Pearl Dragon Celebrates Two Decades of Business, Introduces El Dragón
By LILY TINOCO | Reporter
Pearl Dragon holds a lot of history in Pacific Palisades—and a lot of heart.
Co-founder, owner and former Palisadian Tommy Stoilkovich was born and raised in the Palisades, fondly recalling attending Palisades Charter Elementary, Paul Revere Charter Middle and Palisades Charter High schools.
“I’ve been around for a while now,” Stoilkovich said to the Palisadian-Post. “It’s a great little community and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Alongside his business partner Mike Garrett, Stoilkovich went on to open a number of restaurants and lounges, including Lounge 217 and Voda in Santa Monica, and the Falcon in Hollywood. The two became “veterans” in the business on the Westside and beyond.
But years into his career, Stoilkovich never let go of his dream of opening and owning a space in the Palisades.
He said there was nothing available for the longest time, but he would always keep his eye on 15229 Sunset Blvd.
“I stalked the owner of that restaurant for years and said, ‘Hey, any time you want to sell, we would love to buy it,’” Stoilkovich recalled. “I think he had owned it for 35 years … I had something in my calendar to check every few months and one day I got a call … we were able to get it.”
Pearl Dragon opened its doors to Palisadians in May 2001 and has since become a fixture in the neighborhood, offering hot entrees, fresh sushi, sashimi and more.
Stoilkovich said go-to menu items include a “phenomenal” baked king crab roll, grilled salmon over soba noodles and the “best” spicy wok fired edamame—“Top three, right there.”
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pearl Dragon faced hardships and challenges like never before, leaving Stoilkovich to question: “How do we get through this?”
“It’s difficult when you’re forced closed,” Stoilkovich said. “Everybody had to hunker down, but we also had over 30 employees who needed to be paid. It was difficult.”
He said the restaurant continued offering its food for delivery and takeout, and could not have made it through without support from the Palisades.
“We’re super grateful to still be standing after what everyone went through with COVID, and super blessed to be in a community that has given us so much over the years,” Stoilkovich said. “It’s crazy to think that 20 years later we’re still here. I think that’s a testament to growing up here and knowing the people. It’s been great and so heartfelt to see that.”
Beyond the initial impact of the pandemic, Pearl Dragon experienced its own silver lining when the team began experimenting with an entirely new concept: El Dragón.
Stoilkovich said what began as staff meals turned into meal-boxes for families and friends, until the team was convinced the community would love them too. El Dragón offers family-style Mexican food and cocktails, delivered with preparation instructions to heat and enjoy at home.
“We have enjoyed Chef Genaro’s delicious Mexican creations for over 20 years,” according to the restaurant’s website. “A few months ago, we started to share some dishes with our families, then our friends. They told a few friends who told a few more; and before we knew it, we didn’t have so much extra time on our hands. Now we want to share El Dragón with more of our friends and neighbors.”
El Dragón’s menu features a number of authentic Mexican dishes, including tacos, tamales and enchiladas. Palisadians can also take home a margarita box, complete with frozen cocktails, house-made chips and salsa.
“We now have this whole separate business that we’re able to do out of our kitchen and the food is outstanding,” Stoilkovich said about El Dragón. “We’re getting a lot of great feedback and opening it to more people. It’s been great.”
Stoilkovich ultimately credited the success of Pearl Dragon to his longtime staff.
“Our General Manager Bianca [Rehm], our head chef Genero Martinez and our head sushi chef Ryo [Akimoto] have been with us basically since we opened,” Stoilkovich said. “In the restaurant world, it’s basically unheard of to have staff for that long. Everyone’s family, people have met their spouses there, people have been married … there’s a lot of love there, it’s good.”
Although he and his wife moved to Malibu, Stoilkovich said he spends a lot of time in the Palisades and is ever grateful to be a part of a community that has supported him for so long.
“Growing up here and having something that I can always go back to, for me it’s been amazing,” Stoilkovich concluded. “To make it through, and see the support and how much people enjoy it, you step back and realize it’s far more than a business.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.