Wayne Judah's start in the food business began on the family farm. The Admiral Risty co-owner and general manager Wayne Judah can cook and tend bar. He is also a mentor, pilot softball player, husband, father, and a proud grandfather.
The eldest of four children, two brothers and a sister, he was raised on a farm in a small farming community in Hardee County, 60 miles east/southweast of Tampa, Florida. His family grew truck crops cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, and citrus, including oranges, tangerines and grapefruits. They raised chickens, pigs and cows and they made their own butter. Wayne fondly recalls driving a tractor in the fields at the age of 12, just as soon as he was strong enough to press down the clutch. "My work ethic was instilled at a young age. We always worked and we always ate well" said Wayne.
At 17, Judah enrolled at the University of Florida, where he studied agriculture in preparation for a career in the citrus industry. In 1966, he was drafted into the Army. While on a tour of duty in Vietnam, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. When he returned home he was stationed at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro.
On weekdays he worked as a Communications Specialist, and at night he volunteered in Officers Club to learn to bartend. On January 23, 1969, two days before he was honorably discharge, he landed a bartending job at The Admiral Risty.
He took flying lessons in the morning. Throughout his childhood he had watched planes from nearby bases fly over their farm, was fascinated by their vapor trails, and had yearned to learn how to fly. Rather than going home after his flying lessons, he went to work early and in his spare time he began ordering the liquor, food and meat for the restaurant. Just nine months later, he was promoted to Manager. “I was the first person to arrive in the morning, and the last one to leave at night,” he said. In 1974, amid the challenges of a downturn in the economy, he was laid off.
He worked in the insurance industry for a couple of years, but hated the drive to Los Angeles. Next he landed a position as Beverage Manager at a corporate chain hotel in the South Bay. In 1979, Ralph Wood paid him a visit at the hotel and after several meetings, he agreed to return as Manager at The Admiral Risty. Three years later
in 1982, he became a restaurant co-owner and General Manager.
In 1990, Wayne married Jan Jay. Jan has been a prominent South Bay realtor for over 30 years. She is currently a principal in The Jay-Judah Group and associated with RE/MAX Palos Verdes Execs. In October of this year, the couple looks forward to celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary at their home in Palos Verdes Estates.
Judah has always loved to cook and to experiment with different dishes, and the Admiral Risty galley has been the ideal venue for his creativity. Most of the restaurant’s recipes have evolved because of teamwork between Judah, former Chefs Cecelia Brooks and George Zavala, and co-owner Ralph and Barbara “Risty” Wood. The sour dough bread that is served at dinner, and the quick breads that are served at Sunday Brunch were a one-year-plus team effort by Wayne, Chef Cecelia, and past prep-cook, Chris Cashon.
Over the years the menu has changed regularly to satisfy customer’s changing tastes and desires. “In the late 60s the restaurant was a steak house and the menu was almost all beef. Today we are a steak and seafood restaurant and we sell a ton of fish,” said Judah. Pastas, Rack of Lamb, Shrimp, Scallops and fresh fish have also been added to the menu.
Signature items include Risty's Flank Steak, Wayne's Award-Winning Cioppino, and Ralph's Blue Cheese Dressing. The Risty's famous Belgian Waffles, topped with fresh fruit compote and whipped cream, are a children's favorite for Sunday Brunch.
During the '80's Judah, with the assistance of Beverage Manager, Dan Heller, developed The Risty's wine list. Wayne Judah took classes at California State University, Long Beach, attended wine tastings, and visited many different wineries. Today's wine list features more than 150 California and imported wines.
Judah played baseball in high school, and for the past 25 years has played senior League Softball in Manhattan Beach, Torrance and Long Beach. The restaurant sponsors his team, The Admiral Risty Whalers.
Judah says that he approaches restaurant management as if it was a team sport. He is the player coach and he tries to help each player do a better job. He provides training, uniform shirts, encouragement and incentives.
"The restaurant industry is a hands on physical business. You receive the raw product, you prepare it, you serve it, and then you clean up. Everyone and every job is important to a successful restaurant especially your dishwasher," said Wayne.
Judah greets customers Wednesday through Sunday evenings in the front entry. He feels fortunate to operate an independent restaurant rather than a chain restaurant because it gives him the opportunity to personally know many hundreds of customers as well as multi generations of family members.
Wayne oversees a staff of 48 crewmembers including four entertainers. Many of his crew have been Admiral Risty employees for 10, 20 and 30 years. Live entertainment is offered five nights a week in the cozy seaside lounge. "We throw a party every night and when people leave they give us a little money so we can do it again the next day," Judah said.
Judah said his biggest challenge today is the ever-increasing food costs and the downturn in the economy. On an up note he added, "We have a long-term lease on the building and are in the midst of a major, exterior renovation. My continued commitment to our customers is to provide the best food, wines and service that we possibly can for as long as we can.