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Cardiff by the Sea’s restaurant matriarch has passed away. Ki Holcomb, 88, founded the popular oceanfront Ki’s Restaurant along Cardiff by the Sea’s Restaurant Row, on Coast Highway 101.

Ki Holcomb

Ki Holcomb

In 1980, at the age of 55, Ki started Ki’s Juice Bar, in a little building on Birmingham Drive at the north end of Newcastle Avenue. She had previously worked the juice bar at Henry’s Market in Solana Beach. The sales area inside Ki’s was no more than 200 square feet. Surfers would stop in for their daily dose of two ounces of fresh-pressed wheat grass juice.

Eventually Ki’s son Barry built a little commercial kitchen in the back of the shop, and soups, sandwiches, and smoothies began being sold. Health foods, nutritional supplements, and natural cosmetics were added. The place always has a line out the door.

In 1994, the Holcombs had outgrown their shop. They decided to transform their business into a full-scale restaurant. They moved into a vacant, two-story, white-water-and-beach-view building at 2591 South Coast Highway 101.

Ki's Restaurant

2591 S. Coast Highway 101, Cardiff-by-the-Sea

The site had one problem — it was a jinxed location. Between the mid-1980s and 1994, the restaurant had been operated as eight different establishments — from fine dining, to Asian food, a family pizza joint, and a lobster house. One restaurant was only in business two weeks before closing. The site had sat vacant for months when the Holcombs moved in.

After gutting the old restaurant and before starting the remodel, Ki had the place exorcised to release the restaurant’s demons. A Native American shaman and Buddhist priest spread cleansing, smoking sage, and blessed each room with prayers of prosperity and happiness.

Ki worked seven days a week, greeting her family of customers, and the restaurant become successful. The business branched out again, also becoming a wholesale healthy food manufacturer — Ki’s Kitchen.

A little over ten years ago, the Holcomb family noticed in Ki, the onset of dementia. It took a decade to take its toll. But up until her placement in a care facility in 2012, for those longtime customers that knew her — she may not have remembered you when she saw you — but she was gracious, knowing that she was at her restaurant enjoying a dinner meal with her husband Jim.

Historical footnote: In the early 1980s, the seemingly only successful business at this restaurant site, prior to Ki’s was a club named the Windjammer. The Windjammer is credited with being the first bar to change the coastal North County night scene from a drink-wine-with-jazz atmosphere, to packed dance clubs.

They found an unknown three-piece band that played dance music known a New Wave. The Tweed Sneakers broke house records with a sometimes two-hour wait to get inside on weekends. People were caught climbing the tall palm trees out front to sneak into the second-floor bar.

The band got offered more money to play larger clubs — Solana Beach’s Distillery Night Club and La Jolla’s Rodeo. The Windjammer went back to a jazz format before closing a few years later, which started the spiral of failed restaurants at this location.

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