Howdy’s Sonrisa Café Opened at Whole Foods and the Park in June
By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
“Every so often in a community—whether it’s the Palisades or East LA or Beverly Hills—one merchant, usually a restaurant, comes along that defines the community,” Steve Soboroff shared with the Palisadian-Post, “and in the Palisades, it was Mort’s.”
That’s what Howdy Kabrins, restaurateur behind beloved former eatery Howdy’s, was to Malibu before he closed shop.
“The community missed him horribly,” continued Soboroff, the developer behind the two-year-old Whole Foods and the Park shopping center in Malibu.
And Kabrins’ story while he took a break from running a restaurant is not an easy one to tell: He spent years in South Africa, fighting to bring the man who killed his daughter, Gabriela Kabrins Alban, to justice.
After a lengthy trial with Kabrins advocating, the man was sentenced to 20 years and Kabrins returned home to Malibu.
Soboroff, who worked for years to get the Whole Foods and The Park up and running near the corner of Cross Creek Road and Civic Center Way, wanted to help Howdy heal and wanted him back in the community.
“It’s a healing for Howdy and a healing for Howdy’s friends in the community, which is probably 90% of them,” Soboroff said. “It’s a statement that Malibu comes back—not just from individual tragedy, but from fires and floods and mudslides and more fires.”
So, following the Woolsey fire in 2018, Whole Foods opened in Malibu in June 2019, with several other spaces in the center already in the works, including Kabrins’ forthcoming restaurant. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted the restaurant world again.
But with Kabrins at the helm, Howdy’s Sonrisa Café has persevered and is now serving both new friends and old familiar faces who are glad to have Kabrins back in business.
“Getting to open our doors and allowing folks to return to restaurants is a wonderful thing,” Kabrins shared with the Post when the café was first opening. “Lifestyle and family are key with Howdy’s Sonrisa Café, as this, to me, is a legacy venture.”
Kabrins explained that it is exciting and natural to be back in Malibu, getting into the Howdy’s dance and traditions he’s had over the years.
“And though opening the restaurant during a pandemic was not part of the plan and has been difficult,” Kabrins shared, “my staff and I have adjusted to the unknown by adopting the mantras ‘show up no matter what’ and ‘safety is the new hospitality,’ so everyone knows that when you enjoy a meal with friends and family at Howdy’s, you can rest assured knowing that we follow mandated protocols.”
He shared that the location makes for an easy and convenient place for Palisadians to meet in Malibu.
“Having crafted a menu catering to those on the Westside, the menu has something for everyone,” Kabrins shared. “Whether you desire breakfast, lunch, dinner, or simply a quick snack or fresh beverage, being located at the very front of The Park at Cross Creek and stone’s throw from Pacific Palisades and less than three blocks from the beach, this will become your new favorite spot.”
Howdy’s Sonrisa Café offers breakfast, lunch and seafood options that are designed to be local, seasonal, high quality and unique. Kabrins described the fare as “California coastal” meets “Latin cuisine.”
Menu items include breakfast burritos and wraps, “The Gourmet Burrito,” and “The Famous Sushi Burrito.”
“Patrons will enjoy a truly flavorful experience,” Kabrins shared.
When opening the restaurant, Kabrins also had assistance from another Palisadian: John Jenkins of Malibu-based The Business Agency, a full-service business agency that focuses on support from strategy to consulting, operations, marketing, research and more. His partners are Ian Roven and Brentwood resident Mike Michalowicz.
“We specialize in working with growing and established businesses of all sizes and with companies seeking guidance in creating and launching ventures,” Jenkins explained to the Post.
Jenkins, a Highlands resident since 2014, spent the past couple of years working with Kabrins, helping create the menus and garner publicity for the grand opening.
And despite all of the challenges of opening a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic, Jenkins shared that Kabrins is unique because he is in his 70s, going into a multi-decade commitment to Malibu.
“He’s going to be there,” Jenkins said, “hell or high water for the next three decades.”
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