Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos bites the dust

December 2, 2021

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 

Franklin’s memoir, “Life On The Mississippi, 1969,” is currently on Amazon.

By DELL FRANKLIN

On the busiest, most crowded weekend days in Cayucos, the line for takeout at Ruddell’s Smokehouse usually winds out into the street and curves toward the seawall and nearby parking lot. Drivers of cars cruising past have to wait for those awaiting smoked albacore and salmon tacos, dogs in tow, to move to make room so they can pass.

Even on weekdays, when people from as far away as LA drive 200 miles just to sample a couple tacos and sniff the sea breeze, there are lines at the Smokehouse.

This has been going on for some 20-plus years, and the establishment has become a Cayucos landmark, lending the town a beach authenticity that dates back to the days well over 50 years ago when most communities along the California coast, from Crescent City to San Diego, had tiny smokehouse shacks near their piers and bought fish from commercial fishermen arriving with catches—and smoked them.

Well, those days are gone, due to beach communities on our coastline becoming too high-rent to afford these little old shacks producing the irresistible delicacies that have turned their customers into addicts—like Ruddell’s Smokehouse.

Not only that, but old shacks no longer fit in with beach ambiance. So, in our age of  gentrifying attrition, the shack and the liquor store attached to it on a downtown corner–beside our soon to be deposed bank–will be leveled and a new solid modern business building (the liquor store will remain) will replace it, and the Smokehouse really has no place to go.

There’s a lot of sadness in Cayucos these days. The Smokehouse, a rickety structure, employs young hardworking locals who, after closing around 6 in the evening, can often be found sipping a beer or two in the nearby parking lot with local surfers and regulars like Patrick and his coterie.

Watching them talk and laugh while sunset hovers on the winter horizon smacks of a time, which I enjoyed decades ago in Manhattan Beach, when young people could afford to work and live on the beach and infuse the area with a genuine camaraderie.

A sense of belonging and accepting.

Jim Ruddell had this in mind when he created the Smokehouse after Adam Pollard of the Taco Temple moved from the shack to a bigger venue in Morro Bay.

At that time, on Tuesdays, Jim always smoked great big meaty beef ribs in the morning and gave them away free at noon. There was always a line. A bunch of us locals each secured a rib and strolled to the beach wall and polished these beauties bare.

It was a simple gesture. And Jim didn’t just do it with a business sense, no, he was the kind of generous man who savored watching people enjoy his products more than he did a profit. He lit up with a grand smile when we told him how great these ribs were, like hungry dogs wagging their tails.

I guess this good karma served him well, because his business became a resounding success, its tentacles reaching clear to the east coast, and even now, years after his death, this karma still circulates around the Smokehouse. You feel it when you see Smokehouse patrons retreating to their camper shells and truck beds and vans, or to the huge tree trunks that washed up on the beach years ago to sit down upon, and savor the fragrant tacos with a cold beer or soft drink.

But it will all cease to exist when this year ends, and Cayucos will have a hole in its heart, especially when one walks past an empty and finally razed Smokehouse, and eventually a brand spanking new gleaming business building.

I can’t think of many people in town who won’t miss it, and its old time California beach town flavor.


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Ben Daho

Yes, it’s sad to see the community grow. When Good Clean Fun built that “Modern” building, it broke my heart. It changed the Feel of the small beach town. Then the Board member for the Sanitary district has the palm tree in the front of their headquarters removed because it wasn’t “Native” the district paid to have it “Hauled off” and rumor had it, the tree was sold for $20K and I’m not sure why it had to be removed and who got paid. But, none of my business.

I was in OC for Thanksgiving. I moved there in 1969. All there was surrounding us was Orange trees, Strawberry fields and a Drive through dairy and “Pete’s farm”. Now the trees are gone. Valley View and Katella are just paved streets and cement with Yamaha, Mary Kay, etc. with huge buildings lining the streets. My old neighbor said “I can’t believe what they’ve done to this place” I replied “Imagine how the Mexicans would feel if they came back after a 200 year hiatus and could see their own pre-European invasion on their old land?”

He lives in a 2600. Sq. Ft. House. I reminded him “If you ever complain about Traffic, YOU’RE traffic. Same with occupying the land your complaining has changed.

We’re all witnessing evolution in real time. I’m sure in a Thousand years, humans will have went the way of the dinosaurs.


Gramelin

The Decomposing of Original Cayucos started with Oprah announcing the Cookie company, as one of her favorite things. Along with the incredible job the Chamber of Commerce did selling our Sanctity right from under us.


Downtown Bob

Totally overrated cookies in every way, dry and tasteless. I didn’t know the big o made them popular with the tourist crowd.


blackjack

With the new building of a no doubt “modern grey toned pseudo masculine” design and it’s triple net leases, the price of tacos or anything else sold there will be up at tourist trap levels.


gjreed

Another dispatch in the ongoing saga of the Boomer generation keeping it’s promise to leave nothing but debt, death, and destruction in it’s wake.

The smokehouse passes but boomers will morn Applebee’s in SLO longer.


derasmus

Huh…? I’m a boomer, and I wouldn’t step foot into an Applebee’s restaurant. Why, when there are so many other better (and cheaper) places. But that’s the thing about America, choices, eat where you want to, spend your money as you like.


Gramelin

The ONLY reason I miss Applebee’s is because I still hold 2 $50 gift cards from 5 years ago! But can Not in anyway compare to Ruddells. I assume you have never had their Fabulous smoked chickens? Try a piece on a cracker with a Shmear of a good brie! Nothing can compare. The smoked fish taco’s were worth the wait in line.


Zoiebowie

Cold dry tortillas.


derasmus

Dell, stop, you are making me hungry!


ravennest

As if things weren’t really bad already. This is catastrophic news. But thank you Dell Franklin for writing such an apt homage about the best (really, IMHO) thing about Cayucos. Razing this gastronomic landmark for a business building just goes to show how little REAL things mean to some people these days. I sincerely hope there’s a will and a way for this business to transform itself and still provide employment and outstanding tacos. Perhaps a food truck? Oh please, Ruddell’s Smokehouse, don’t say you’re gone for good.


indabarrel

The golden era of Cayucos is done. Here comes the “Irvine” look. Tesla’s and BMW’s and golf carts now the norm. So sad..