Plans canceled for fresh seafood bar at Liberty Public Market

In this 2018 photo, Rob Ruiz holds a tuna hand roll like the ones he was planning to serve at The Hold Fast in Liberty Public Market. That project has been canceled.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
(Eduardo Contreras/San Diego Union-Tribune)

The goal of chef Rob Ruiz’s the Hold Fast temaki bar was to support local fishermen by serving their daily catch


The Hold Fast, a long-delayed seafood restaurant at Liberty Public Market that Carlsbad chef Rob Ruiz had conceived to support San Diego’s endangered fishing fleet, has been canceled.

Owners of the Public Market food hall at San Diego’s Liberty Station — where the Hold Fast temaki bar was originally slated to open nearly a year ago — confirmed that the deal is officially dead.

“We were incredibly excited to welcome Rob Ruiz into Liberty Public Market, but unfortunately the project did not come to fruition,” said David Spatafore, principal of Blue Bridge Hospitality, which owns and operates the market. “Until a new tenant is confirmed, the space designated for Hold Fast will meet the growing demand as an additional seating area for market guests.”

Efforts to reach Ruiz by phone and email were unsuccessful. In October, Ruiz closed his 6-year-old Carlsbad restaurant, The Land & Water Co. The following month, the restaurant’s adjoining speakeasy, The Captain Charles Kenneth, was also confirmed to be closed.

In this 2018 photo, chef Rob Ruiz prepares a hand roll made with locally caught tuna at his now-shuttered Land & Water Co. restaurant in Carlsbad.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In an October interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune following the Land & Water shutdown, Ruiz said plans for the Hold Fast were still on track for a December 2019 opening, but that schedule would later be pushed back. In that same interview, Ruiz also unveiled plans for a new North County restaurant that would share the philosophy of Land & Water, offering sustainable fish and all-natural land proteins and produce. There is no word on the future of that project.

The Hold Fast was to be the latest of Ruiz’s ambitious efforts to promote seafood sustainability. The Hold Fast was going to sell bite-size, portable sushi hand rolls, known in Japan as temaki, made with seafood caught each morning by local fishermen. He came up with the idea nearly five years ago, saying it would help preserve overfished ocean species, promote safer fishing methods and protect the livelihoods of San Diego’s dwindling commercial fishing industry.

Ruiz grew up in Oceanside, then moved to Hawaii at age 17 and trained there in French and Japanese cooking and sushi techniques. He returned to San Diego in 2005 and spent nine years working at local sushi restaurants. Frustrated at the rampant mislabeling of seafood in the sushi industry, Ruiz in 2013 introduced QR source codes printed on edible squares of rice paper that Harney Sushi diners could scan to find out the type of fish they were eating and where it was caught.

In 2014, he opened the Land & Water Co., where all of the seafood, land proteins and produce were fully traceable, sustainable and organic and its food waste was recycled in an onsite composting program.

In 2016, Ruiz was one of 12 honorees to receive the international Ocean Award for his sustainable seafood practices from the Blue Marine Foundation and Boat International. The award recognized Ruiz’s efforts to save Mexico’s near-extinct vaquita porpoises and to promote the sale of Mexican shrimp caught without the (now-banned) gill nets that were entangling vaquita.

And in November 2018, Ruiz became the first chef and restaurateur in San Diego County to be certified by the James Beard Foundation for his sustainable seafood program.