After receiving news on Saturday, May 23rd that they could begin the re-opening process, several Laguna Beach restaurants immediately hopped into motion. By Memorial Weekend’s end, at least 12 restaurants were either offering patio seating or the full dine-in experience with social distancing.

In the week that followed, restaurant doors were banging open everywhere, from North Laguna’s farthest reaches to South Laguna’s last kid on the block, AhbA. It had to have been the happiest reunion week ever as delighted locals trooped back out to see their restaurant friends and enjoy their favorite food on real plates.

Starfish in SoLag re-opened last Friday with local favorite bartender Neil Skewes back at the helm.

“It’s so great to be back,” said Starfish longtime bartender Neil Skewes. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s just been a great, mellow return of a lot of happy people …me included!”

The Deck, Splashes & Harvest Join the Throng

Yesterday (Monday, June 1st), Chef Rainer Schwarz re-opened The Deck on Laguna while two of our resorts opened their popular local hang-outs as well.  The Ranch Laguna Beach’s Executive Chef Kyle St. John opened his sizable restaurant, Harvest, to the public, while Executive Chef Ron Fougeray at Surf & Sand Resort’s magnificent Splashes opened the dining room (only) to public as well.

Because of the unique special distancing requirements, you can’t just drop into most Laguna restaurants, especially at the resorts where they’re sharing the establishment with in-house guests.

Harvest recommends breakfast and lunch reservations and requires dinner reservations (see their hours below).

Splashes (large photo above) requires online reservations for all seatings, whether breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch or dinner (See their hours at the end of this article, too). No walk-ins can be accommodated at either resort location.

Imaginative COVID-Era Seating Reconfigurations

As noted by Driftwood Kitchen and Deck on Laguna Chef Rainer Schwarz, “Setting up your dining room for social distancing takes so much more planning that you would imagine. You would think we would all just remove a few tables and chairs and be done with it, but this is all about the safe movement of many people in the restaurant at once, even when you’re operating at a less-than-usual capacity.

“We can’t just open the doors and let everyone in.”

Bars in all restaurants continue to remain closed, including Harvest’s giant horseshoe bar and the detached Splashes bar on the sand.

Meanwhile, Chef Rainer of the popular The Deck on Laguna found a way to increase “sand-side seating” despite his closed bar. “We opened up our Bungalows for additional dining seating,” he said. “We were able to add another 40 seats with that extension. We’ve definitely lost seating overall, but it was a great space to be able to access.

The Deck on Laguna team also worked on a way to route people safely in and out of the restaurant, narrowing down multiple entrance options.

“People used to come through Driftwood to our Deck host stand, or they’d drop down from Driftwood into the actual Deck restaurant, or they’d come up from the beach, or they’d come in from the parking lot. That all had to stop. Now it’s one body in, one body out, and only one funnel entrance. “We don’t want to be the restaurant guys who let people in without masks or don’t provide enough space per the regulations,” he continued. “This is a very serious matter. You have to follow the rules. We have to be safe, not only for our own sake and for our patrons, but especially for our employees’ sake.”


Protests and Riots Have Returning Restaurants on Edge

As we’ve all watched footage of looting and fires around us these last few days, Laguna restaurateurs are certainly on edge and watchful.

“It’s a very uncertain time,” said Chef Rainer. “Of course, we’re alert to any changes but one way or the other, we have to go back to business. We thought of delaying another week, but we’ve taken the time to train our people the right way and everyone is ready to go. We have at least 40 or 50 employees starting back with us this week at The Deck. By next week, we’ll have at least 170 people re-employed and that is so important to us to be there for them.

“Of course, we’ll close down on a moment’s notice if anything changes,” he added.


Potential Rioting Quashes Chef Amar Santana Plans

Chef Amar Santana was planning to re-open his 8,000-square-foot Costa Mesa eatery The Hall Global Eatery on Monday, June 1st. The great unknown of whether riots and looting will move further south into Orange County, however, shut the doors on their plan.

“We’re going on a day-by-day basis according to what South Coast Plaza advises,” CEO Ahmed Labbate told me.

“We have gone through weeks of rehiring and reconfiguration and training and now this. But there’s just too much at risk if the riots and looting move in this direction.”

Business partners Executive Chef Amar Santana and CEO Ahmed Labbate will be re-opening Broadway by Amar Santana for two reserved seatings nightly. Photo courtesy of Broadway by Amar Santana

On a lighter note, the team plans to re-open Broadway by Amar Santana next Monday, June 8th.

“We’re opening with a brand new menu, so between that and all the sanitation protocols, we’ve been immersed in training,” said Labbate.

Because of social distancing requirements, Broadway is only able to re-open with about 32 seats. The team was hopeful to expand into an additional patio setting at the next door Dawson Cole Sculpture Garden, a place where long-time fans of Chef Amar will remember earlier wine dinners being served. This time, however, the price tag was too high, so the Broadway team settled back to its 32-seat option.

As a result, Broadway will be taking two seatings each evening, both of which need to be reserved in advance online. (Their online reservation system will be back in play sometime later this week. Stay tuned for the announcement in my Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach.

“We’re doing a 5:00 seating, which needs to clear by 7:00 so that we can re-sanitize everything. And then we’ll do a second, 7:30 seating,” said Labbate.

“It’s going to be so great to be back in business at Broadway and see all our old friends” he said. “But this Friday (June 5th), just for old times’ sake, we’re doing our fried chicken dinner for pickup or delivery,” added Labbate. “It turns out people in this town love their fried chicken during quarantine. Who knew?”

Harvest at the Ranch is open seven days a week Reservations are highly recommended for breakfast, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and for lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations are required for dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Please, no walk-ins are allowed.

Splashes at Surf & Sand Resort is open seven days a week. Reservations are required; no walk-ins are allowed. Breakfast is 7 11 a.m. Lunch is Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brunch is Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. And dinner is 5 9 p.m., again seven days a week.  

NOTE: Click here for an update on MORE restaurants opening (written June 4)

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