He started as a teenager busing tables. Now Kevin Phillips owns four restaurants on the Monterey Peninsula, including Abalonetti Bar & Grill on Fisherman’s Wharf – smack in the middle of the tourist area. He purchased Abalonetti in partnership with the late James Gilbert about a decade ago. That was after graduating from busser to waiter, then to manager and chef.
Weekly: How do you prepare for the crowds the wharf attracts?
Phillips: Actually the most challenging time is the winter when it’s quieter. This time of year, we’re in high season. It’s a lot more fun for me. I have a full staff and we’re seeing a lot of folks every day; people on vacation, having a great time mixed in with our loyal locals.
How do you keep the staff motivated during and after busy hours?
I like to stop in at every one of our businesses several times a day. I talk to every employee to see how they’re doing, make sure they have what they need to do their jobs as best they can, that they feel safe and supported so they can focus on what’s important: taking care of our guests, of each other and providing a good experience.
Do you think the restaurants around here would survive without tourism?
In a different way. There are restaurants around the Peninsula that have a tremendous local calling and that’s important to all of us, but the tourism boost does provide opportunities for everybody this time of year.
What’s your pick from the menu?
The calamari, no doubt about it. No restaurant in Monterey is known more for calamari than Abalonetti. It was founded on that. Abalonetti means “little abalone,” so the idea was in the 1950s they could tenderize a piece of calamari and it would be indistinguishable from abalone. We serve Monterey squid here in more than 20 different ways.