Crab Cooker Founder Leaves Legacy of Seafood and Songs Behind

Bob Roubian, founder of iconic Balboa Peninsula restaurant, The Crab Cooker, passed away over the holidays at the age of 91.

Last night at the Newport Beach City Council meeting, Councilwoman Diane Dixon closed the session with a brief tribute to the local legend. 


Roubian was born and raised in Pasadena, Calif. and joined the Navy after high school, fighting as a Seabee in WWII. In 1949, he purchased a home in Newport Beach, a small bungalow on the Peninsula with a darkroom and bocce court. Two years later, Roubian took over the Balboa Peninsula fish market and turned it into a restaurant, which he called The Crab Cooker.

An artist, poet, musician, sculptor, fisherman, community activist and carpenter, Roubian hand-carved the front door of The Crab Cooker, a labor of love for his beloved establishment. During hard times, Roubian—who penned songs for Capitol Records in the 50s—wrote a rockabilly tune, “The Popcorn Song (Too Pooped to Pop)” with country star Cliffie Stone to pay the bills.

“Eat life or life will eat you,” he famously said, and perhaps the dictum stuck with The Crab Cooker’s famed diners: In its long, storied history, The Crab Cooker has served John Wayne, Richard Nixon, James Cagney and Nicolas Cage inside its hallowed walls.

Those walls, however, are today in peril after nearby construction from VUE Newport caused major structural damage to the 1930s era building. Jim Wasko, owner of The Crab Cooker, said the restaurant will be temporarily shut down, potentially in the spring of this year, but is optimistic it will reopen within a year. (If you want your Crab Cooker fix while the rebuild is happening, there’s also a Crab Cooker in Tustin. View on OpenTable here.)

As Councilwoman reiterated in last night’s meeting, the rebuild does not mean the end of The Crab Cooker and Roubian’s family firmly plans to “continue Bob’s legacy for years to come.”