oversee operations across both restaurants.
“Mutt’s Eastbluffs is the template for the new restaurant,” Alex Murray said. “I have my eye on one spot in particular that I won’t say right now, but it really comes down to the location, and when it appears, we’ll know.”