Zel’s Del Mar might not be the site of the 1980s sitcom, “Cheers,” but it’s becoming the local spot “where everybody knows your name.”
“We’re a neighborhood restaurant and bar,” said Greg Glassman, who owns and operates Zel’s Del Mar alongside his wife, Jennifer Powers. “This is where you’ll see real people from Del Mar.”
Located on Camino Del Mar in the heart of Del Mar Village, Zel’s Del Mar opened its doors in August 2009. Though a little more than six years old, the restaurant is rooted in local history.
Zel’s Del Mar was named in honor of Glassman’s grandfather, Zelig Camiel, a longtime resident and businessman. For decades, he owned a liquor store on the corner of 15th Street and Camino del Mar, where Del Mar Plaza is now located.
Having been a familiar figure in the community, Camiel was given the title “unofficial mayor of Del Mar” when he retired. After his death in 1987, he was honored with a bench in Seagrove Park, which now sits near the entryway of Zel’s Del Mar.
“We love hearing stories from people who knew him back then,” Glassman said. “He was a real character.”
Although raised in San Diego, Glassman often spent summers with his grandfather in Del Mar. So when the couple decided to open their own restaurant, the location, like the name, was also an easy decision.
“Greg and I really built the place to really be a real local neighborhood bar and restaurant,” Powers said. “Fortunately, for us, we’ve really been able to cultivate that environment in the restaurant, which has been really cool.”
Like many Del Mar businesses, Zel’s Del Mar is busiest in the summer.
Although the couple is happy to get a boost in business when the city is crowded with tourists for the beach, the fair and the races, Zel’s Del Mar was crafted for the community.
“We don’t rely on the tourism industry,” Glassman said.
““We couldn’t,” added Powers, who called the summer season “icing on the cake.”
“We have to be sustainable all year round.”
The couple credits the local community for keeping the business sustainable since the beginning.
The restaurant opened in the midst of the recession, but thanks to dedicated customers, Zel’s Del Mar flourished while other businesses faltered.
Glassman and Powers have witnessed their customers get married and have children. Two of the restaurant’s hostesses are the children of longtime customers. Now high school students, the local teens landed their first job with Zel’s Del Mar.
“A lot of people started coming in 2009 and have really grown with us,” Powers said.
With roots in the past, the restaurant is also always looking toward the future.
Executive Chef Saga Horner was brought on board about three years ago. Horner, who was trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland, overhauled the entire menu. All breads, dressings and desserts are now made in-house. Rotating the menu with the seasons, the best-selling burgers, house made flatbread pizzas and fresh fish have become local favorites.
“He’s a great fit for the restaurant,” Powers said. “He’s really great at creating dishes that really fit with the personality of the restaurant.
A variety of bottled beers, rotating draft beers, cocktails, wines and whiskeys are also on the menu at Zel’s Del Mar.
The restaurant has always offered Saturday and Sunday brunch, but a couple years ago, Zel’s Del Mar began offering lunch every day. More recently, the menu was expanded to also offer breakfast.
“It’s still in the process of building and growing,” said Powers, adding that the restaurant also offers takeout.
In the spring, the couple plans to bring a local coffee roaster on board, complete with a coffee bar outside the restaurant.
“It will help activate the corner,” Glassman said.
Glassman and Powers constantly consider new ways to build their business but also be involved in the community.
Not long after opening Zel’s Del Mar, they relocated to the city. Glassman, who runs his own real estate company, now sits on Del Mar’s Business Support Advisory Committee and Traffic & Parking Advisory Committee. The restaurant also sponsors the opening acts for Del Mar Foundation’s Summer Twilight Concerts.
After all, music is another big part of Zel’s Del Mar, where live music is featured 7-10 p.m. on Thursdays, 8-11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 6-9 p.m. on Sundays.
“We want to be part of the community,” Glassman said. “We want to be involved with the community, help the town and give back.”
For more about Zel’s Del Mar, call 858-755-0076 or visit zelsdelmar.com.