"Having a kosher place, you can only be so risqué in your appearance," she said.
Situated a quick jaywalk across Pacific Coast Highway from Surfrider Beach and the Malibu Pier, Malibu Beach Grill is a kosher oasis in a town renowned for breathtaking seaside vistas, A-list celebrity sightings and new-age crunchiness. And nearly two years after the controversial ouster of Malibu Chicken by building owner Chabad of Malibu, Malibu Beach Grill is well on its way to carving out its own niche with an eclectic menu that can best be described as California fleishig (meat).
But the road to winning over the locals wasn't easy.
Brooks Bogartz and her husband/silent partner, Gary Bogartz, each worked full-time jobs in addition to the restaurant during the first year. Malibu Beach Grill was open 16-hour days in the first six months, and differentiated itself from many area restaurants by offering delivery.
"I thought I worked hard before this. I had no idea," said Brooks Bogartz, a former entertainment publicist and Chabad Telethon coordinator. "For a year we were the walking dead," she said. "I was sleeping four hours a night."
Business is starting to pick up at this cozy kosher surf shack, both from word-of-mouth in the observant world and hipster bon mots in the L.A. Weekly last summer.
To compensate for being closed Friday night and Saturday, the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, making it a favorite with Pepperdine students, especially during winter months. The free wi-fi doesn't hurt, either. The novelty of buying kosher food at the beach keeps observant families showing up en masse on Sundays and on weeknights during the summer. More than a few put Malibu Beach Grill on the itinerary so out-of-town guests can savor the SoCal ta'am (flavor).
"It's a small place, but it's better than what we have in Philadelphia," said Shira Weitz, 22, who was visiting with friend Este Kahn.
"They put an interesting twist on everything," said Kahn, a 22-year-old Fairfax resident. "It's different from what you get at other kosher restaurants. It's not just a plain burger."
The burgers at Malibu Beach Grill offer a Cali twist: the Sunset features sundried tomatoes, caramelized shallots and basil aioli. And when the kitchen staff asked Brooks Bogartz how she wanted to prepare the Mexican food, in Jewish fashion she answered the question with another question: "How does your grandmother do it?"
Kashrut for the restaurant is handled by Rabbi Levy I. Zirkind out of Fresno. Brooks Bogartz identifies as shomer Shabbat, and as a resident of the Malibu area since 1994, she attends services at Chabad of Malibu, whose sign featuring a surfing rabbi has graced PCH since 2001.
Despite the dread cred and her sister Collette's local notoriety as a surfer, Brooks Bogartz has yet to actually grab a stick and hit the waves.
"My dream is to learn how to surf in Hawaii, where it's warm," she said. Instead, Brooks Bogartz spends her time working alongside her dedicated kitchen crew, which has remained the same since its opening, slowly building up the restaurant's catering and walking the tables to make sure her customers are happy.
"I have the Jewish mother inclination to feed everybody," she said.