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The Ranch at Laguna Beach announces 2022 summer programming

The Ranch at Laguna Beach is gearing up for an exciting summer packed with outdoor activities and seasonal events. Nestled in the Aliso and Wood Canyons, the premier sustainable resort is hosting an array of interactive events and unique experiences for guests and locals alike to celebrate a true California summer.

To kick off the season, The Ranch at Laguna Beach is hosting the return of its Junior Explorers Camp for hotel guests. The weekday program will resume on June 15 through August 27 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Designed to spark children’s interest in the Great Outdoors, Junior Explorers provides immersive nature activities for kids ages 6-12. Camp enrollment is $75 per camper/day including lunch, Junior Explorer backpack, water bottle, T-shirt and patches. The daily itinerary is as follows:

Wednesday: Garden Party

Campers begin their adventure at The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s historical Scout Camp. Explorers will meet with Farmer Leo for a lesson on planting, germination, harvesting and composting at Harvest Garden. Following the garden session, kids will create seed jars to take home and round out the morning’s activities with games and lunch.

The Ranch Planting

Photos courtesy of The Ranch at Laguna Beach

Campers will learn lessons on planting

Thursday: Artists Summit

Children craft nature journals and practice sketching in plein air. Explorers will learn creative techniques such as shading and brush strokes, evaluate different kinds of art at the resort and learn about the many artistic influences in Laguna Beach.

The Ranch Compass

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Junior Explorers will embark on a nature hike

Friday: Canyon Creatures

Explorers go on a nature hike, where they uncover traces of wildlife and make their own clay casts of their favorite animal tracks to take home. Children will learn about the rich history of the Aliso and Wood Canyons, dating back to Native American tribes.

Saturday: Aviation Adventure

Campers are greeted by hawks and owls in an interactive session with the Orange County Birds of Prey Center. Kids will learn about raptors and rehabilitation, build owls out of pinecones, and end camp with a final round of games and lunch.

The Ranch Owl

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An owl is among the raptors greeting campers, courtesy of the Orange County Birds of Prey Center

In addition to the Junior Explorers Camp, The Ranch at Laguna Beach will also host a range of summer events to maximize longer days and balmy evenings. These weekly events include garden tours, stargazing with a master astronomer, daily live music on The Porch, complimentary weekend fitness classes, a round of golf on Ben Brown’s, and Grill ‘N Glow fire pit rentals at Lost Pier Café, the resort’s oceanfront dining venue on Aliso Beach.

The Ranch Ben Brown's

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Enjoy a round of golf at Ben Brown’s

For more information on The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s summer programming, visit To make a reservation, contact 949.499.2271, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Ranch at Laguna Beach is located at 31106 Coast Highway, Laguna Beach.

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The Great Food Truck Race rolls into Laguna with a fantastic fleet of culinary kitchens on wheels 


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The Great Food Truck Race is a reality television and cooking series that originally aired on August 15, 2010, on Food Network, with Chef Tyler Florence as the host. Billed as a cross between Cannonball Run and Top Chef, this show features several competing teams of three who drive across the United States in their food trucks and make stops every week to sell food in different cities. The 14th season titled “All Stars” premiered on June 6, 2021.

the great FOA

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All veteran-operated Southern Pride Asian Fusion drew in crowds at FOA

With Chef Tyler at the helm, on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, the 2022 competitors came into Laguna for the filming of its 15th season. 

Even before The Great Food Truck Race, Chef Tyler has delighted the masses by sharing the sights, sounds and flavors of his unique culinary vision with fans around the world. After graduating from the prestigious culinary program at Johnson & Wales University, he tackled the Big Apple where he helmed multiple acclaimed restaurants and established himself as one of New York City’s finest young stars. His most recent restaurant opening took place at the end of 2021, with Miller & Lux, a modern American high-end steakhouse in the Warriors’ Chase Center’s Thrive City, San Francisco. He resides in nearby Mill Valley.

the great plant based

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Senoreata serves up plant-based food

The Great Food Truck Race pits teams of food truck operators in a series of challenges that test their culinary skills and teamwork. The show travels across the country each season, with the competing food trucks on the road shining a spotlight on different cities. At each location, the food truck teams set up shop and compete for the most sales. The team that earns the least will have to “turn in their keys” and leave the competition (drive home). 

Second day of filming

On Thursday, the Food Network filmed residents and visitors partaking of all the various food delights. Hailing from Los Angeles, Mikayla [food fan] tried out the salmon and coconut rice from Saute Kingz from Florida, which was parked in the Royal Hawaiian parking lot. Mikayla gave the dish rave reviews. “I saw the news that the food trucks were going to be down here, so we came to sample them,” she said. 

the great mikayla

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“The Great Food Truck Race” fan Mikayla came all the way from L.A.

In the first two seasons of The Great Food Truck Race, the competitors were seasoned, professional food truck operators who were competing for a cash prize (first season was $50,000 and second season was $100,000). In the following seasons (save for season six), food trucks were provided to novices (from home cooks to former restaurateurs) who have dreamt of owning and operating their very own food truck. In seasons three, four and five, the winning team got the money and got to keep the food truck they were provided by the show. In season six and onward, the show reverted back to awarding the winning teams just the $50,000.

Lots of locations 

At Pavilions Parking lot on Thursday

–Girl’s Got Balls: This women-owned food truck from Fox River Grove, Illinois served a variety of ball-shaped, handheld gourmet eats. Their flavors kept you wanting more! This was the only food truck fare I sampled, and the Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Ball was an orb of delight.

the great balls

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Girl’s Got Balls is a women-owned and run food truck

–ESO Artisanal Pasta: Offered authentic tastes of Italy across New Jersey fare, such as Sicilian Fried Chicken, Cavatelli and Green Goddess Bruschetta.

–Senoreata: All plant-based offerings such as Picadillo Nachos and Ceviche with hearts of palm.

–Maybe Cheese Born With It!: From Toledo to Laguna, this is the only drag queen mac & cheese food truck from Ohio. Who doesn’t love mac & cheese?

the great drag queen

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Maybe Cheese Born With It! is Ohio’s only drag queen mac & cheese food truck 

–Salsa Queen: From Florida, they featured Day of the Dead décor and dishes such as Heart Attack Quesadillas, Commando Tacos and Buffalo Chicken Tostadas. 

At the Royal Hawaiian parking lot on PCH:

–Sauté Kingz: Hailing from Daytona Beach, Florida, they use the freshest locally sourced ingredients, herbs and produce. Among their menu offerings was baby salmon or chicken with orzo pasta.

–Food Flight: They are new, and this is the first competition for them. They walked the short distance to Heisler Park with samples to entice visitors with offerings such as Machu Picchu Steak Sandwiches.

At the Festival of Arts:

–Southern Pride Asian Fusion: This food truck is run by three military veterans who met a culinary school.

the great salsa queen

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Salsa Queen

History of American food trucks

Lest you imagine that food trucks are a new phenomenon, the history of American food trucks dates back many years. Mobile dining and street food have been part of American’s dining habits since the late 17th century where it could be found in many of the larger cities on the East Coast. In 1691, New Amsterdam (now known as New York City) began regulating street vendors selling food from push carts.

the great ESO

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ESO Artisanal Pasta brings the authentic taste of Italy to their menu offerings

Since then, food trucks have taken a front seat in the world of American street food and are part of an ongoing food revolution. Food trucks have become so popular that in October 2010, the prestigious Zagat guide announced that in 2011 they would begin to provide reviews of food trucks. In June 2014, the National Food Truck Association was formed, creating the first national association of food truck associations.

the great food flight

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Food Flight gave out samples in Heisler Park to entice visitors 

Food truck fare is here to stay and as time goes on is becoming more sophisticated and versatile, and on Wednesday and Thursday, lucky residents sampled some of the best.

However, we’ll have to wait until the show airs this summer to find out who won!

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Two Laguna Beach restaurants selected for Illumination Foundation’s Chef’s Table Culinary Gala, March 27

Two popular eateries in Laguna Beach have been selected to showcase the culinary skills of their chefs at the ninth annual Chef’s Table Culinary Gala presented by nonprofit Illumination Foundation. 

Set for Sunday, March 27, the event returns to the Disneyland® Hotel where a ballroom full of renowned local chefs will bring their extensive culinary chops to life, much to the delighted senses of guests.

Local restaurants include Harley Laguna Beach with Chef Greg Daniels and Oak Laguna Beach with Chef Nicholas Shipp.

Two Laguna Beach Daniels

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Submitted photos

Chef Greg Daniels, Harley Laguna Beach

Two Laguna Beach Shipp

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Chef Nicholas Shipp, Oak Laguna Beach

“We are delighted to have such a stellar lineup of culinary experts at our spectacular evening and look forward to a night of good food, good cheer, and most importantly, raising funds for a good cause,” said Illumination Foundation CEO Paul Leon. 

“We are delighted to have such a stellar lineup of culinary experts at our spectacular evening and look forward to a night of good food, good cheer and most importantly, raising funds for a good cause,” said Illumination Foundation CEO Paul Leon. 

The 2021 Chef’s Table raised more than $1.3 million. Illumination Foundation was able to purchase and open a fourth family emergency shelter for homeless families with children with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Proceeds from this event will support a campus in Santa Ana that will provide housing for seniors and families, as well as a preschool. 

This year’s Chef’s Table will once again be co-chaired by Dr. Jacqueline Dupont-Carlson and Karen Jordan. For sponsorship and ticket information, visit

For more information on the Illumination Foundation, visit

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Table for Ten draws area’s top chefs, raises more than $300,000 for Pascal Culinary Scholarship Program

Table for Ten, orchestrated annually by Kristin Martin and KM Productions for deserving non-profits, held its 16th annual culinary extravaganza at the Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters grounds on Sunday, March 6. More than 300 gourmet food and wine lovers attended the sold-out event, with guests enjoying scrumptious multi-courses tableside from 30 talented chefs, along with superb wine pairings and tables uniquely decorated by each restaurant.

Table for Ten Pascal trio

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Photos by Tony Lattimore

(L-R) Table for Ten Venue Host Chef Donald Lockhart (Terra Restaurant), Event Chair Chef Pascal Olhats (Pascal Cuisine Catering) and Honorary Chef Ugo Allesina (Prego Restaurant)

A tempting silent auction was held during a reception prior to dinner on the Festival grounds that featured area chefs and wineries offering hors d’oeuvres and premium wines. The 52-bottle Bottle Shock Wine Tree opportunity drawing drew brisk ticket sales, with the winning ticket going to Dave Hoff. His wife, Traci Hoff, was the winner of the Heads or Tails game $500 prize – a very lucky couple! Supporter and wine connoisseur Mona Lee Nesseth donated the wines, valued at $4,000.

Table for Ten Nesseth duo

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Bottle Shock Wine Tree underwriter Mona Lee Nesseth with George Rozsahegyi

The event’s Honorary Chef, Ugo Allesina of Prego Restaurant, was honored by Pascal Olhats, the event’s Chef Scholarship Chair, whose culinary scholarship program was the recipient of the evening’s proceeds. He lauded Allesina for his culinary skills as well as giving his time and energy to a multitude of charitable causes in Orange County for many years.

Table for Ten Montage chefs

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(L-R) Montage Laguna Beach Chefs David Serus and Ben Martinek

Table for Ten Fougeray

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Chef Ron Fougeray of Splashes at the Surf & Sand Resort 

Table for Ten St. John

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Chef Kyle St. John of The Ranch Laguna Beach 

Among the 30 participating Orange County chefs were Laguna Beach’s Chef David Serus and Chef Ben Martinek of Montage Laguna Beach; Chef Ron Fougeray of Splashes at Surf and Sand Resort; Chef Kyle St. John, The Ranch Laguna Beach and Chef Peter Moon of Seabutter restaurant. Among the Cocktail Reception hosts was Donald Lockhart of Terra Laguna Beach.

The live auction, led by spirited auctioneer DawnMarie Kotsonis, once again showcased an overnight villa stay at Pelican Hill Resort, including spa treatments, golf and a chef’s dinner for 10, as well as dinners offered by participating chefs in the winners’ homes. Included were Ugo Allesina of Prego Restaurant, Chris Tzorin of Taste Collective, Brandon Hall of Thyme Well Spent Catering and Jonathan Stanley of Dana Point Yacht Club.

Table for Ten Oswalds

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Kimberly and Daryl Oswald of Laguna Beach

The designated charity this year was the Pascal Culinary Scholarship Program, which creates grants for culinary arts students in Orange County. The program works with Saddleback Culinary Arts College, Orange Coast College Culinary School and chefs currently working who would like to go back and further their culinary arts dreams. Olhats, who launched the program, said, “The scholarships provide monies to offset or cover the students’ tuition, fees, books and equipment. The college foundations select the recipients based on need and merit.”

Table for Ten Seabutter

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The Seabutter restaurant table with Chef Peter Moon

Towards that end, Table for Ten netted more than $300,000, which will provide grants to deserving culinary arts students through the Pascal Culinary Scholarship Program.

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Bianchi Tasting Room: A tasteful tease to award-winning wines

By Diane Armitage

It’s been four months since the popular Paso Robles winery, Bianchi opened its “bottle shop” in North Laguna. It was almost an afterthought, really, as the primary reason for the real estate was to situate a southerly home office back in Laguna Beach where family co-owner Beau Bianchi resides. (He graduated from Laguna Beach High School, in fact.) 

Tucked in with just a small sign announcing its existence, you might think people would zip right past the place. On the contrary, Bianchi quickly proved a bustling resource to locals and fan visitors alike. The bottle shop proved so popular, in fact, that residing Manager Cristina Martinez one day asked Bianchi, “What’s a bottle shop without a tasting room?”

Bianchi and the rest of the ownership agreed with her. An added liquor license eventually allowed for the bountiful harvest of one sleek tasting room. It easily seats 14 to 16 people and is available for private parties for up to 20 people. 

Bianchi tasting room

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Bianchi’s Tasting Room in North Laguna offers wines by the glass, wine tasting menus and bottles to go

Nearly 50 years of winemaking

Bubblier than the first taste of sparkling wine she pours, Martinez adds a warm and funny presence in the cool, modern edifice. Most recently hailing from Lido Bottle Works in Newport Beach, Martinez is a fount of information on the three-generation winery that began in 1974.

Bianchi’s Paso Robles vineyards enjoy three distinct areas, each offering up award-winning Cabernets, Zinfandels and Merlot. Over the years, the family with resident Winemaker Todd Weiher, has forged relationships with neighboring vineyards to create signature blends of Chardonnay, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, too. 

Binachi wine close up

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Bianchi’s family vineyards offer up multiple award winners, each of which are available for tasting in the new North Laguna location

A taste of all the best

The Laguna Beach Tasting Room offers glasses and bottles of the entire Bianchi collection as well as a lively tasting menu of five select wines. The current tasting menu offers Sparkling, Sauvignon Blanc, Signature Chardonnay, Bianchi’s best-selling Reserve Duality Red Cuvée (75% Zinfandel, 25% Sangiovese) and Reserve The Geste GSM Blend. 

The Tasting Room has full charcuterie and cheese boards from Newport Coast’s Butchery, and neatly pairs three of the tasting menu’s wines with cheeses, too. A fourth wine, the Bianchi Signature Selection Chardonnay, is paired with a most enjoyable Laguna Beach Gourmet Popcorn, which hails from its “headquarters” just a couple miles south in the Village Gallery next to GG’s Bistro.

Bianchi wine and charcuterie

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Charcuterie pairings from neighboring The Butchery and Laguna Beach Gourmet Popcorn round out the tasting experience

“This is just a great place to drop in for a glass of wine, even if you’re not interested in doing a full tasting,” said Martinez.

“Yes, we see plenty of visitors to Laguna Beach during the day, but we’re meeting a lot of nearby neighbors in late afternoons and evenings who just stroll down the hill, and we like being that kind of mellow hang out,” she said. 

Beyond the Tasting Room, the Bianchi headquarters space houses several offices and a residential area that could eventually host larger parties and outdoor tastings. Although that result may be several months off, it’s refreshing to hear the Bianchi family planning in this direction, with vineyards in Paso Robles and roots here in Laguna Beach. 

Where to find Bianchi

Bianchi is located in North Laguna at 496 N. Coast Highway at the corner of Coast Highway and Myrtle, across from Laguna Nursery. The Tasting Room is open every day of the week except Tuesday. Hours are 4-8 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Fridays from 4-9 p.m., Saturdays from 1-9 p.m. and Sundays from 1-7 p.m. 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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The Great Food Truck Race kicks off Season 15 in Laguna Beach

The Great Food Truck Race, hosted by Tyler Florence, which airs on Food Network, kicked off Season 15 with a two-day stop in Laguna Beach, filming at venues around town.

Here are some photos taken during Day 1 of filming at Lot 10 next to Art-A-Fair.

The Great Food Truck Race Girl's Got Balls

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Photos by Jan Schrieber

“Girl’s Got Balls,” a women-owned food truck from Fox River Grove, Illinois, will be featured on Season 15

The Great Food Truck Race Maybe Cheese

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“Maybe Cheese Born With It!” is Toledo, Ohio’s only drag queen mac & cheese food truck

The Great Food Truck Race Salsa Queen

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Let’s make it spicy with the “Salsa Queen” food truck

The Great Food Truck Race ESO

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 The “ESO Artisanal Pasta” food truck brings the authentic taste of Italy across New Jersey

The Great Food Truck Race Southern Pride

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 The “Southern Pride Asian Fusion” food truck is powered by three military veterans who met at culinary school

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Stu News Laguna’s Tuesday edition, to check out Day 2 and where The Great Food Truck Race filmed in town…let’s get rolling. 

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Laguna restaurants love Valentine’s Day 

By Diane Armitage

For the last several years, Valentine’s Day has always been mixed into the same weekend as Presidents’ Holiday, and it’s like the Fourth of July here in the middle of February. We go from empty streets to packs of roving people in a matter of hours. 

This year, however, our merchants and restaurants might actually enjoy a double whammy with two back-to-back weekends bringing in droves of visitors. Starting on Feb. 11, the hotels and resorts in town are telling me they’re nearly sold out for the Valentine’s Day holiday. And, starting on Feb. 18, they’re telling me the same for the Presidents’ holiday. 

To open or not open on Valentine’s Day?

With Valentine’s Day falling on a Monday, several of our restaurants had a decision to make because they typically shutter on Monday nights. Although most like Ristorante Rumari have announced opening for this special night, AhBa Owner Nick Bennett decided to stay closed and Harley’s Chef Greg Daniels chose to focus on the busy Friday/Saturday prior instead of opening on Monday night. Wine Gallery Owner Chris Olsen is still weighing his options. 

Laguna restaurants Connole

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Local favorite Ristorante Rumari will be opening on Monday night (just for Valentine’s Day) with Chef Craig Connole dishing his usual (giant) flavorful dishes

Some restaurants already sold out

Some Laguna Beach restaurants are already reporting that they’re solidly booked and not accepting more reservations for Valentine’s evening (Monday, Feb. 14) (i.e., The Drake, Harvest at the Ranch Laguna Beach, Splashes at Surf & Sand). Most restaurateurs who have reported in, however, are still noting room for reservations, but be quick about it! 

Keep in mind, too, that you can celebrate Valentine’s Day all weekend long prior to Monday, with many restaurants offering their “special weekend” specials throughout. 

Specials for the weekend, specials for the yay

For Valentine’s, most of our Laguna Beach restaurants are offering their main menu fare with super specials added in. Be sure to check out those specials at restaurants such as G.G’s Bistro, The Cliff Laguna Beach, Starfish, Reunion Kitchen, 230 Forest, Romeo Cucina, Ristorante Rumari and Sapphire.Cellar.Craft Cook.

Lumberyard’s Cary Redfearn is using the holiday to post a number of new entrée items from Chef Primo, including a fabulous new Rainbow Roll and Surf ‘n Turf for two. Dessert options include their new Churros with warm chocolate dipping sauce. They’re served up with horchata, one of my most favorite drinks of Mexico made with rice, cinnamon and vanilla and strained for a rather decadent beverage that looks like milk but tastes so much better. 

Keep in mind, too, that Lumberyard’s little sister, The Yard Bar, will also be opening Saturday and Sunday of Valentine’s weekend, which is happy news for those of us who have come to love that peaceful patio. 

Romance & prix fixe go together like wine & chocolate

Many Laguna restaurants are offering specialty prix fixe menus on Valentine’s evening. 

Broadway by Amar Santana’s menu includes options of Seabass, Roasted Duck Breast, Filet Mignon and a most enticing Coconut Passion Seduction dessert. 

C’est La Vie’s Antonio Roa’s entrée options included Seared Scallops, Chateaubriand, Branzino, Roasted Duck and Cotes D’Agneau (lamb chops). Save room for dessert as C’est La Vie offers a significant variety of options.

Laguna restaurants C'est La Vie

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Courtesy of C’est La Vie

C’est La Vie’s Valentine prix fixe menu includes one of Chef Antonio’s bestsellers – the Roasted Duck with orange glaze sauce

 Las Brisas will offer both main menu and a hearty five-course prix fixe menu with entrées that include Grilled Lamb Chops, Butternut Squash Tamales and Filet of Beef, too. 

Oliver’s Osteria is quickly filling with reservations for its specialty Valentine’s Day menu (small wonder). Starting with course options of Antipasto, Chef Erick wraps in a second course of Pasta before landing on entrée options that include Braised Beef with velvety mashed potatoes, Chilean seabass and Eggplant stuffed with salty ricotta, cherry tomato and basil. 

If, by the way, you would rather avoid the Valentine crush, consider giving a Valentine’s Day gift for Oliver’s Tuscany Wine Dinner, set specifically for “2/22/22” at 7 p.m. It’s just $80 per person (tax and gratuity extra) and will feature Azienda Vinicola Frescobaldi wines. 

Laguna restaurants Oliver's

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Courtesy of Oliver’s Osteria

Chef Erik’s Branzino at Oliver’s Osteria

Ivan Spiers’ Mozambique and Skyloft are, once again, offering a plethora of entrée items to choose from in their prix fixe menus. 

Mozambique’s menu offers Sea Bass, Steak & Lobster, Grilled Prawns, the New Zealand Rack of Lamb and best-selling specialty dishes such as the Peri-Peri Chicken and Durban Curry. 

Mozambique is also offering live acoustic music on the Rooftop and in the Durban Room. 

Laguna restaurants Mozambique

Courtesy of Mozambique Steakhouse

Mozambique’s large prix fixe menu includes its popular Steak & Lobster combo as an option

Skyloft’s prix fixe menu offers its bestsellers, too, from Scallops and Sea Bass to Halibut, Red Tiger Jumbo Shrimp, Steak & Lobster, Cajun Pasta and the Skyloft BBQ Plate (to name a few). Skyloft is also offering live music on the rooftop. 

Make your reservations as soon as possible

I know you may have Superbowl on your mind as next weekend’s first priority, but be sure to book as soon as possible for your Valentine’s dinner plans out in Laguna Beach. Enjoy the love! 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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“One-of-a-kind” Subway Beach Café planned for downtown


A permit applicant that “bent over backwards” to create a unique Laguna Beach location that avoids the formulaic approach of its parent franchise brand, Subway, was approved this week by the Planning Commission for a business downtown.

After an hour-long discussion, commissioners voted 5-0 on Wednesday (Feb. 2) in favor of a Conditional Use Permit and a Coastal Development Permit to convert an existing cat lounge and café (previously Catmosphere) at 381 Forest Ave., Suite A-100, to the Subway Beach Café. The project still needs final approval from City Council.

Commissioners also added conditions that stipulate a local artist create the interior mural, prohibit the standard Subway colors and logo on wrappers and cups and require dedicated employee parking.

Most of the discussion revolved around how unique the Laguna Beach location needs to be, the precedent it might be setting for other formula-based business applications in downtown and how it relates to the city’s pending update of the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP).

The DSP is a planning document that serves to guide growth, design and development standards in downtown, and aims to preserve and enhance the unique character of the neighborhood. An updated plan was adopted by the City Council in July 2020, the California Coastal Commission approved DSP-related changes to the Local Coastal Program on December 15 and council approved the CCC modifications on January 25.

Subway Beach Café would have a one-of-a-kind menu with offerings only available at this location and would be consistent with the DSP, Principal Planner Martina Caron explained at this week’s Planning Commission meeting. 

The commission previously reviewed the project on January 5 and continued the item after finding it too formulaic with its parent franchise brand for a business downtown. 

At the time, commissioners were torn considering other factors like the applicant’s strong community presence, his effort to distance the project from other Subway Cafés and make the design fit in with Laguna Beach and the service it would bring to the neighborhood. However, it’s still a formulaic/franchise business and the merchandise (food items on the menu) isn’t unique enough, several conflicted commissioners agreed at last month’s meeting. They continued the item to allow the applicant more time to customize the menu.

One of a kind Subway Beach Cafe interior

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A rendering of the proposed interior of Subway Beach Café

The applicant updated the application and revised the proposed menu to include sandwiches, salads and ingredients that are not found in any other Subway store, Caron said. Examples of such ingredients include fresh sliced mozzarella, fresh baked croissants and one net carb bread with zero sugar. 

Other items include unique toppings (pumpkin seeds, fresh shaved parmesan, oregano, Provençal herbs, etc.), a croissant breakfast sandwich, garlic buttered bread, gourmet coffee drinks and freshly baked pastries.

Additionally, the applicant is planning to incorporate a panini grill, something that would only be available at the Subway Beach Café. 

The Café will not offer traditional soda fountain drinks, but rather farmed-sourced handcrafted beverages. The juices will include combination flavors like watermelon and cucumber or passion fruit orange guava. Drink names include the Pacific Coast Chiller, Tide Pool Cooler and Sublime Sea Breeze.

The location would also offer take-out and live entertainment.

There will be more than 50 menu offerings not found in a traditional Subway, noted applicant Daniel Riscalla.

“We really put in effort here on introducing some unique elements to the menu, both in terms of ingredients, as well as new sandwiches, as well as modified sandwiches,” he said. 

Customers can still order any combination of unique ingredients, Riscalla added. 

Sandwiches on the proposed one-of-a-kind menu would be named after local landmarks, events, or subtle nods to Laguna. Laguna exclusive sandwiches would include the Totuava-cado Toast, The 1927 Panini and the Croissant Bay Breakfast. The café will also offer a new, LB-exclusive salad called the Treasure Island Salad.

“All of them are unique builds, unique ingredients – they don’t exist anywhere, you can’t find them at any Subway,” Riscalla said. “Those would be very unique to Laguna Beach.”

Other sandwiches would be modified builds from the standard Subway menu, but still have a local Laguna twist: Thousand Steps Club, the Spicy Laguna Tuna and Main Beach Marinara. 

“There is some version of them in existing Subways, but they are significantly modified with the addition of new ingredients and a different way to build the sandwich,” he explained.

There was also some discussion about how to prevent this unique Laguna Beach Subway Café from being replicated elsewhere. 

“I feel as though now we’ve dialed this in, in a very local, specific way,” said Commissioner Susan Whitin. “I think we need to patent it so it can’t now be called the new standard for the Subway café, otherwise it will become formulaic.”

Although several agreed that it’s impossible to enforce this outside of the city.

Riscalla said he doesn’t plan on opening this type Subway café outside of Laguna. Others who might want to try something similar would have to go through a lot of hoops and get a lot of additional approvals, he noted, so it’s not the most feasible idea.

Because of the effort that has gone into making this location so unique, Commission Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin agreed that it’s doubtful other franchise owners would try to duplicate or copy it in any way.

The applicant and staff have worked hard to make it unique, Whitin agreed. 

“If this becomes the new standard then it’s just another Subway,” she said. “I’m not disagreeing…in that I don’t think we can control it and neither can the franchisee – the applicant – it now has corporate ownership. So, I don’t know the answer to it, I’m just pointing it out that we’re doing back flips and so is the applicant and that’s terrific, (but) our main goal is to ensure that we don’t have just another standard, old Subway and this could become the new standard Subway.”

Since they can’t control possible copycat cafés outside of the city, they can take pride in it first being developed specifically for Laguna Beach, added Commission Chair Steve Goldman. 

One of a kind Subway Beach Cafe exterior

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A rendering of the proposed exterior and signage of Subway Beach Café

Caron also covered how the application relates to the city’s pending update of the Downtown Specific Plan. On January 25, council approved the first reading of a revision to the DSP. The updated DSP is scheduled for a second reading on February 15.

Under the new plan, the Subway Beach Café project would still require a conditional use permit, but only for the formula-based business component and not the fast casual or takeout operational component as those would be permitted by right, Caron explained. 

“Overall, similar findings would be required to approve a business like this under the new Downtown Specific Plan,” she said. “With this in mind, staff believes that approving this formula-based business would not set an undesired precedent for the future because the applicant has taken care in creating a one-of-a-kind business location with a unique presentation that avoids a formulaic appearance and sets a high bar for other potential formula-based business applications in the future.”

“This is a very interesting case because it really walks the line very tenuously through the existing policy and with the context of future policy kind of in the background,” Kellenberg said, echoing a public speaker’s comments. “We need to be looking at this through the lens of our current policy not something in the future.”

The applicant has worked hard to fit within that guideline, he added, and Subway fills a niche and provides an important service. But he would like to see more Laguna exclusive sandwiches to really differentiate the menu from other Subway Café locations. 

“I do think that would help solidify what we’re doing here as a precedent,” Commissioner Steven Kellenberg said. “I think we are going to get, in the future, a number of these applications and we have to be careful about the bar that we set.”

Answering a question about the percentage of Laguna exclusive sandwiches on the menu, Riscalla said if it’s pushed too far it becomes difficult to run a business. There are typically around 30-40 sandwiches on the regular menu, he said, and he plans to add about 10 items exclusive to Laguna. If it’s too restricted, like regulating the exact menu items, it becomes difficult to adapt for customer preferences. 

There’s a high degree of subjectivity in whether something meets the test of unique or formula-based, Goldman said. 

“At a high level, the applicant here is doing things that are unique for Laguna, that are unique for Subway,” Goldman said, “but, at the end of the day, let’s not kid ourselves, whether it’s 25% of the menu or 36.275% different on the menu, it’s still a Subway.”

But looking at the intent, the applicant is bending over backwards to make this different enough from other Subways so that it’s unique to Laguna, Goldman added. 

“He is complying with the spirit of the law as it currently works,” he said. 

They have to be fair and consistent in applying the policy, he said, agreeing with a point made by a public speaker. And in this case, it’s unique enough to make the findings to comply with the current DSP.

They also have to consider how it helps the greater good, benefits the community, or fills an unmet need, Goldman said.

The restaurant will add important value to the downtown, Riscalla said. Local artists can have their art displayed, workers can telecommute using the free Wi-Fi and the live music will add to the casual environment, he noted. 

“We are offering an economic option for the workers and students the folks that can’t go to an expensive restaurant to have a meal,” he said. “That would make this place a popular destination.”

Again, commissioners discussed the possibility of this project setting a precedent for future applications for formula-based businesses.

The applicant has bent over backwards to create something very different from the formula-based business, Dubin said. If, going forward, they are presented with this type of application again within the DSP, they need to be clear in what they are asking of the applicant, he added. 

“We’re not setting a loose standard for this type of stuff,” Dubin said. “And that we do have enough firewalls and policies in place that will govern this and future franchise-type businesses. If corporate isn’t amenable to these standards, then we will have a leg to stand on in terms of denying future applications.”

There were a handful of public speakers, most in support of the Subway Beach Café project. Several agreed that it’s an unfulfilled need in the downtown area.

There’s currently no restaurant in the downtown where someone can get an affordable sandwich and go to the beach, which is the “perfect beach food,” commented one speaker.

There were also some concerns raised by speakers, including equally applying the current DSP to all applicants. Even though the new, updated policy is likely coming, it’s not adopted yet, Karen Martin pointed out. 

There were also some concerns about parking, using compostable wrappers, and ensuring that the sidewalks and trash are cleaned up.


Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

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Sapphire’s decadent brunch

By Diane Armitage

As my New Year’s resolution has me tucking into my 17th arugula salad with apple cider vinaigrette, I think longingly back to my last, great decadent meal at the weekend brunch at Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook. 

My “brunch buddy,” Ali North and I, decided to make our monthly brunch a New Year’s celebration, too. The day was a glorious blue as we met at Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook and were seated on the patio. 

Sapphire's patio

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Courtesy of Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook

Sapphire’s open-air patio offers a companionable view to the charm and bustle of Laguna Beach

Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook stepped in as brand new ownership at the old Sapphire location in late 2019. Despite the COVID shutdown in March 2020, Owner Russ Bendel and Director of Operations Chris Hutten were able to open The Pantry, the take-out extension of the restaurant on April 1, 2020. (Thank heavens, for that, too, as they provide the most amazing cocktails to go in small mason jars.) 

The restaurant, itself, phased in with dinner service first on May 28, 2020 with lunch service later added on June 22. Once the world really started rolling again, the team began its first weekend brunch service on July 25, 2020 and business has been cooking along ever since.   

Brunch cocktails aplenty

Joining the Patio Pounder cocktail are the “standard” Bloody Mary and Mimosa. If you know Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook, though, you know there’s nothing standard about the standards here. 

The Mimosa, alone, offers three options with the La Marca sparkling wine: Strawberry & Thyme; Passion Fruit, Orange & Guava; and Ruby Grapefruit & Sweet Basil. We both opted for the latter. Fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice is always my preference with Mimosas as it cuts the sweet, but the unique basil addition gave the drink a whole new depth of flavor. 

Sapphire's mimosa

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Sapphire’s brunch mimosas come with three flavor options. This is the Ruby Grapefruit & Sweet Basil.

More than 10 options on the brunch menu

While some restaurants may opt for a “less items is more” approach on their brunch menus, Sapphire pulls out all the stops with a variety of full-plate, high-flavor meals. Choose from a lettuce salad with grilled Jidori chicken, or dive into breakfast items that range from sweet (Nutella waffles, for example) to classic (Market Vegetable Scramble or Filet Mignon with eggs) to comfort (Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits with Sage-Garlic Sausage Gray) to over-the-top, where-did-that-come-from dishes. If you’re not in the mood for breakfast, try the restaurant’s best-selling sandwiches, the towering Wagyu Beef Burger or the fabulous Crispy Chicken Sandwich. 

We were here for breakfast, though, and as it was my last decadent meal for the month of January, I thought it best to opt for the over-the-top options. 

Starting with a sweet option

First to arrive was the Meyer Lemon Crème Fraiche Waffles. Awash in the freshest berries and a thick ribbon of crème fraiche, the waffles arrived with a hearty side of bourbon maple syrup. These were melt-in-your-mouth memorable waffles. 

Sapphire's waffle

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Meyer Lemon Crème Fraiche Waffles are a perfect shareable to get the brunch party started

And startingly good savory

I opted for the Kurobuta Pork Belly Benedict because…why not? 

“It’s the best-selling item on our menu,” Owner Russ Bendel told me. “It’s definitely one of a kind!”

Truer words could not be said. The chefs start with a rosemary focaccia biscuit “because you can’t have a soggy bottom on your Benedict,” said Hutten, whose long-time talented chef skills nicely aid in menu creations. The stout biscuit held a mighty tower of ingredients, but still proved fork-friendly and fluffy. 

A double pile of crispy pork belly portions is loaded on with Champagne béarnaise sauce ladled between layers. Then, the poached eggs land (I had three on my dish) with another healthy pour of the béarnaise. The chefs finish with a sprinkle of pork belly pieces and micro greens. 

This is an insane dish, a joyful meld of creamy goodness and the crisp, salty chew of the pork belly. The dish was so mighty that I carried at least two-thirds of it home with me. 

Sapphire's benedict

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Sapphire Pork Belly Benedict is a crowning gem of happy flavors

My brunch buddy, Ali, ordered the Crispy Duroc Pork Schnitzel with Maitake Mushrooms. Frankly, I’m not sure that any other restaurant in town currently offers pork schnitzel, let alone in a brunch menu. 

Schnitzel is typically crafted from boneless pork chops, which are hammered lightly to thinner proportions, and then breaded and either sautéed or flash-fried. 

Even with its hammering, this was one of the largest pork chops I’ve seen. Here at Sapphire, the chefs add pumpkin to the spaetzle mix, which added great moistness and just a touch of sweetness to the pork. The team laid down a foundation of fava beans, maitake mushrooms (think peppery), pearl onions, yellow wax beans, blue lake beans and romanesco. 

“We basically use whatever vegetables are in season,” said Hutten. “It’s just an easy way to sneak in some veggies for breakfast!”

After a douse of Meyer lemon and tarragon emulsion, the great chop landed, followed by more of the creamy emulsion and two eggs done any way the customer chooses. It was a beautiful beast of a brunch item, and I felt somewhat redeemed in that I’d eaten my vegetables, too. 

Sapphire's schnitzel

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Sapphire Crispy Duroc Pork Schnitzel is a tender, flavorful and very rare addition to a brunch menu

A lovely way to while away a Sunday morning

Although Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook fills its extended patio first with guests before moving into the restaurant, the full patio still offers plenty of space between tables and the noise level is quiet ambient. Service was fast and friendly, and the food arrived piping hot (something I always look for). 

What an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so on a Sunday morning in our beautiful town. Sapphire’s brunch is both Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Call for reservations please at 949.715.9888, or go online to to book your table. 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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Subway Beach Café gets second chance at downtown location after commission continues project amid concerns about allowing franchise


After nearly two hours of discussion, a permit applicant that went “above and beyond” was still struggling for approval after planning commissioners deemed the restaurant too formulaic with its parent franchise brand, Subway, for a business downtown. 

Although, commissioners were torn considering other factors like the applicant’s strong community presence, his effort to distance the project from its parent brand and make the design fit in with Laguna Beach and the service it would bring to the neighborhood. However, it’s still a formulaic/franchise business and the merchandise (food items on the menu) isn’t unique enough, several conflicted commissioners agreed.

“There are a lot of reasons to want to feel good about this,” said Chair Steve Goldman. “The only reason not to at the end of the day: It’s a Subway. It’s the same food and the same quality, just dressed up really nicely.”

The Planning Commission ultimately voted 5-0 to continue the item until their February meeting to give the applicant more time to customize the menu. The applicant was seeking a Conditional Use Permit and a Coastal Development Permit to convert 381 Forest Ave., Suite A-100 (previously Catmosphere) to Subway Beach Café.

Sandwiches on the proposed one-of-a-kind menu would be named after local landmarks and events, including the Thousand Steps Club, the Laguna Tuna and Main Beach Marinara. 

“The makeup of those sandwiches is unique, not something you will find on a traditional Subway menu,” said applicant Daniel Riscalla. “It wasn’t just renaming certain sandwiches; it’s actually coming up with new sandwiches that will be unique (to Laguna).”

As proposed, the location would offer farm-sourced, handcrafted beverages and freshly baked pastries. The juices will include combination flavors like watermelon and cucumber or passion fruit orange guava.

The design is aimed at casual dining with couch seating and a cozy atmosphere, explained Principal Planner Martina Caron. Live acoustic entertainment would be offered on Friday and Saturday.

Specifically, the central features of the restaurant would include a bar height communal table with stools, cushioned seating, wall murals painted by local artists and a large digital display screen that would show slides of Laguna Beach and its history. The display would also be available to Laguna College of Art + Design students and local digital artists to show their work. 

The front and back counter of the store would feature a modern rustic look, Caron said. Any use of a Subway logo in the interior would be minimal and subtle, she noted, and the primary use being a brushed metal “S” logo. 

Employee attire would also be unique to this location, featuring black pants and white shirts, and aprons with a simple two-tone logo either black and white or black and green.

Subway Beach Cafe interior rendering

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A rendering of the proposed interior of Subway Beach Café

“This is really a one-of-a-kind restaurant, we’re really excited about this,” Riscalla said.

They’ve worked closely with staff to customize the location for downtown Laguna Beach, he added. A non-conventional Subway like this needed additional approvals, he explained. The family also owns a Subway café in Orange, although each location is individually customized. 

“The result is a unique restaurant that is unlike any other Subway,” Riscalla said. “It will fit seamlessly into the Laguna Beach downtown atmosphere and will be tailored to all of your requirements for this area.”

They have been part of the Laguna Beach community for many years, he pointed out. The previous Subway location at 1350 S. Coast Highway opened in 1992 and they took over in 2010. At that location, they offered mobile-based ordering and delivery and, during the pandemic they created a Subway grocery plan. They also participated in a number of local events over the years. 

Several commissioners noted that Riscalla is a respected community member, as well as several public speakers who commented on the positive impact he and his family, and their previous local business, have had on Laguna Beach.

Some commissioners also pointed out the benefit of having fast and affordable food in the area for city hall employees and other workers within walking distance.

There’s a need for something like this in the downtown, said Commissioner Ken Sadler. 

“We don’t have a less expensive option, there are very few in downtown and in Laguna in general,” he pointed out. 

They provide a valuable food service to the town, added Commissioner Steve Kellenberg, who noted that he often got a quick and affordable sandwich at the old Subway location. They’re actually “quite tasty,” he added. 

“To be able to have that service downtown, I think it is a contribution to the downtown,” Kellenberg said. “There’s an unmet demand for that type of cuisine on Forest Avenue.”

But it’s hard to overcome that the project falls short on the findings they need to make for approval, in terms of the policies that have been for regulating the types of uses downtown, he added.

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