Filippo Trani arrived in the U.S. in 1913, making his way from his landing point on Ellis Island to the small fishing community of San Pedro. He came from Ischia, an island off the coast of Italy, its surrounding ocean peppered with distant islets.
Who knows what Filippo thought when he came to San Pedro — did the sight of Catalina remind him of his home isle? Was he surprised to find that the fish in the Pacific were similar to those circling the waters he’d left behind?
We’ll never know for sure.
But what we do know is this: Filippo Trani had a vision. He founded The Majestic Café in San Pedro in 1925, serving American and later Italian favorites to his new neighbors. Later, his family would carry on this spirit with J. Trani’s Ristorante, a local favorite that has become a San Pedro institution. Now, the family has expanded that vision and enthusiasm with Trani’s Dockside Station, which should be open to the public by the time you read this. [Editor’s note: Don’t blame us if you read this and they’re not open yet.]
“We wanted to execute a completely different concept than what we’re doing at J. Trani’s,” says Dustin Trani, Filippo’s great-grandson and head chef at both restaurants. “There you have your pizzas, pastas, steaks, all that kind of stuff, but here we’re doing something different.”
According to Dustin and his dad Jim, the majority owner of Dockside, the new restaurant specializes in seafood with European coastal and global elements. From a raw oyster bar to octopus charred over live coals, Dockside plays with fire and ice. “You can expect a lot of crudos, a lot of raw items, and a few pastas,” says Dustin, “but we’re carving out our own niche to it. We have an open wood-burning hearth, and we’re skewering and grilling fish — it’s all about going right off the dock and into the restaurant.”
Accordingly, their menu changes daily based on what’s fresh. In addition to coastal cuisine, the restaurant also experiments with other concepts, like zero waste — a choice that’s equally about sustainability as it is flavor, according to executive sous chef Zach Morrison. “We’re making our own powders from shallot ends. We’re taking other scraps and making vinegars with them,” says Zach, whose pedigree includes eateries like the acclaimed Bestia in Los Angeles. “It gives us a unique flavor profile that no other restaurant can match. People can try to imitate it, but they’re just not going to.”
For Dustin, zero waste is also about quality. When restaurants outsource as little of their menu as possible, they have more control over their end product. “We’ve always done everything ourselves. We’ve always made the bread at J. Trani’s, we made the sausages,” he says. “And we know that when you do that, you’re able to give the customer something that no other restaurant can. It’s a lot more work, but the result? There’s no comparison.”
Though Italian is ostensibly off the menu, the restaurant still pays homage to the Trani’s Ischian and San Pedro roots. To start, the Tranis filled the space with heirlooms from San Pedro’s past, repurposing a 1,600-pound bank table that once stood in the former First Bank of Italy (on loan from the San Pedro Bay Historical Society). They also saved the classic serpentine bar top from the old TC’s Cocktail Lounge for Dockside’s bar.
The restaurant resides in the former home of Canetti’s Seafood Grotto. Before that, the building was an immigration facility for the city of Los Angeles, which processed thousands of immigrants just like Filippo throughout the early 1900s. “This was the Ellis Island of Los Angeles, and you can really feel that aura in here,” says Dustin. “It’s a really unique and special space.”
They’ve also partnered with San Pedro artisans to source their ingredients — Cliffside Mushrooms supply their mushrooms, and their fish comes from next-door wholesaler J & D Seafood. On staff is local mixologist Derek Sepulveda, who creates cocktails that complement the day’s dishes. “The idea behind our drinks is very similar to our cuisine,” explains Dustin. “Whatever the star of the dish is, the drink is going to put that forward with accents.”
With so many moving parts, it’s clear that the Tranis are master restauranteurs, but they still faced challenges when getting Dockside off the ground. Securing permits for the space was tricky when starting in 2018, and the pandemic’s supply chain challenges presented another hurdle in 2020. What got them through it was the support of others. “Mike Galvin gave us a lot to get us down there,” says Jim, “and Megan Sestich really helped make this thing happen.”
Then there was their general manager Bart Thompson, who assembled a team of staff from innovative restaurants across Los Angeles. And there was San Pedro itself. “Born and raised here in San Pedro, you have the trust of the community,” says Dustin. “You can come in here and do something off the wall, and this town is going to give it a shot.”
With that in mind, the Tranis are optimistic that San Pedro will embrace Dockside wholeheartedly — and they hope to give that same spirit back to their hometown.
They’ve created an “immigrant wall” at the new restaurant, filled with photos of San Pedrans just after arriving in the town, and they’ve left space to add images brought in by their customers. Beyond that, they’re simply here to stay.
“We owe it to our friends, family, and the town for 98 years of support,” says Dustin, “and hopefully, we can give you all another 98.” spt
Trani’s Dockside Station is located at 311 E. 22nd Street. For the latest updates, follow them on Instagram @tranisdocksidestation.