When the IRS comes calling, most people write a check and pay up.
In the early 1950s, Bob Roubian, owner of the Crab Cooker restaurant in Newport Beach, wrote a song instead.
Royalties from “I’m Too Pooped to Pop,” went straight to pay back taxes Roubian had wracked up after buying the business in 1951.
At the time, Roubian was a carpenter by day and a piano player and composer by night.
He had always loved the sea, Roubian said, so he decided to give up his day job and go into the fish business.
Times were tough back then, since all his revenue came from the summer months, when tourists were in town frequenting the local beach shops and restaurants.
It was difficult for businesses to make enough in June, July and August to carry them through the long, hard winter.
Hence the visit from Humphrey, the IRS agent, demanding to know how Roubian was going to pay the enormous tax bill.
“I’ll pay it. I wrote a song, and it’s going to be a hit,” Roubian said.
Humphrey was a little skeptical, but lo and behold, the song became a hit, and the government got their money.
Roubian said he was thankful the good Lord was on his side.
“No song, no Crab Cooker.”
The restaurant has always prided itself on serving fresh, quality fish. That was a unique challenge when they first opened, Roubian said.
Roubian knew the key to really fresh fish was having them eviscerated (gutted) while they were still alive. The only thing that mattered to Roubian was serving his customers good quality fish, something he said they always recognized.
“When fish smells fishy, it’s bad fish, and tastes lousy. When it’s fresh, it smells like spring, like watermelon,” he said.
In the early years, customers were surprised by the hardwood, charco-broiled entrees that were usually served on skewers — shrimp, scallops, pieces of fish and lobster. Roubian said his was the only restaurant serving seafood that way for many years.
Steve Bolton is Roubian’s nephew and general manager of the Crab Cooker. He’s been working there since his graduation from high school in the 1970s.
When the restaurant first opened, Bolton said, it really wasn’t even a restaurant. It was a fish market, with a few tables in a little room next door.
What he always liked about the restaurant, Bolton said, was the way his uncle was always committed to giving customers the best quality at the very best price.
The Crab Cooker has never taken reservations for lunch or dinner, operating on a first-come, first-serve basis. Especially in the summer, lines may be miles long, but customers just keep coming back, Roubian said.
Celebrities like James Cagney, Anthony Quinn and Nicolas Cage have also been frequent guests.
Jackie Gleason drove up in his limo one time, saw the line and left, Roubian said, while John Wayne solved that problem by calling and ordering food to go.
Roubian liked that his restaurant was one place the rich and famous could come to relax, and count on not being bothered for autographs.
All of Roubian’s customers are equally important to him, though, based on advice his mother passed on to him.
“Mom told me, Robert, first there’s God, then the customer, then there’s the family. Without the customer, the family doesn’t survive.”
For Roubian, he was able to turn a childhood love of fish into a successful restaurant that has been serving customers for more than 50 years.
“Love what you’re doing,” he said.
“When you get paid for playing, you’ve found the art of living.”
SUE THOENSEN may be reached at (714) 966-4627 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.