Turning 70, Mick Donoff plans one heck of a ride

By DIANE ARMITAGE

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

Next week, Mick Donoff turns 70. 

“After last year’s birthday, I started thinking about what I wanted to do for my 70th, he says. “I didn’t want a big party, and I didn’t feel like sitting at a resort somewhere, and then I knew what it had to be …”

On April 6, just three days after his 70th, Mick is riding his bicycle from Laguna Beach to St. Augustine, Florida … because that’s what most men want to scratch off their bucket list at 70.

It’s not just his bucket list, though. After seeing many close friends and family members die or suffer from cancer, he’s raising funds with every mile he rides for the charity, Stand Up 2 Cancer. “I think it’s time I stepped up and did something significant with my life to help other people,” says Mick. 

In February, after making his decision for the 3,069-mile trek, Mick set a goal to raise $10,000 for the charity. Stand Up 2 Cancer was co-founded in 2008 by Katie Couric, and gives every penny raised to innovative research teams and scientists who are working on various cancer projects. Mick will be riding under the Ride America 4 Cancer (RAM4C) banner, which creates rides everywhere to help this charitable cause. 

When Mick first made his trans-continental tour announcement to friends, he expected some backlash. “First of all, I’ve never asked my friends for money. And, I figured they would be more interested in talking me off the ledge,” he says. 

“But this big circle of supportive people just keeps growing, and the generosity is really unbelievable.”

See Mick off on Sunday, April 6 at Heisler

At 9 a.m. on Sunday, April 6, anyone and everyone is invited to Mick’s “Send Off Birthday Breakfast” at the picnic tables in Heisler Park. He’s asking that people kindly RSVP to his email address or phone number so that enough food is provided for all. Beyond that, though, he’s just asking for money contributions, either by check or through the online Stand Up 2 Cancer “file” reserved in his name. (Find all the details at the end.)

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Tools for staying busy and alert while pedaling 100 miles a day

The April 6 Heisler fountainhead is actually part of a larger, organized tour through the Adventure Cycling organization. On that same day, hundreds of cyclists will be leaving San Diego to trek the Southern Tier Route, which meanders through Tempe and Las Cruces, beelines through El Paso and Austin, then trips to Baton Rouge, through Biloxi and the Florida Panhandle, and finally deadheads for St. Augustine. 

“It’s perfect that it ends in St. Augustine,” says Mick. “That’s where Ponce de Leon claimed he discovered the Fountain of Youth. I figure I’ll be needing it right about then.”

Pedaling Into the Heart of Americana

Riders can choose to stay in “packs” or take off on their own. No surprise here – Mick wants to do this on his own, even leaving his usual support crew – Sharon, his wife – in California.

“I figure I can cover about 100 miles a day, but I’m not in a hurry,” he says. For Mick, this is an opportunity to do what he loves to do most – meet people from all walks of life. He loves talking to people and learning about their lives. He says his wife considered driving a support crew van, but finally admitted that she didn’t want to be waiting seven hours at a pre-arranged stop, wondering if he’d been mushed on the road when, instead, he’d probably found a pump jockey to converse with at some “rickety gas station.”

“I can’t help it,” he says with a chuckle. “People are fascinating to me. This is my chance to go at my own pace, and stop and talk whenever I feel like it. I get to be a part of Americana, and that’s something I’m looking forward to.”      

For weeks, Mick has been laying out his packs for the ride, testing weight and balance with the bike’s custom saddlebags. Because this is a particularly demanding trek, Mick is leaving his lighter carbon bike behind. This time, for nearly three months, his steel frame bike will be keeping him company. The bike weighs about 36 pounds. Mick weighs about 168 pounds, so total weight should be about 230-240 pounds. 

Tucked, rolled and stuffed into the compact bags are his lightweight sleeping bag and tent, a couple changes of clothes, his bike’s toolkit, his GoPro camera, iPad and iPhone and – most important – his iPhone speaker, attached to the handlebars. 

“I listen to anything from classical to country … and electronica for the hills.”

He’ll stop in Austin for a few days to meet his wife; she’s bringing his “warm weather” clothes to exchange. “Getting through West Texas will probably be the most challenging because there’s not a lot out there … except a lot of wind. So, I figured I’d reward myself after making it through that hurdle.”

An Addiction to Uber

Although he is 70, and though he’s never done a trans-continental trek before, Mick is no stranger to the world of “ultra racing.” 

Mick began running marathons at the age of 34 and, after 30 marathons, decided to boost the mileage count by taking on 50k runs (31 miles). Tiring of that, he upped it again, completing his first 100-mile run at the age of 44. At that point, he was hooked, and participated as an “ultra-runner” in many acclaimed 100-mile races across North America. 

“If you want to get better as a runner, road biking is the thing that gives you the stamina and strength,” says Mick. “So, since I was already doing 80 and 90-mile days on my bike to train for these things, I decided to try ‘ultra-mountain biking,’ too.”

(Sure. Why not? It’s something we all do, after all.)

Through his 50s and 60s, Mick participated in 12 ultra races, some five and six days in duration, covering 500 or more miles. “I had nine finishes of 12 races,” he says. “But I’m most proud of the record I still hold in the Leadville race. I made it five miles before my bike broke. They still have a plaque in my name for that amazing feat.”

On his off weeks, Mick has hiked Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet) and Argentina’s Aconcagua (22,841 feet).

“I was fortunate to be a teacher for 38 years, so it gave me the freedom to train and go do” says Mick. “And you know, you always have to come back with a story on what you did for your summer vacation.”

Oddly, the man with endless wanderlust loves his roots. He and his wife have been Laguna Beach residents (in the same house) since 1976, and he demonstrated the same “roots” preference in his occupation, too. He taught computer science and history, and coached track and cross-country at Mission Viejo High School for 25 of his 38 years. He was voted “Teacher of the Year” before announcing his decision to retire. “You always want to go out when you’re on top,” he says with a wide grin.  

Not recognizing that he’s already made a difference in so many lives, he talks of his surprise at former students – some of them in their 40s now – who have seen his Facebook entries and have freely donated money and encouragement. 

“I think this is all going to work out,” he says. “And then I’m probably going to do a bigger trip. I’ve been thinking of Canada to the tip of South America …” 

To make a tax-deductible donation for Mick Donoff’s ride:

Make checks out to SU2C, please reference TEAM RAM4C. Bring the check to the April 6 breakfast, or mail it to Mick directly. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details. 

Or, go online to www.StandUp2Cancer.org - the search is so convoluted for your specific donation for Mick that we’re providing the shortened link directly to Mick’s page here: http://bit.ly/1hgKPYP

Follow Mick’s progress at the same StandUp link, above, or at his Facebook page, facebook.com/mick.donoff


Joanne Culverhouse, a leader among leaders

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

Joanne Culverhouse arrived in Laguna 15 years ago like a breath of fresh air. Her light-hearted personality was immediately apparent when she spoke before the community, and her keen intellect has guided an educational upswing for three of Laguna’s four schools.

At her first presentation for PTA’s “Coffee Break” she put the crowd at ease with her assured style, evident knowledge and concern for our youth, and with her sense of humor. “How did you decide to come to Laguna?” was one of the questions asked. Culverhouse smiled and weighed in with her hands, “Hmm… Hemet or Laguna? That was an easy decision!”

She served as an elementary school principal in the Hemet School District (Whittier Elementary School), and before that she was a teacher and a principal in Reno, Nevada. The coastal life in Laguna Beach seemed a dream come true, and Culverhouse is still filled with the enthusiasm and joy of those first days.

Now the Laguna Beach High School principal, she has been there for hundreds of kids as they transitioned from elementary, to middle school, and on to high school. The current eighth graders represent the last batch of El Morro and Thurston kids that Culverhouse will have known as principal in all three schools. The pictures in her office tell the story: There she is bending down to the little tykes as she gives them graduation papers at El Morro, standing up beside them at Thurston, and then looking shoulders above her at their high school graduation. 

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Dr. Culverhouse assists Sarina Strickland in the LBHS Library

Confidence of a natural-born leader

Culverhouse is a powerful influence in the community, garnering such awards and distinctions as the Principal of Excellence Award (The Irvine Educational Excellence), Laguna’s 30 Most Influential People, Woman of the Year (American Association of University Women), and Coast Magazine Orange County’s Top 10 Influential People.

One of the reasons for her success is that she enjoys what she does. She was always interested in teaching, and had the confidence of a natural-born leader.

Raised in a military family, Culverhouse encountered the daunting experience of a new school every couple of years as they moved from town to town. But she had (and still has) a loving and supportive family, and the will to conquer her fears. Not that there were many fears because she is, admittedly, very competitive by nature. She embodies the “can-do” spirit. 

Her sister and her father now live in Nevada, but the Culverhouse family remains very close. Joanne calls her father every morning on the way to work. “He just sets my day,” she says. “He is such a positive person, always full of love. I’ll say, ‘How’s your day?’ and he always says, ‘It’s a great day!’”

Three sports star at Nevada

That may be where she got her zest for life. In addition to all the great work she does on behalf of education, Culverhouse is an avid outdoors person. She loves to hike, bike, run, ski, and play lots of sports. 

While she was on her own educational track she participated in three NCAA sports at the University of Nevada: volleyball, softball, and basketball. It was the early years of Title 9, and Culverhouse was a stellar athlete as well as student. She had one year out of softball season due to an injury, but managed to make that up with an extra year, all with full-ride scholarships. 

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An impromptu three-way Frisbee toss in the quad

She loved sports so much she never imagined a life without them. But, inevitably, along comes graduation and the team goes their separate ways. Thankfully Culverhouse fell in love with teaching, and that led her to pursue double master’s programs (Master of Science, and Education Specialist, both at U of N), and a PhD (Educational Leadership, UCLA).

She remains good friends with her athletic teammates from back-in-the day, and they go on annual trips together. This summer they will be hiking in Ireland, from coast to coast. It takes ten days, apparently, if you’re in good shape. That sounds relatively easy when you find out she has biked the entire United States. 

Back in 1986 Culverhouse and some friends wrote on the back of a napkin about things they would like to have done once they reached the ripe old age of 50. The funny, crazy coincidence is that one of her best friends wrote the exact same thing, even though they had never discussed it. Identically they had the same Big Dream written on the back of a napkin. They knew, then and there, they had to – ride a bike across America.

She made the journey with two friends, all the way from Anacortes, Washington to Boston, Massachusetts in 42 days. Yes, they crossed five mountain passes in four days. Yes, it rained a lot and camping gear was soaked. Yes it was often miserable. But how else would you ever encounter Small Town America, like the one with a population of 200 where the neighbors took them into their homes and their lives?

In her “Back of a Napkin” address to the LBHS graduating class of 2013, Dr. Culverhouse reflected on that trip with the wisdom of hindsight. 

These 27 years later she remarked, “What in the world were we thinking? How could we have thought this would be fun? Standing in the pouring rain at a pay phone (ask your parents what a pay phone is) in the middle of nowhere, I called home. When I heard my dad’s voice I lost it and started to cry. I told him I had bitten off more than I could chew and just wanted to come home. But as the years have passed the most meaningful aspect of our journey now is not so much the actual ride across America, but the memories of the overwhelming generosity of spirit of the people we met along the road, and the sustaining satisfaction of successfully accomplishing a very difficult goal.”

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It’s a treat for our community that Culverhouse will share these stories and, in fact, she gives a darn good speech. For some of us, public speaking is a whopping challenge, but Culverhouse speaks as if in a friendly salon with like-minded people. She engages, makes you think and usually makes you laugh too. She has that edge of confidence, bolstered by passion, and tempered by humility.

Recognizing how much influence a teacher holds

Participating and speaking at workshops and conferences has become a regular part of her life and she enjoys it. One of her favorite events was when she was invited by the Department of Defense, of all things, to speak in Germany at a conference of teachers. Her speech was titled “Mentor of Hope and Creator of Dreams.” 

That speech highlights the overlying theme in her approach to education; how educators have the power to influence the life of a child. “As a teacher, you have so much power to influence them,” she says. “Teachers need to be reminded of that. Every one of us can think of a teacher who has impacted our lives.”

Culverhouse’s influence is certainly remembered by her students. One example was her experience as a new fifth grade teacher. She taught her class about voting, and the importance of registering to vote when they turn 18. “If you do,” she told them, “contact me and I’ll take you out to lunch.” Sure enough, five of those kids stayed in touch, registered to vote and their former teacher took them out for lunch. “It’s so rewarding when that happens.” she says. That’s what it’s all about.

Her influence is also evident by the appreciation of the teachers she leads.

In the back corner office of LBHS, where Culverhouse quietly conducts business there is a framed sheet of music. Most people, and certainly not the naughty pupil sent in will look at it closely, but Culverhouse shared the story when we talked the other day. 

It was in her first job as principal in 1995, and she really didn’t know how much influence she wielded. But, when she was leaving to move on to another school, the teachers gathered for a farewell party in the gymnasium. Unbeknownst to her, the music teacher had been secretly practicing the orchestra with a piece of music he wrote just for her. It is titled “No Words Can Say” and the lyrics include, “You’re a leader in the best sense of the word. The driving wheel that makes others turn.” That treasured sheet of music is a moving and touching testament that indeed no words can say. It’s an expressive thank you from the heart.

Joanne Culverhouse, pillar of the community, champion for education, and fun to hang around with!


By DIANE ARMITAGE

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

Kirsten Sedlick

 

Saving seals and sea lions is just another day in the office

If it hadn’t been for her knee injury, she wouldn’t have discovered the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) in Laguna Canyon. Kirsten Sedlick began as a PMMC volunteer and now, 18 years later, she is a PMMC Supervisor with an extraordinarily unique life experience under her belt. After all, how many people on this planet get to nurse sick and injured marine mammals back to health? 

At 18, Kirsten Sedlick was a volleyball player on scholarship, bound for college. When her knee took her out of the game, she fell back on what she loved most: animals and the ocean. 

Growing up in Newport Beach, Kirsten was the rescuer of every stray to come her way. She would agree to Mom’s rules - keeping the rescued stray in the garage - but somehow that stray would find its way into the family living room. She also remembers reading a Jacques Cousteau book on sharks and their primary prey, the Elephant Seal. At that point, she decided she’d be a Protector of the Elephant Seals. 

And now … she is. And they know it.  

Kirsten roams the large red barn hospital in Laguna Canyon, checking in on her sick seals and sea lions. She whips up Herring Smoothies and works with team members to herd recovering seals into the “small pool” for feeding. 

Throughout, no matter what her activity, the seals pad after her and gaze up at her. She is oblivious; they are not. Inherently, these injured creatures seem to recognize what Kirsten is here for. 

Kirsten heard of the PMMC when she was working at the Long Beach Aquarium, teaching kids about the universe that exists underwater. On further research she learned that the PMMC was responsible for the entire Orange County coastline in the rescue of Elephant Seals, California Sea Lions, Pacific Harbor Seals and some Northern Fur Seals. The PMMC rescues beached whales and dolphins, sea turtles and sea otters, too. 

“What drew me here aside from the obvious … all these critters … was meeting John Cunningham,” says Kirsten “As soon as I started as a volunteer, he found me and chatted with me. He was so welcoming and so committed to the purpose here, and that’s what I try to emulate with all our staff and volunteers.”

 

Each Patient a Unique Personality

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Averaging 180 patients a year; dealing with an alarming and exhausting onslaught of 373 patients last year; and enduring fire, flood, swarms of bees, famine, disease, poisoning, coyotes and more, you’d think Kirsten and her mighty PMMC crew are participating in an “End of Times” Hollywood movie. 

“It’s never a dull moment here,” Kirsten says with a hearty chuckle. “Every day is different, and every patient’s story is definitely unique.”

The staff is trained to maintain an emotional distance from its patients, even while each patient hangs out for an average of two to four months. The goal, after all, is to release these wild animals back to the seas. While the staff purposely does not interact or make eye contact, they still name each of their incoming patients based on a personality feature, or an issue the poor thing is enduring. 

“Big Bruce,” a recent Sea Lion patient with a Great White Shark bite, was named after the “Jaws” creature (nicknamed Bruce), and the “recovering” Great White in “Finding Nemo.” 

Today, Kirsten and her crew are nursing eight patients, among them “Sir Edmund” (“we found him at the top of a cliff, which Elephant Seals really don’t do”), “Abalone” (who arrived on Kirsten’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, and was discovered on a bed of abalone), and “Otter Pop,” (simply “slick on wheels”).

As she thinks back to her favorites, Kirsten mentions Bismarck (a Sea Lion missing both rear flippers), Fiddler (rescued from the top of a roof in Newport Beach), and Captain Hook, a Sea Lion who arrived with more than 70 hooks and lines imbedded in his skin and flippers. He was rehabilitated and eventually released, only to be rescued seven days later toting more hooks and wire. 

“He was like some kind of magnet, the poor guy,” Kirsten commiserates. On Captain Hook’s second release, a Coast Guard ship did the honors of depositing Sir Hook on the far side of the Channel Islands, and he’s been hook-free since.

Fire, Flood and Pestilence

Kirsten stands in the PMMC hospital wing’s kitchen, whipping up Herring Smoothies for her critical care patients who must be tube fed. She points to individual doctors’ charts, each denoting the name of the patient, a series of progressive photos, its weight gains, and its own unique recipe concoction of said smoothie (some parts Karo Syrup, some parts Milk Matrix, some parts Pedialyte, all parts Herring). 

“We’re not an assembly line here,” she says. “Each patient has its own unique Smoothie requirements,” says Kirsten. 

Has she ever tried a Herring Smoothie? “Uhmm, purely by accident,” she laughs, admitting that she’s never been a fish eater to begin with.

Accidentally ingesting a Herring smoothie is not the first surprise Kirsten has encountered in her 18 years. When raging fires swept down Laguna Canyon in October 1993, all hell broke loose. “We have rescue and removal plans,” says Kirsten. “It was so fast and so sudden, though, that we were moving patients into the back seats of our own cars to evacuate.”

In the Christmas flood of 2010, PMMC thought it was ready for the worst. No one, however, expected the hill behind the facility to break loose and tumble down onto the PMMC. 

“I got a call at dawn, and my people were telling me it was complete devastation,” says Kirsten. “When I finally managed to get here, I could hardly recognize our hospital.” 

Fortunately, amidst all the mud and rising waters, every patient survived. The PMMC shipped its patients to Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro and got to work. They spent the next long month digging out the pools, replacing the entire laboratory, and receiving loads of supplies and calls from locals who thought the whale bones that had washed downstream might belong to them. (Indeed, the whalebone display had gone missing.)

“Most of us worked night and day because we missed our patients so much,” says Kirsten. “It was an eerie place without them.”

Saving 373 Critters in a Single Year

The memory of that silent hospital reversed on a dime when early 2013 saw an epidemic of sick seals and sea lions begin to arrive. “We had our usual 7 patients in December, and then had 17 in January and 30 in February,” says Kirsten. “Then in March, we had 112 new patients. It was … daunting.”

Far beyond the fires and floods, the 2013 epidemic that sent hordes of sick marine mammals to the PMMC was the greatest challenge Kirsten has dealt with yet. “At one point, we had 167 patients here, and it was endless 20-hour days just to keep up on each of their feedings four times a day.”

The PMMC hospital became something more like a MASH triage unit. Kirsten was in charge of organizing the volunteers and staff around the clock, and helped with tiered triage decisions for each patient as it arrived. She, herself, tube fed 60 and 70 malnourished seals a day while singing lullabies over the phone to her toddler who wondered where Mommy had gone. 

“We had Laguna animal control officers, park rangers and lifeguards helping us with as many as 13 rescues a day,” says Kirsten. “Our administrative staff upstairs was down here in the trenches. It was an awesome community commitment. 

“When you see support in such a huge way, it gives you the strength to keep going. We had a record number of seals come in, and we had a record number of releases of rehabilitated seals. I can’t imagine a success greater than that. 

“Every day I know this – but it’s the worst times that remind me that I’m really making a difference. How lucky am I to call this my job?” 

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is a non-profit organization at 20612 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Visiting hours are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and donations are happily accepted.


By DIANE ARMITAGE

Photos by MARY HURLBUT

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Ron Reno – 32 years – 1,636 weeks – 10,000 days

As his regulars cross the Andree’s Patisserie threshold, he is already bagging their favorite item.

He greets each customer with a happy grin, and gestures with the bakery bag in hand, filled with flaky goodness. This person always wants a Bear Claw. That one prefers the plain croissant. This one is in for his turkey sandwich (no cheese).

As I step up to the worn counter, it is only my third visit in as many months. Ron eyes me momentarily and says, “You’re the decaf Au Lait with not so much milk, right?” I grin and feel important. Heavens, I think … I drop into a large chain coffee shop in Dana Point at least three times a week, and they still look at me as if I’m a newcomer from Kansas. 

For Ron Reno, sole proprietor of Andree’s Patisserie, this is what running a small town bakery is all about. “I have an appreciation for the people who choose me,” he says. “It’s important that every person who walks in my door knows that.”

For 32 years …1,636 weeks … and nearly 10,000 days, Ron Reno has been mixing, baking and serving his famed pastries and coffee in this Laguna Beach historic location. 

He is, quite literally, chief, cook and bottle washer. On the rare occasions that he’s chosen to take a weeklong vacation or been forced into a 4-week leave for ACL surgery, he simply closes his blue door and attaches a note to its front with the date of his return. 

Ron Reno is, otherwise, the one and only person you will see at Andree’s Patisserie, from 7:35 a.m. to about 2 p.m., every day of the week but Sunday. On Sunday, Ron rests. 

The Bakery With the Robin-Blue Door

Andree’s, with its blue awning in the tiny alley behind what is now Selanne Steak Tavern, has seen thousands of people cross its threshold. Initially, the small bakery was put in place in the 1940s as an auxiliary baking kitchen for the first restaurant that stood in Selanne’s location, Andree’s. Its namesake – the independently minded woman, Andree Davis – believed that every restaurant’s foundation stood upon the quality of its baked goods. While she had an executive pastry chef and staff in place, she was often seen in the bakery’s kitchen herself, mixing up her famed steamed pudding. In 1962, she introduced her bakery to Laguna Beach by officially opening to the public. 

When Ron Reno first heard of Andree’s Patisserie, he was a new graduate in 1979 with a 2-year baking school certification under his arm. Where most people would not wish to engage in an occupation whose workday begins at 4:45 a.m., Ron had quite the opposite opinion.  

“I decided about halfway through college that I wanted to transfer to baking school,” says Ron. “Baking just seemed like a fun thing to do. People are always happy when they come into a bakery. It’s a happy place to be. Who wouldn’t want that job every day?”

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At that time in 1979, one of Ron’s teachers had been moonlighting at the then-downtown Laguna Beach bakery, Renaissance, and hired Ron to take his place at the all-night job. For two years, Ron worked the graveyard shift, endlessly rolling, twisting, pouring and baking every delectable item from donut holes to towering wedding cakes. 

In 1981, Ron heard that the owner of Andree’s Patisserie was looking to retire. He hot-footed it over to the blue awning storefront and agreed, as a term of sale, to learn how to bake the man’s “family recipe” Lemon Squares and Copenhagen Squares. To this day, the lemon squares are offered daily, and the Copenhagen – a puff pastry bottom with rich custard and Danish pastry on top – makes its appearance every Saturday. 

“It’s important to pay respect to a baker’s lineage,” says Ron. “At that point, though, I had developed several of my own favorite recipes so, for the most part, I rolled my program into play. 

“The former owner’s muffins were good,” Ron notes as an example, “But I use buttermilk and honey in my muffins for more moisture and texture. So, it was a combination of carrying the tradition along, and improving on pastry favorites to create my own signature.” 

271 Decadent Pastries & Breads Baked Daily

Every pre-dawn morning, Monday through Saturday, Ron bakes “271 items” for weekdays, and doubles the amount for Saturdays… A variety of muffins. Three kinds of croissants. Three kinds of cookies (Almond Biscotti counts as one). A crowd of Danishes. The inimitable Bear Claw. Elephant Ears. Three kinds of sandwiches, their ingredients piled high inside freshly baked slices of Ron’s secret recipe potato bread. The baked riches neatly stack themselves, shelf upon shelf, readied for another day of happy buyers.   

Longtime fans will call from L.A. to have Ron set their favorite pastry aside. A woman from Brea drives into Laguna Beach to pick up a Bear Claw, and then beelines back to Brea – it is her only stop. Once a week, another woman stops in for a loaf of his potato bread. Ron learns his clients’ schedules and timetables, welcoming clients who troop in for their annual visit from Europe, and prepping 16 sandwiches each workday morning so that they’re ready for his usual crews. 

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Not even recognizing that his thoughtful sandwich prep has now crossed the line into what moms do for their kids on school day mornings, Ron talks about the motherly advice he dispenses (“usually to women”) as they stand before his pastry bins, half-giddy and half-guilt ridden. 

“Sometimes, you just have to walk people through it,” he says with a grin. “This is non-serious food; it’s an indulgence. But sometimes, you just have to assure them that occasional indulgences are good for the soul. 

“There’s nothing like eating a pastry or cookie that was just baked that morning,” he continues. You just owe it to yourself … it’s part of what makes life great.”

“Old Friends” at the Holidays

At the holidays, Ron’s faithful followers spread the love by buying up hundreds of his fabled holiday cookies and pies to share with family, coworkers and friends. 

Freshly baked cutout cookies with thick frosting shoulder their way into the store’s pastry bins at all the major holidays, even the Fourth of July. He creates cookie stacks in cellophane wrap, and they disappear as quickly as they’re bagged and gift-tied.

Even when it’s pie-making season, Ron never resorts to electric appliances or mixers to mix his dough. “The key to great dough is to never over mix,” he says. “I might start with a mixer to create a crumble, but then I work the dough by hand. You have to feel the dough in your hands to get a sense of it. You have to know how “too wet” or “too dry” feels like, and then know how to scale your ingredients in each batch to create that perfect consistency. There’s just no way you can do that with a big commercial mixer,” he says, adding a tiny shrug.

The Always-Changing Movie

Where many Laguna Beach bakeries have been vanquished by larger commercial organizations, and where bakeries everywhere have come to rely on third-party sourcing to fill their daily pastry bins, Ron Reno will continue to wake at 4:00 a.m. and roll his doughs by hand until he’s simply not able to perform the work any longer. 

“I can’t imagine retiring,” he says. “Last year, when I had ACL surgery, I spent four long weeks sitting on my couch, watching each day go by. I’d watch the light change by degrees as it made its way across my backyard until it was dark. I’d go to bed, and I’d get up again to go sit on the couch. It was my own personal Groundhog Day movie.”

“This place …” he gestures to his pastry bins, the window counter with its sentry stools, “This place here in Laguna Beach is the movie I want to see every day of my life.” 

“Laguna Beach offers this unique niche of people who are doing things in a different way,” he continues. “So many people here approach life from a different angle and they’re doing it successfully. They’re interesting …they’re engaged in life … they have great stories to share,” he says. “That’s the movie I get to be a part of every day. I wouldn’t be anywhere else, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

 

Shaena Stabler and Stu Saffer are the co-owners. Shaena is the Publisher and Stu is the Editor-in-Chief.

Lynette Brasfield is our Managing Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Dianne Russell, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

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