Matt Pike joins Royal Hawaiian as Executive Chef with a vision of bringing back the old days 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

First of all, to clear up any misconceptions, this is not Matthew Pike of the now defunct Beach House. Same name, different guy. As of two weeks ago, this Matt Pike is the new Executive Chef of the Royal Hawaiian. He brings a wealth of experience to the table, in more ways than one, and a singular vision to bring back the old days of the Royal Hawaiian. And who in Laguna doesn’t yearn for that?

To this end, Pike wants to rekindle the local flair, bring back some of the menu favorites, and introduce new items, using more locally harvested products. “It’s an ongoing process. We’re reinventing ourselves,” he says. “There’s always room for change. Some of the old things worked and some didn’t. We’re very local oriented, we care about locals and their families and want them to feel that this is their home away from home.”

Pike is very excited about this new endeavor. “I have a wonderful team of bosses. Hasty Honarkar has a passion and dedication for the Royal Hawaiian. She’s a real go-getter. I admire her spunk and get it done attitude. She basically let me go and said ‘play.’ And the kitchen staff, wait and bar staff are all very strong.” 

Matt Pike Taste of Laguna

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(L-R) Dylan Pike (Matt’s son), Hasty Honarkar, and Matt at Taste of Laguna

In terms of the menu, Pike says, “I want to recreate some of the old signature dishes, the rib and shrimp combo, Teriyaki ribeye, RH salad and dressing, but also add brand-new items. We’re looking toward heathier cuisine and adding gluten-free items as well.” 

They’ve recently added brunch to their menu, and Pike says that they just hosted a wedding celebration of 14 and emphasizes that it’s a great place to have birthday or anniversary parties. Additionally, theme nights and industry nights are in the works.

Round about journey to Royal Hawaiian

How Pike ended up at Royal Hawaiian involved racking up some pretty significant culinary miles. And aptly, along the path, he spent 15 years in Hawaii as a chef, so he knows of what he speaks (and cooks) when it comes to island inspired food. His lengthy resume is ridiculously impressive and began many years ago a long way from Hawaii.

Pike’s journey started when he was 10 years old and his parents owned a roadside snack shop in rural Vermont. When he was in high school, he worked at the local ski area restaurant. “My first chef and mentor, Claude Blais, recently visited me. When I was in high, school, he showed me how to get things done and kept me on the straight and narrow and out of trouble.”

Pike arrives in Laguna

In the early ‘80s, Pike landed in Laguna, but unfortunately, on his first night here, he was held up and robbed. The next day, he got a job at Dana Trader’s in Dana Point, and then here in town at Main Beach Bar and Grill (current location of the lifeguard headquarters). 

Along the way, in 1984, he met his wife Dede Westgaard, a graduate of Laguna Beach High School, who is currently a realtor with Coldwell Bank. The Main Beach lifeguard stand was named after her father Dean Westgaard, a lifeguard for 17 years. 

The couple moved to Kona, Hawaii, and he continued his career working with Alan Wong at Canoe House Restaurant, Kona Village. Soon he was executive chef at King Kamehameha in Kona Beach, and then at The Ritz Carlton, first in Maui and then Palm Beach, Florida and South Carolina. After that, he traveled to Atlanta for a gig with The Golf Club of Georgia, and a year later, they came back to California.

Matt Pike cocktails

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Bartender Greg makes a Lapu Lapu at the Taste of Laguna

After arriving in California, Pike took a position at the Lodge at Rancho Mirage, then as executive chef at Santa Anita Race Track, and he opened the Indian Wells Golf Resort, then joined Aramark. He says, “With them, I was chef at the University of Southern California for the athletic department, including all the athletic teams, and then they transferred me to California State University at Fullerton to start a new residential dining program.” 

Eight years ago Pike and his family moved back to Laguna. He says, “With a few other positions in between, now I’m at the Royal Hawaiian.” 

Pike and his wife have now been married 30 years and have three sons (the youngest went all four years at LBHS). Not surprisingly, each is involved in some phase of the food business. Dylan works with his dad at the restaurant, Carter is a banquet captain at the Four Seasons in Hawaii, and Kailar, who lives in San Francisco, works in a gourmet deli-burger shop. 

Life is all about food

As if the position of executive chef doesn’t keep him busy enough, Pike also owns Gnarly Q Catering. He has a 20 foot smoker grill that he takes around in his truck to various events and functions. And when asked if he cooks at home, he responds, “Every night. I like to cook with fresh ingredients, fruits and vegetables.” It’s obvious that he loves to cook, no matter where or when. “I spent a lot of holidays away from the family working at restaurants, so I love to cook for them.”

Another vision Pike has for the Royal Hawaiian is that it be a place people gather and have a good time, laugh, relax, enjoy the island fare and leave wanting “just one more bite.”

With Pike at the helm, it’s bound to happen, and sooner than later.

The Royal Hawaiian is located at 331 N Coast Hwy.

For more information, go to www.royalhawaiianlb.com or call (949) 715-1470.