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Latin fusion restaurant planned for 222 Ocean Ave space in downtown


A restaurant focused on Latin fusion cuisine with live entertainment and private dining events is on the path to open in the fall at 222 Ocean Ave following Planning Commission permit approval this week.

Commissioners on Wednesday (July 21) unanimously approved a Conditional Use Permit to re-open an existing vacant restaurant space (previously Ocean at Main) in the downtown neighborhood. 

Suenos is proposed as a full-service dine-in restaurant, operating daily serving lunch and dinner. They hope to offer a weekend brunch soon after launching in late August or early September. The restaurant will include a full cocktail bar, live entertainment and amplified music, and up to three private dining events a week. 

No changes are proposed to the existing 126-seat restaurant layout and the hours of operation are proposed to remain from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m., seven days a week.

Co-owner Kay Ayazi is excited about opening the restaurant in downtown Laguna Beach.

“It’s a beautiful property,” Ayazi said during the meeting. The hope is “to come in and hopefully surpass your expectations of what we’d like to have over there.”

She and her husband Jose Gutierrez also own Peruvian-inspired Costa Contemporary Kitchen in Costa Mesa. They previously operated Eqeko Cocina Latina in Santa Ana, another Peruvian restaurant, which closed in 2017.

Suenos will be a food and chef-driven establishment, Ayazi said. It’s not another bar or tavern, she added, it’s a full-service restaurant where the food is the priority.

They included the possible three events per week in an effort to be transparent, Ayazi said. It will only be one event at a time. There will not be two events booking both the patio and inside space at the same time, she confirmed.

The parklet would not be part of any reserved event, she added, it would be for the walk-in clientele dining at the restaurant.

“We’re looking for a great ambience and atmosphere to bring to the local community members,” she said. 

There were no other public comments on the item.

Several commissioners commented on Ayazi’s enthusiasm and thought her team and concept would work well.

It’s a nice fit for the space, said Commissioner Ken Sadler. 

Latin fusion exterior

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The current vacant space at 222 Ocean Ave will soon be home to a Latin fusion restaurant

“This building went through a really fantastic renovation and it will be great to see it occupied again,” he said. 

Other commissioners echoed his comments, noting that Suenos will liven up the street.

“I’m really excited about getting a good operator into this space, it’s a fantastic space, this street needs to be activated,” said Commissioner Steven Kellenberg. “Welcome to Laguna Beach.”

Suenos will feature a menu of homemade items that will include fresh ingredients and dishes from a wide variety of Latin American countries. The sample menu includes selections such as esquites, tacos, and Aztec-inspired dishes. 

The price range for most plates will be between $12 to $25 and a few main entrees could go up to $30 to $35, Ayazi said. 

Most of Wednesday’s discussion revolved around the private dining events. Up to three times a week, the restaurant would be closed to the public and available for rental for private dining and dancing events.

During these events, either the patio area, the indoor area, or the entire restaurant may be rented for use. No more than one event in either area is proposed at a time. This will allow the restaurant to be available for birthday parties, engagement parties, and other similar special events. 

Currently, the indoor seating area is limited to 85 seats and the outdoor seating area is limited to 41 seats. The applicant proposes to limit the event attendance to no more than 85 people, or no more than 41 people for an event held exclusively on the patio. Because the events are limited to the current restaurant’s allowable capacity, staff believes that the proposed events do not result in an intensification of use.

Diners not attending an event in either the interior space or the patio can still access the restaurant tables for service, confirmed Senior Planner Martina Caron. They can be sectioned off into individual spaces, she noted. 

The permit also allows Ayazi to remove some of the table and chairs to allow for a dance floor area as needed for these events. The dance floors will not be provided during normal business hours.

Municipal code further stipulates that a minimum dance floor size of 400 square feet is required if the restaurant seating capacity exceeds 75 persons, and a minimum size of 200 square feet where the seating capacity is not more than 50 persons.

The submitted floor plan indicates that the musicians are proposed to be stationed either outside on the patio area or inside the restaurant. Only one musician or group is proposed to perform at a time.

Latin fusion plans

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Rendering courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Floor plans for Suenos restaurant proposed for 222 Ocean Ave

Live entertainment is permitted during normal business hours to provide ambient music to the patrons. The performers may consist of solo singers, instrumentalists, trios/quartets, mariachis, and DJs and shall be limited to the performance areas as depicted on the submitted floor plans.

Staff heard concerns from the property manager of the upstairs apartments regarding noise on the outdoor patio, Caron said. In response to those concerns, staff recommended amending condition 31 to limit outdoor patio music to 10 p.m., which the applicant agreed with, Caron added.

Condition 32 states that music levels shall remain below 70 decibels at all times.

Commissioner Jorg Dubin, as a member of a quartet himself, raised concerns about the space allotted both inside and outside for musicians. The permit allows solo singers, instrumentalists, trios/quartets, mariachis, and DJs. The space is basically just removing one small table, he noted. 

“That, I can tell you right now, is not enough room for a quartet,” Dubin said. “They can maybe get a duet in there and that’s about it.”

The applicant submitted the floor plan indicating that it was sufficient, Caron noted. 

They will comply with whatever the space allows, Ayazi said. Her husband drew the plan up, she noted, so it may not be perfectly to scale. They took measurements of the designated area to determine how much space they have to work with for musicians.

“If a quartet doesn’t fit, then a quartet won’t be in there,” Ayazi said. 

They have to ensure that the dance floor is in compliance in the space and whatever fits in the musician area will be the max of what they allow. They can revisit the space with the contractor to see what can be done and how they can adjust, she added.

The musician space shouldn’t be an issue, Sadler added; the requirement is on the minimum size for the dance floor and if they want to take up more space for the musicians, they will lose some dining space. 

“Beyond that I don’t think it will be a problem,” Sadler said. 

A few commissioners questioned the need for a CUP amendment, considering what the prior permit approvals allowed and that a number of restaurants take large party reservations.

If they were just reserving a section of tables for standard restaurant service that likely wouldn’t require a CUP amendment, Caron said, but possibly having the entire interior space or entire patio used with live music and dancing is a different use than just a large party reserving tables at a restaurant.

On April 23, 2013, Council approved permits to establish and operate a “casual family-style pizzeria restaurant” with the service of beer and wine in conjunction with the rehabilitation and restoration of an historic structure, including a 70.45 percent parking incentive for historic preservation.

The rehabilitation project included the restoration of the building to its original 1952 appearance and restoration of the original patio including the decorative fountain and associated murals.

Since the 2013 approval, the restaurant has been amended several times. Amendments have been approved to allow the full service of alcoholic beverage; to allow a new trash enclosure (at the adjacent site at 226 Ocean Ave); and to modify the hours of operation to 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. daily. 

In August of 2018, the previous tenant (Ocean at Main) obtained a business license to operate the restaurant pursuant to the previously approved CUPs. In September of 2018, the Planning Commission approved a new Conditional Use Permit (amending the previous CUPs) to change the menu to allow a “family-style coastal California” restaurant. Ocean at Main closed in February 2020 and the property has been vacant since.

The new restaurant isn’t exceeding capacity and it’s compliant with previous CUPs, noted Commission Chair Steve Goldman. 

“It’s a non-event as far as this Commission is concerned,” he said.

The concern would be that this becomes a banquet or dining hall, Goldman said.

Ayazi confirmed that she understood and agreed to all the conditions, including the children’s menu and noise limitations.

Sadler emphasized the importance of agreeing to the conditions.

“We’re trying very hard to make sure that if they agree to conditions of approval that they follow through on them and it sounds like this applicant is willing to do that,” Sadler said.


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