With Governor Newsom’s hopeful announcements for restaurants this Tuesday, our Laguna Beach restaurants are feeling like there might actually be light at the end of this tunnel.

While there are a very large number of hurdles for each county to leap before their restaurants are given the green light, Laguna restaurateurs are hoping it will be “just a few more weeks” before they’re able to open for “social distancing” dine-in seating.

“This has been a great opportunity for us to recalibrate and get our operations and food honed,” said Archie Mack, Co-Owner and Partner of Starfish.

Mack said that this Mother’s Day take-out-only option was bigger than last year’s Mother’s Day in sales, and that it rivaled their record sales for New Year’s Eve dining.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I had to shut off the phones at 7:00 p.m. because we just couldn’t take any more orders. We had hundreds of bags on long stretches of tables … I had PTSD for two days afterwards,” he joked.

“But having a day like that proved to us that we really can survive in a take-out and delivery environment … at least for a few more weeks,” he continued. “And, more importantly, it just shows how great this community is in their support of our restaurants.”

230 Forest Re-Opened For Take-Out This Week

Chef/Owner Marc Cohen reopened 230 Forest this week for take-out orders. Photo courtesy of 230 Forest Avenue restaurant.

Encouraged by the business of their fellows and recognizing that they have to “get ready to get ready” for that green light, three Laguna favorites chose to re-open this week.

Chef Marc Cohen re-opened 230 Forest on Wednesday for take-out and delivery, offering nearly the entirety of his popular menu along with new family meals and craft cocktails to go. Online orders can be made from the website with pick up or delivery between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

As soon as the news was out, business was brisk. “We’ve been selling everything across the board,” said Cohen. “I think there will be a feeling-out period as everyone settles into the menu we’re offering. The most important thing I have stressed to our team is to be fluid and willing to change,” he said.

Cohen opted to open his other remaining restaurant, Aliso Viejo-based Opah on the same day. (He permanently closed Watermarc a few weeks ago.)

“I have about eight people in front of house and back of house (kitchen) at each location right now,” he said. “It will be challenging, to say the least, to make this work in our ‘new normal.’ It definitely comes with uncertainty and challenges for us every day.

“We have no choice, though, to try to move forward for our staff, community and business. The health of our staff and customers is our first priority. But, it’s a sense of community that really makes us want to be here every day – our customers are an extension of family to us. This is who we are!”

Zinc Cafe Re-opens for Take-Out Today (Friday)

Zinc Cafe re-opens for take-out in Laguna Beach today (Friday) with Owner John Secretan back at the helm. Photo courtesy of Zinc Cafe & Market

Yet another one of our longest-running restaurant successes, Zinc Cafe & Market, Laguna Beach re-opened today (Friday) at 9 a.m. Online orders can be placed through 3 p.m. for curbside pick-up or delivery.

Laguna’s Ocean Boulevard cafe was John Secretan’s first location in 1988. He has expanded since to Corona del Mar and the Arts District in L.A. In the first week of April, he chose to close all three of his locations.

Secretan noted at that time that the stress and reaction to the sudden changes and health scare had everyone rattled. He worried for the safety of his employees and customers and made the decision to close to re-work processes, proximity issues and physical placement of his restaurants’ station offerings.

The Laguna Beach location is the first to open for take-out. Zinc in Corona del Mar will open at the end of May, and Zinc in L.A. will open in early June.

Wine Gallery Re-opens for Take-Out Today (Friday)

Chef Josh Mason has come up with new pizza creations for take-out.

Still another resident favorite, Wine Gallery Laguna Beach re-opens for take-out with Co-Owner Chris Olsen in the front and Chef Josh Mason stoking up the fires in the kitchen. Look for online menu options as well as pick-up and delivery offerings on their website.

Chef Josh says he feels completely rejuvenated and “ready to rock it” since the restaurant temporarily closed in mid-March.”I had plenty of sleep (which I needed) and plenty of time to come up with new recipes, so we’re going to be offering some new pizzas along with a pasta dish, our wings, and a few other big sellers here,” he said.

Olsen chimed in, saying that with dine-in restrictions potentially lifted in the near future, “we feel we’re getting closer and wanted to start the to-go program. It just feels like it’s the right time.”

Added Co-Owner Paul Spiegelman, “We’re very cautious to make sure that we put the safety of our employees and our guests first, so the time off has helped us step back and make sure we’ve taken those measures.”

In the last few weeks, Olsen and Spiegelman have also updated the kitchen, made a few upgrades throughout and have resurfaced the concrete floors.

“Spa Days” for Restaurants All Around

Chef Alessandro Pirozzi has been sprucing up Alessa by Pirozzi with new flooring and fresh coats of paint. (He says he will be re-opening “soon.” This drive me crazy, of course, because we all need Alessa’s food again sooner than soon.)

And restaurateurs like Reunion Kitchen and Asada’s Scott McIntosh are simply building bigger – much bigger – with construction quickly moving forward on his second, 4,000-square-foot-plus Asada restaurant at the San Clemente Outlet mall. “Completion date looks to be end of June,” McIntosh told me. “We’re shooting for opening the 4th of July weekend.”

Reprocessing a New Process for Sapphire

And then there’s new Owner Russ Bendel and Operating Partner Chris Hutten at the anticipated Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook., who planned to open by mid-April before a certain pandemic came along with a different deadline.

New Sapphire, Cellar.Craft.Cook Operating Partner Chris Hutten says their new “grab-and-go” refrigerator makes up for 40% of their sales. (Their crafty craft cocktails, at the top, certainly help this healthy percentage.)

While they’ve been introducing breakfast, lunch, dinner and memorable craft cocktail items through their take-out and grab-and-go at The Sapphire Pantry next door, these boys are itching to welcome Laguna Beach into their new concept restaurant.

“We have the Laguna community to thank for keeping us open to this point,” said Hutten. “Everyone stopping in has been really amazing.

“It’s these relationships that are really driving us to stay the course and get through this. We’re doing it for them because we all know how great it’s going to be to truly be back in the hospitality business,” he said.

As the wait looks to be down to weeks, Bendel and Hutten are working with their current staff to re-process what hasn’t even been a process yet. Now with a full house and patio of waiting tables and new banquettes, they’re puzzling out social distance and sanitation requirements, along with which tables need to be off limits or taken off the floor.

“If we keep all the tables on the floor but effectively don’t allow seating at the in-between tables, it’s frustrating for guests who are waiting and see all these empty tables. We all know what we’re dealing with … we all know it’s about social distancing … but it could still be frustrating,” Hutten said.

“The key for us is to create that welcome environment where guests come to be served and taken care of, where they’re able to leave their problems behind while still feeling entirely safe and comfortable. This is the environment they deserve.”

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