10 Minutes With … Ivan Spiers

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The local restaurant owner talks about the path that brought him to Laguna and his passion for good food, music and travel.

By Sharon Stello

 

Restaurateur Ivan Spiers, who grew up in South Africa, brought some of that country’s flavors to Laguna Beach by opening Mozambique nearly two decades ago and has established several new dining concepts in recent years.

In 2015, he launched barbecue eatery Skyloft and, in 2023, he took over Rumari, reopening with a menu of both Italian cuisine and Greek dishes. Also last year, he introduced Laguna Fish Co., which then transitioned to Bodega Laguna Cocina & Cantina. In December, a vintage hangout called Herb’s Place was added inside Skyloft with boozy shakes, barbecue and retro tunes. He also owns Daryl’s House, a restaurant and live music club in New York.

But it all started at Mozambique with wood-fired meats, seafood, peri peri sauce, samosas and curry, flavors from Spiers’ childhood that he wanted to introduce to Orange County.

Spiers says his dad was born at a gold mine in South Africa and his mother came from England right before World War II. “I was born up in Zululand, close to the Mozambique border,” he says. “Grew up there till I was 13, then my dad sold everything. … We had a trading store and a paint factory. Then we moved to … Durban, where I grew up the last five or six years before I left South Africa.”

Spiers moved to England to work for record label EMI, then traveled to the U.S., Hong Kong and Australia before settling in Laguna Beach about 35 years ago. “There’s very few countries I haven’t been to,” he says. He has also previously worked in the restaurant industry.

At his current restaurants, Spiers says it’s all about the people—many have worked for him for a long time. “We bring them up through the ranks,” he says. “It’s all about empowering them.” His restaurants also have loyal customers. “We want to make sure they have a fantastic experience,” he says, “from the ambiance and the decor to the food and the service.”

Ivan Spiers and dog Max_no credit needed
Ivan Spiers, owner of Mozambique, Skyloft, Rumari and Bodega Laguna Cocina & Cantina in town, pictured with his dog, Max
Laguna Beach Magazine: What brought you to the U.S.?

Ivan Spiers: I met some guys in the Canary Islands while surfing and they were from Monterey, California. So I got to know them. … I decided to leave England with the weather and the strikes [going on]. This was back in the late ’60s, early ’70s. The guys were like, “Why don’t you come to the States?” So I bought a ticket and came to the United States—traveled by Greyhound bus … from New York and finally ended up in Monterey, California, … working on all the farms.

 

What drew you to Laguna?

IS: I … moved down here because I was doing a lot of business with … all the action sports companies. I was in the apparel business. I had 29 stores [called Clothes Out] in Northern California and those were sold in ’90 [or] ’91, if I remember correctly. … This was pre-Ross, pre-T.J. Maxx, pre-Marshalls.

 

Why did you open Mozambique?

IS: I bought … [the building] one day at auction. … I decided to call it Mozambique. I know the flavors of Mozambique and Southern Africa. With the Indian, the Malay people, the Afrikaans, the Dutch people, the Portuguese—so many cultures, … but it’s all blended in South Africa. … It took a lot of [time] getting the spices and everything [for the restaurant]. … And now it’s been open close to 20 years.

 

Do you have any hobbies?

IS: Listening to music … and helping other musicians. We employ a lot of musicians between Skyloft and Mozambique. … I played guitar and some keyboards. I was in bands in South Africa from 14. … [I like] older rock ’n’ roll—it’s my era that I was born in. Southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd … and The [Rolling] Stones.

 

Any Laguna restaurants you like?

IS: I love The Drake, the Montage, [Splashes at] Surf & Sand. … There’s other places, … but I don’t really go out that much. [With The Drake,] it’s just the food and the atmosphere. The way it’s decorated, it’s unique. They have jazz. It’s great. I also love The Ranch [at Laguna Beach] for its peaceful setting and the surrounding hills, … which remind … me of an escarpment in Southern Africa.

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