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Seabutter is melt-in-your-mouth fresh sushi

By Diane Armitage

Last week, the popular Seabutter Beverly Hills sushi restaurant welcomed the arrival of its little sister, Seabutter Laguna Beach. 

Owners George and Angie Fratkin opted for a week of soft opening evenings but, as the Laguna Beach local coconut telegraph goes, it turned out to be a fairly busy week. 

“We’ve had such a great few days with all the charming locals,” George told me. “We’re in love already.”

Consider that love mutual, George. After trying eight different sushi dishes on Tuesday night, I’m happy to report that this is one of the most unique and lush sushi events I’ve yet experienced.

A bold Beverly Hills start-up

Three years ago, George and Angie hadn’t even thought of owning a restaurant. “We were happy in our careers but we both had this opportunity to make some changes,” said George. “So, we decided to try something really out of our comfort zone – opening a restaurant.”

Although they had no operational experience, they knew they had to fulfill one primary goal: Create a sushi experience for sushi afficionados just like them.

“We wanted the highest-grade chefs and the highest-grade sushi and fish on the market…and that was about it. It was a pretty short checklist,” said George.

The couple opened Seabutter in Beverly Hills in November 2018, and in a matter of weeks, the place was rocking.

Although the couple wasn’t necessarily thinking of expansion, George admits to saying that if they ever opened a second restaurant, he would want it on or within walking distance of a beach.

“We somehow made it through the worst of COVID, and just when we were thinking we could take a breather this spring, maybe take a vacation somewhere, one of my friends sent me the listing for the Laguna Beach sushi restaurant,” he said. 

“We hadn’t even been thinking of Laguna Beach, but I had great memories visiting there as a kid, and we thought we’d just drive down and take a look. As soon as we walked in the place, I knew we had found our second restaurant location,” said George. 

They made a fast decision at the end of May and began putting all the pieces in place for a 45-day opening calendar. They quietly opened here on Friday, July 16th.

Unique & rare flavors

Seabutter specializes in thinking outside the box.

“People may love yellowtail or yellowtail belly, but they don’t know about how mild and awesome amberjack is,” said George. 

“Or they may have tried albacore but haven’t had the pleasure of trying albacore belly. And, if they like uni, we’re one of the few places that will carry two or three or four types of uni from different parts of the world, so you can try them all in a tasting in a single evening,” he added.

I love sushi, but I wouldn’t consider myself an afficionado. So, on Tuesday I gathered my sushi pros – Greg and Terri Smith – and brought them along for dinner.

The Seabutter team may still be dialing in a bit of artwork and finishing touches, but the most important pieces are firmly in play – fantastic and friendly sushi chefs and an extensive menu of fabulous options. 

The lead Sushi Chef Peter Moon greeted us, and we told him we were going to rely on his recommendations. 

Seabutter is chef and owner

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Seabutter (Laguna Beach) Head Sushi Chef Peter Moon, left, and Co-Owner George Fratkin

On a side note, a couple weeks ago, one of my dearest friends popped into town and dialed me up to meet for coffee. He’s an avid fisherman with a home in La Ventana on the Sea of Cortez, so when I asked him what fish he prefers eating these days, he promptly replied “amberjack.”

Although amberjack is often mistakenly marketed as part of the tuna or yellowtail families, amberjack kanpachi comes from the Seriola line. It’s a lean, flaky fish with a mild, sweet, and buttery taste. I’ve never tried it, so when Chef Peter mentioned it, I made that our first Seabutter foray. 

What an introduction! The lightest of lime juice drizzles complimented this beauty. I would have been happy eating multiple servings of this dish – it was spectacular.

Seabutter is amberjack

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Fabulous Amberjack Kanpachi

It only got better from there. 

In a matter of minutes, we were on to Crunchy Onion Albacore which featured Albacore Shiro Maguro, essentially albacore loin, another rich and mild offering. A haystack of freshly fried onion slivers served as the bedrock, and the mix of tang and buttery sweet was perfection. 

Seabutter is albacore stack fried onion

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Lean and flavorful albacore on an onion haystack

Next it was a beautifully colorful dish of the freshest ahi tuna topped with a jumble of enoki mushrooms sauteed in a truffle mushroom sauce. As it turns out, my fellow sushi buddies are not truffle oil fans, so I polished the entire plate off myself without apology. 

Seabutter is ahi tuna with truffle

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Ahi tuna plays host to enoki mushrooms in a rich truffle sauce

We moved on to beautifully presented dishes of Tuna & Toro, Yellowtail Belly, and then Albacore Belly (for comparison purposes). All three dishes were fresh and colorful presentations with a focus on the fish above the usual filler rice. 

Seabutter is albacore belly

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Light and refreshing Albacore Belly sushi

At that point, my fellow spicy food fans were over the moon with Chef Peter’s fantastic roll, the YTJ, a combination of Yellowtail, Tuna Sashimi, and Jalapeno Tempura with Yuzu sauce. Where jalapeno can become quickly overpowering with fresh sushi, the tempura kicked the temperature down to a companionable, tiny kick. 

Seabutter is jalapeno tuna and yellow tail

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Fried jalapeno kicks this fabulous YTJ roll into overdrive

With seven dishes shared between us at this point, there wasn’t much room left. Greg, however, wanted to try a token hand roll, so we asked Chef to provide a “light” one. 

He complied, serving us three seaweed paper rolls stuffed with blue crab, a smattering of white rice, and crunchy cucumber. We each finished every bite.

Seabutter is blue crab stuffed handroll

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Photo by Diane Armitage

A seaweed paper hand roll stuffed with the freshest blue crab

Of course, George wouldn’t let us depart without trying their homemade Mochi Ice Cream Balls. This time, we insisted on receiving a shared platter and in moments, we were digging through three just-right servings of fresh peach, strawberry, and rich chocolate options. It was the perfect ending to an absolutely perfect evening at Seabutter. 

Seabutter is mochi

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Homemade mochi finishes a perfect evening. On this evening, the restaurant was featuring peach, strawberry, and chocolate.

Call for reservations at (949) 942-6042 or go online to reserve. The restaurant is closed Mondays, but opens every other day of the week at 5 p.m.   

Note: As of this writing, Seabutter Laguna Beach still hasn’t received its liquor license, even though it’s a rather simple transfer that’s been in process for several weeks. While the owners expect this to come through any day, don’t let this deter you from trying this gem before the rest of the world swims into Seabutter. 

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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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

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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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Selanne Steak Tavern receives “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator magazine

For the fifth consecutive year, Selanne Steak Tavern’s 425-selection wine list has been awarded a coveted Best of Award of Excellence distinction from prestigious industry publication Wine Spectator magazine. 

The 2021 Best of Award of Excellence is the second highest level of its annual recognition program and was given to a total of 1,141 restaurants from a field of 2,900 that earned awards in one of three categories – with winners represented in all 50 states and 72 countries and territories. 

“It is an award only garnered by restaurants that typically offer 350 or more selections and are destinations for serious wine lovers – places that have a deep commitment to wine, both in the cellar and through their service team,” according to Wine Spectator magazine. Full listings can be found at

Selanne Steak server

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Selanne Steak Tavern recognized for 5th year from Wine Spectator magazine

The upscale American steak house has once again been recognized for its wine list of both vintage depth and regional breadth, earning this honor with recognized strengths in wines from California and France and with a total wine inventory of over 3,000 selections also including choices from Washington, Oregon, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Austria, South Africa, Portugal, Canada, and Australia. 

It is heavily focused on California cult wines with many highly allocated, low production, big scoring selections and is designed to appeal to all wine lovers – their palates, pairing preferences, and spending desires.

“It’s been a difficult year for our industry, and we are happy to report we are fully open again and pushing forward,” said Selanne Steak Tavern owners Teemu Selanne and Kevin Pratt. “We are highly honored to receive the Best of Award of Excellence 2021 from Wine Spectator. Once again, we salute Certified Advanced Sommelier Vito Pasquale and his team and thank our guests for their continued support and appreciation of our hospitality.”

Selanne Steak Tavern’s wine list is especially designed to pair with the award-winning contemporary American steakhouse fare created by Chef Vincent Terusa. Since the restaurant’s inception, it has received recognition and honors for its food and wine and spirits programs, as well as its exemplary service, including multiple Golden Foodie Awards for “Best Wine Program,” “Best Service,” “Best Steak,” and “Best New Restaurant.”

Selanne Steak Tavern, located at 1464 S Coast Hwy in Laguna Beach, opened in November 2013 and is owned by Hockey Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and local Orange County businessman Kevin Pratt. Housed in a reimagined 1934 historic home along the Pacific Coast, it’s an upscale contemporary steak house with an upstairs dining room, downstairs tavern and bar area, a wine room for more intimate dining, and two patios for alfresco dining.

The restaurant supports local farms and fisheries that practice sustainability and humane practices. Menus feature the finest of steaks and seafood served with a variety of accompaniments enhanced by herbs from the restaurant’s herb garden. 

Along with its carefully selected California-focused wine list, craft signature cocktails are created from quality farmers’ market produce, homemade mixers, and top-notch shelf spirits. Selanne Steak Tavern is open for dinner nightly starting at 5 p.m. For reservations and more information, call (949) 715-9881 or visit

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The Ranch announces removal of all single-use plastic amenity bottles

As the stewards of an incredible natural landscape, The Ranch at Laguna Beach continues to pioneer sustainability efforts by introducing new environmentally friendly guest room amenities. 

The resort has added a variety of sustainable bathroom care products, completing its mission of removing all single-use plastic amenity bottles and eliminating 23,184 bottles from the landfill each year. 

The Ranch vanity pic

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Creekside One Bedroom/Bathroom

The new guest room additions include:

 --MALIN+GOETZ, a natural skincare line specializing in sustainable packaging featuring recyclable high-density polyethylene plastic. Guest rooms provide refillable bottles of haircare, body wash, hand soap, and lotion. All products are sustainably formulated and cruelty-free. The partnership comes from La Bottega, a Forbes Travel Guide approved supplier for bath and body collections. 

--Biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes sourced from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forests. The brushes are finished in a vegan-friendly wax and feature high quality dental-grade bristles, free of harmful dyes and no plastic.

--Huppy toothpaste tablets, an oral care company providing all-natural, plastic-free toothpaste designed to better the planet. The product includes zero waste packaging, non-toxic ingredients sourced from nature, and subscription refill pouches.

The Ranch outside

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View from The Ranch guestrooms 

Sustainability sets the foundation for this boutique coastal ranch, as it leverages a variety of innovative and practical measures to reduce its carbon footprint and create a positive environmental impact. 

In addition to sustainable bathroom care products, the property recycles glass bottles into sand for its golf course bunkers, swapped plastic key cards for biodegradable bamboo room keys, operates a half-acre biodynamic farm and compost program, and irrigates with reclaimed water – saving 20 million gallons annually. 

The Ranch bottles

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By removing all single-use plastic amenity bottles The Ranch has eliminated 23,184 bottles from the landfill each year

As of last year, the resort has positioned itself as a founding member of Beyond Green, a global portfolio of hotels, resorts, and lodges exemplifying sustainable leadership.

For more information on sustainability efforts at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, visit

For more information or to inquire about a booking, contact (949) 499-2271 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Restaurants and hotels struggle to find staffing, patience from community requested


Although COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, Laguna’s hospitality industry faces a new challenge – staff shortages – and just when the Festival of Arts, Sawdust Festival, and Art-A-Fair are set to open.

It’s no secret that restaurants are struggling with staffing. There are just not enough servers, bartenders, and cooks to fill all of the open positions in town (or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter). 

To add to the already desperate situation, reports say that hospitality workers are leaving the industry due to hostility from customers regarding long waits and what they consider less than adequate service.

When will staffing levels return to normal?

According to, among restaurant operators, 28 percent said they think it will be seven to 12 months before staffing returns to normal. Twenty percent believe it will take more than a year, while 10 percent say staffing levels will never bounce back to where they were.

When do our local restaurants and hotels anticipate staffing might return to normal? 

“It’s going to take some time for businesses to be fully staffed as they are struggling to find employees, and I’m not sure we’ll get back to normal staffing levels any time soon,” says Ashley Johnson, president and CEO of Visit Laguna Beach. “It appears that many of the employees who were laid off or furloughed when COVID hit, have either found other industries to work in, or are waiting for their unemployment benefits to run out. We are seeing many open positions across all departments, in the hospitality industry, specifically. Many operators, locally, are offering hiring bonuses, increased rates of pay, employee lunches, bonuses, and other incentives. Unfortunately, the guest experience is suffering (i.e., limited/no turn downs, later check-in times, restaurant reservations only) due to the lack of staffing and many employees are working overtime to cover additional shifts.”

“Possibly by the end of the year,” says The Ranch General Manager Kurt Bjorkman. “We lost about 20 percent of our staff.” 

Restaurants and Harvest

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Courtesy of The Ranch

Harvest Restaurant at The Ranch

To that end, Bjorkman adds, “We’ll need to communicate that we have an amazing workplace, inclusive and supportive – fun and engaging. We have to separate ourselves from companies that are just looking for positions to fill and not people to join a close-knit organization.”

Lindsay Smith, owner and chef of Nirvana Grille, says, “I think it’s going to take longer than that.”

They lost almost all their staff. “The second shutdown hurt us more than the others. We closed four months, and the staff had to move on.”

Smith spends more time now out on the floor (although it’s part of her new model to be out on the floor to stay connected with patrons), and she also pitches in wherever help is needed. “I was at the restaurant until 12:30 a.m. over the weekend washing dishes and always stay until midnight.”

Lack of kitchen help 

Evidently, kitchen help is the most difficult to find. “We’ve gone through three dishwashers in a few months. I have a full-time person looking for employees and scheduling interviews.”

What makes it even more unfortunate is the competition.

“We are all competing for the same people!” Bjorkman says. “It’s becoming incredibly difficult – as our guests are back with enthusiasm (thank goodness).” 

Smith has closed Nirvana’s full sit-down bar because of the lack of a bartender, and she won’t increase the 50 percent seating capacity due to the staff shortage. The same applies to the patio, which seats 40 and may not open.

“Then it happens that someone has car trouble or some emergency, and we’re short-staffed even further due to that,” she says. “I try to communicate to patrons right in the beginning that it might be a longer than normal wait – that’s key.”

Restaurants and Nirvana

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Nirvana Grille lost most of its staff during the pandemic

“I’m paying the kitchen and other staff more all around which keeps revenue down – that’s just one of the challenges at the moment.”

Even though customers are noticing restaurants are straining to serve them, it’s not affecting business. 

“We are very busy and thankful for that!” says Bjorkman. “Once we were allowed to open our doors, we had a lot of happy and eager guests ready to return – we cannot be more grateful for that. I don’t think that is preventing them from going out – we are seeing record numbers (please keep coming)! The challenge is trying to serve our guests with fewer resources. It’s not just staffing, supplies are harder and more expensive to get, and lead times on certain items are really long.”

How to replace those who are leaving

If many do leave the hospitality industry as is being reported, it may open the door to a new career for others.

“It can be frustrating – but if we (the industry) do our jobs correctly, we can introduce a lot of new people into what is an incredibly rewarding career,” says Bjorkman. “Serving others is not for everyone – but for those for whom it inspires, it is an incredibly enriching career. Not just for management positions – the happiest and most amazing people in the hotel industry are found on the line level – that amazing concierge who has been at the same property for 20 years, they have an incredible life! The groundskeeper who has been taking care of the golf course for 40 years and sent three kids to college…The list goes on, every good hotel has a collection of amazing career-minded people who love to serve others! We need more of them.”

Kindness, please!

If ever there was a need for even tempers and tolerance, it is now.

“As businesses work to reopen effectively and return to normal staffing levels, I would like to encourage customers to be patient, as these businesses are doing all they can to ensure you have a memorable stay,” says Johnson. “Please keep in mind that many of these employees have stuck around throughout COVID-19, so I hope patrons will show their appreciation by tipping the hardworking employees who have chosen to be here.”

Bjorkman emphasizes that they are there to be of service. “I would ask that you have patience with those of us in the restaurant and hotel industries – we are ready to SERVE you (emphasis on the capital letters), but we just don’t have the same resources we did in 2019. We will get there – in the meantime, we will continue to do everything we can (from the local coffee shops to the luxury resorts) to make your experience exceptional, warm, and authentically Laguna Beach!”

“We want diners at Nirvana Grille to have a wonderful dining experience, enjoy themselves, and be comfortable. Most of those who come in say how nice it is to get out,” adds Smith.

So please give a little leeway to the restaurants in town as they get through this, and they will – if you can’t get a reservation or you see open tables but they won’t seat you – this is why.

Both Smith and Bjorkman agree, “We need our locals to understand we are doing our best.”

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Chef Rainer Schwarz debuts flavor-filled menu at Hendrix

By Diane Armitage

Last Friday, after my second day in a row at Cinepolis in Ocean Ranch to see In the Heights, I gathered fellow movie friends and walked 100 yards to Hendrix, the third restaurant in South OC from Chef Rainer Schwarz and his team. 

You may be more familiar with Chef Schwarz after his significant entry into Laguna Beach with The Deck Laguna Beach (April 2011) and then, Driftwood Kitchen (June 2014). Then, he and his team revamped the former (and rambling) Fred’s Mexican Cafe & Cantina, opening Hendrix in 2017.

Chef Rainer closeup

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Chef Rainer Schwarz, Chef Operator/Owner of The Deck Laguna Beach, Driftwood Kitchen, and Hendrix

Rotisserie, yes, but vegetarian, too 

As a rule, Hendrix has been all about the meat. The largest rotisserie in the land roosts in the front windows of Hendrix, and Chef loves doling out anything from chicken, duck, and pork to entire prime rib roasts.

His shared meat platters remind me of something at the king’s table in Game of Thrones, piled high with sausages and various meats with an accompanying giant pitchfork of a fork for serving out your own heaping serving.

Chef Rainer hendrix

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Photo by Diane Armitage

A stone’s throw from his Laguna Beach-based restaurants, Chef Schwarz’s Hendrix is in Ocean Ranch next to the Cinepolis theater 

But Chef Rainer has always been about the balance between hearty and succulent and fresh and spritely. As you may have noticed, those poor folks in Game of Thrones weren’t treated to much in the way of fresh hamachi or brilliantly charred brussels sprouts (much less a beet and goat cheese salad), but Hendrix is famous for completing that side of our nutritional table with ease. 

“I want to make sure we create a balance to the rotisserie, which can be heavy with lots of meat,” he told me. 

“The summer menu offers more balance with lighter items and opens up a new round of options for vegans and vegetarians,” Chef said. 

New summer appetizers hum with flavor 

Last Friday night, this was apparent with Chef’s introduction of many summer menu items that wowed my crowd. 

Dish after dish arrived, perfectly plated samples of what’s in store for our summer. If this doesn’t give you hope for our return to all that is right in the months ahead, nothing will. 

Chef’s team started our table with the Cream of Summer Corn Soup, a smoky, barely spicy mix of smoked bacon folded into corn chutney with a drizzle of chili oil. 

Chef Rainer corn soup

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Chef Schwarz’s sample of Summer Corn Soup had us begging for more

Before we could weep for more, the Avocado Hummus arrived, a super smooth dippy blend topped with cashews and pumpkin seeds. A side of fried pita chips added that comfort food crunch to everything healthy and good. 

“I’ve always liked the flavor of hummus,” noted Chef. 

“And, with avocado, it takes on a sort of fluffy lightness that’s easy to eat. It’s not overbearing in flavor; it opens up your palate for more.”

Chef Rainer hummus

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Summery Hummus at Hendrix is whipped with fluffy avocado

Next were the BBQ Octopus Tacos, with a rack of three oversized street tacos arriving in front of each of us. Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road. You might find someone who can make a delectable corn soup or a better than average hummus dip but…octopus tacos? I haven’t heard of such a thing, and I eat out a lot, all over the world. 

Delicately poached and then ever-so-lightly grilled, the octopus meat was neatly bedded in a hard corn taco shell and topped with pineapple salsa, pickled Fresno chiles, and lemon creme fraiche. The wafer-thin radish slices added a lovely, summery tang to complete the treat.    

Chef Rainer octopus tacos

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Hendrix Octopus Tacos feature a sublime, fresh mix in a crunchy shell

Entrées and pastas on the light side 

Then, the Ricotta Gnocchi arrived. This dish follows the precepts of creating gnocchi, but instead of the usual potato as the gnocchi base, Chef chose to use ricotta, instead. Even though potato gnocchi can taste and feel fluffy and light, it has a weight to it that I always feel later. 

In contrast, this ricotta gnocchi was breezy and light. Basted in San Marzano tomato sauce, topped with buttons of mozzarella burrata and encircled in basil aioli, this was one of the most imaginative gnocchi dishes I’ve tasted.

Chef Rainer gnocchi

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Gnocchi made of ricotta makes for a delicious vegetarian entrée 

At this point, were we stuffed? Absolutely, even with the “samplers” Chef was sending out. 

Did more food arrive? Absolutely. 

Pan-Seared Diver Scallops were next with a Far East take to enliven the mellowness of the scallops. Fregola pasta (much like a couscous but pasta, instead) and chopped minestrone vegetables combine with curry and capers to serve as the base for the scallops. The scallops are then basted with a Moroccan salsa that, again, delivers a note of depth and heat.

Chef Rainer scallops

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Photo by Diane Armitage

With a nod to India and Morocco in a single dish, giant scallops take on a new taste sensation 

Finally, Chef selected one of his (already) best-selling appetizers, Hamachi Crudo. This dish can easily serve as a full entrée as several freshly carved Hamachi planks are sprinkled with lime sauce and topped with avocado and yuzu emulsion. Even as stuffed as we were, it was a fresh and flavorful finish.   

Chef Rainer hamachi

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Hendrix popular Hamachi appetizer is a sublime melt-in-your-mouth treat

While the chocolate and cheesecake desserts are steady sellers, Chef Schwarz says he’s now working on the summer dessert menu, which will be launching in a couple weeks. 

“I’ll be adding in some stone fruit items, freshly baked pies, that sort of thing,” he noted. 

Safety is the key to a glorious summer

As crowds are definitely increasing, Chef and his team will continue to offer the expanded outdoor seating as an option well into the future. 

“We’ve fought our way through this last year, and we’re all hoping we’re on the other side. We’ve always done the right thing, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. It’s important that – especially now – our customers and our own staff members continue to feel safe.” 

“We can all have a great summer ahead, and we’re doing everything we can to make it super memorable and special,” Chef Schwarz said. 

Hendrix, at 32431 Golden Lantern Drive, Laguna Niguel, opens for dining at 4 p.m., seven days a week. Weekend brunch service is Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Happy Hour is offered daily from 4 to 6 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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Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival returns to town October 2021

After over a year without large events, nonprofit organizations KX FM and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce are excited to announce the return of The Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival to be held Thursday, Oct 14, 2021. 

General admission and VIP tickets went on sale June 4 at More than 40 local restaurants and award-winning chefs will showcase their most popular menu items, signature recipes, and specialty dishes, and live music will be performed at the Festival of Arts grounds. The event is open to both locals and visitors. It will include a silent auction and a competition between participating restaurants and chefs.

Taste of Cliff

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

2019 Taste of Laguna fun with The Cliff 

The 2021 event will be the second time combining the Chamber’s The Taste of Laguna with the annual concert hosted by KX FM. Canceled in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, the return of The Taste embraces a growing figurative and literal appetite for food, music, and community togetherness that promises not to disappoint. 

KX FM broadcasts from Pacific Coast Highway on 104.7 FM and streams to audiences around the world at or via the KX FM app. KX FM is the home of generational alt-rock, as well as an eclectic mix of music, informative talk, and local entertainment. The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce drives economic prosperity and quality of life for the community of Laguna Beach by being the voice of business, promoting collaboration, and helping members grow their business. 

Taste of guests

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

(L-R) Nancy Pooley, Dave Csira, Stacia Stabler, and Suzanne Taylor

Both nonprofit organizations boast new female leadership this year with decades of combined event production experience. Chamber President and CEO Sandy Morales previously produced The Taste of Anaheim for 10 years while working for the Anaheim Chamber. “We are excited to bring back The Taste to our community, showcasing our amazing restaurants here in Laguna Beach! Partnering with KX FM has only enhanced this annual event with live music and dancing, and we plan to show everyone a good time,” said Morales.

KX FM General Manager Alyssa Hayek is excited for the uniqueness of 2021’s event. “We have such a diverse community of restaurants here in Laguna Beach that allows The Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival to be unique each and every year. This year we decided to take a global approach to The Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival since so many of us have been unable to travel. We are able to showcase the diversity of the restaurants that are in Laguna Beach and pair them with music that compliments the cuisine. This way you can feel transported as you eat delicious food without ever leaving Laguna,” Hayek said.

Taste of wine

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Wine Gallery sharing tasty treats in 2019 

General admission tickets are $85 with entrance at 6 p.m. Limited VIP tickets are available for $150, which includes one-hour early entry (5 p.m.), two drink tickets, a private bar, and lounge area. Food is included in the ticket price. Drink tickets will be available for purchase inside festival grounds, with several bar locations throughout the event.        

More information and tickets can be found at

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A week of eating with my visiting friend

By Diane Armitage

Two weeks ago, my best friend from Denver (Diana) was in town. People are always asking me where I would send a tourist if they had just a few days here, and to that I always reply, “It depends on what the tourist wants to experience.”

Diana wanted to experience the “local vibe” as I experience it. So, on the day of her arrival, I started in my own SoLag hood, Coyote Grill. Seriously, folks, you can’t come to Laguna Beach and miss out on some of our neighborhood favorites. 

Steve made us margaritas and trotted out later to catch up on restaurant gossip and offer a shot of new tequila. Meanwhile the kitchen rolled out my favorite, the giant chicken burrito (minus beans and added green sauce to make it “wet”). It was the start to a very good week of eating. 

She ate salads, I tried everything else

On Memorial Day, we joined the throngs downtown, stopping at GG’s Bistro for my favorite sangria in town. Diana also ordered the Arugula Goat Cheese salad, a super-fresh blend with beets, melons, cranberries, and walnuts. 

A week GG's arugula salad

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Photo by Diane Armitage

GG’s Bistro Arugula Goat Cheese salad is a breezy, summery blend

Tuesday was a visit to Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook for a late lunch. While Diana dug into another lovely salad, I opted for the appetizer, Lemon Thyme Confit Kurobata Pork Ribs. These were luscious, fall-off-the-bone nuggets in saucy bourbon barbecue glaze. It was all I could do to not order another helping.

As we dined, we chatted with Operating Partner (and great chef) Chris Hutten. It turns out the Sapphire team was readying to celebrate the restaurant’s one-year anniversary already. I’m sure the year ahead will prove less tumultuous than the first. 

A week Sapphire ribs

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Courtesy of Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook

Sapphire’s ribs appetizer is a memorable event

On Wednesday, we moseyed down the sand from the Surf & Sand Hotel to the longtime local favorite Zinc Cafe & Market. Owner John Secretan was actually there (I haven’t seen him in months), so we caught up on his various enterprises as Diana and I enjoyed our vegetarian breakfast items. 

I chose my old favorite, poached eggs on toast, while she opted for the daily quiche offering with a side of fruit salad. Service was quick and friendly, our dishes were delicious, and the patio was its usual people-watching pleasure.

A week Zinc quiche

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Zinc Café’s daily quiche offering is always a winner

Oliver’s new spring menu

That same evening, all diets were off with a visit to one of my favorites, Oliver’s Osteria in Laguna Canyon next to the Sawdust. While Chef Erik is never one for loading in frothy, empty calories, his dishes are so rich and fabulous in flavor that you simply can’t stop eating. We joined my dear friends, Kaj and Mary Garmshausen, and there were plenty of bites to share. 

Chef Erik has recently debuted his spring menu, and it is alight with lively color and complexities. Even Mary’s simple dish of New Zealand King Salmon was fresh and colorful and cooked to perfection.

A week Oliver's salmon

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s simple and flawless New Zealand King Salmon

Diana opted for Chef’s new Gnocchi Viola. That’s right – it’s a purple potato gnocchi (something I’ve never enjoyed before) in a creamy smoked scamorza sauce. 

Scamorza is a lesser-known cousin of the mozzarella family, but it’s one I prefer to add into sauces when I can find it. It’s a super creamy, mild cheese with just a hint of caramel smokiness. It added a great new depth to the gnocchi dish without the stickiness that can occur as gnocchi cools in its cheesy sauce. This luxurious dish could easily be shared as an appetizer, too. 

A week Oliver's gnocchi

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s new Gnocchi Viola is made of purple potatoes in a smoky, rich sauce

Kaj choose the evening pasta special, which also proved a rich, yet light blend of mushrooms and braised pork ragout folded in with freshly made short tube pasta. Topped with paper-thin truffle shavings, it was a rustic, sublime event. 

A week Oliver's mushroom

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s serves nightly specials, including this mushroom and pork ragout pasta with truffle shavings

Ever a seafood fan, I chose the Spaghetti Chitarra All’ Aragosta. The stately dish features house-made guitar spaghetti with fresh lobster in an arrabbiata sauce, which adds peppery spice to a marina base. It was fresh and bright with plenty of rich lobster pairing companionably with the sauce.   

A week Oliver's lobster

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s Lobster pasta dish is both memorable in presentation and taste

Leave it to Chef Erik to knock it out of the park once again. The dishes were lovely, and the service even lovelier. This is a must this summer for you as well as your visiting guests. 

Finally, the last lunch 

The following day before her departure to the airport, Diana and I waddled over to another favorite mainstay of mine – Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach with Chef Kyle St. John at the helm. 

Of course, Diana chose salad. Neither of us, though, expected the still-steaming salmon slab atop a mound of fresh greens and herbs. It had to be the largest serving of salmon I’ve ever seen on a salad. She noted it was spectacular. 

I, however, was involved in my own spectacular dish, my first try of the Grilled Salmon Sandwich. Chef grills Nordic Blu salmon and tops it with kimchi slaw, miso aioli, sweet soy glaze, and crispy fried onions. Sounds rather simple, I know, but it was simply unbelievable. 

In mere minutes, this rather unassuming sandwich bulldozed its way past any other sandwich contender in Laguna Beach. In my book, it’s taken the crown, the throne, and the singing minstrels, too. This sandwich is a game changer.

A week Harvest salmon

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Harvest’s unbelievably amazing Grilled Salmon Sandwich

Since Diana’s departure, I’ve done my best to follow her lead – salads, salads, and more salads. This weekend, though, I stumbled into Chef Rainer Schwarz’s new spring menu at Hendrix, his Ocean Ranch-based restaurant. While it’s not in Laguna Beach as are his first two restaurants (The Deck and Driftwood Kitchen), you deserve to hear about this heady and delicious welcome for spring. It was a perfect stop after seeing In the Heights at Cinepolis. Stay tuned this Friday in Stu News Laguna

Check out my almost daily foodie finds on my social media platforms, below, opt-in for gift card freebies and weekly updates at, and start making your plans to return to the restaurants that never stopped cooking and creating on our behalf. Our Laguna chefs and owners continue to outdo themselves – be sure to let them know! 

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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Jedidiah Coffee: the artistry and ingenuity of craft coffee from the Munsey family to you


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Yes, there is a word for someone who loves coffee – caféphile. For even the most discerning of caféphiles, Jedidiah Coffee is the ultimate taste experience. Steve and Embry Munsey, the owners of Jedidiah Coffee, are passionate about coffee – so much so that they have developed it into an art form. 

It’s apparent they’re doing what they love – and have been for some time – and our community is the fortunate recipient of that expertise. 

As Steve explains, there truly is a science to roasting, “The coffee industry is behind the craft beer industry. We need to catch up and get the palate adjusted to craft coffee.” 

Jedidiah coffee couple

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Steve and Embry Munsey

Why craft roasting?

Craft coffee roasting offers the versatility needed to roast a delicious batch of coffee by optimizing sweetness and clarity. By combining passion and ingenuity, craft roasters create original roasts that stand out from the rest as they are able to unlock varied nuances from within the bean.

As described by craft roasting experts, “The act of coffee roasting is nothing short of an art form. Roast masters – much like potters, sculptors, and oil painters – devote countless hours to the honing of their craft until they master it.”

When Embry and Steve met 18 years ago, they hadn’t yet discovered their mutual affection for coffee.

Embry (from Texas) and Steve (who grew up in Mission Viejo) met in Sydney, Australia, at a bible school. They long-distance dated for a while and then on a visit here, Steve picked Embry up at the airport and took her straight to the Orange Inn and then to the beach. Evidently, that cinched the deal. 

In 2005, Steve and Embry married and started their family in North Texas where Embry was born and raised. Steve had been working with Starbucks in Orange County which made for an easy transfer to Grapevine, Texas, when they moved there to be closer to Embry’s family.

Jedidiah coffee roaster

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The Munseys are planning on buying a larger roaster

Time in Texas

“Once in Texas, I moved up quickly and was promoted to manager within two years,” Steve adds.

“I got pregnant there with our firstborn, Zealan, but we had decided we wanted to raise our kids back here in Laguna,” says Embry. “So when he was four months old in April of 2008, we came back.”

Steve transferred to the Starbucks at Quail Hill and by that time there was talk of him being promoted to District Manager. “I loved the interaction with the community and getting to know the regulars. I would hike and surf with some of the regular customers,” says Steve. “It was that community in Irvine that started to refer to me as ‘the Mayor of Quail Hill’ and started encouraging me to open my own shop.”

By 2010, Steve had been at Starbucks over six years, and they both had warmed up to the idea of having their own cafe. “Embry was 38 weeks pregnant with our second son, Jedidiah, when we got a verbal ‘yes’ from an investor to move forward with a spot,” says Steve. “Just a week later, we lost Jedidiah [at birth], and put the whole coffee dream on hold. We kind of stopped doing everything. 

“We moved from Club Laguna in the Audubon down to Laguna Terrace in South Laguna, and I’d walk down to the beach every day to watch the pelicans. Being at the beach gave us a lot of peace during that time.” 

His fondness for pelicans is reflected in the Jedidiah Coffee logo, which is a uniquely designed abstract pelican in flight combined with the colorful art culture of Laguna Beach. 

Jedidiah coffee cups

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Jedidiah Coffee cups

“By late 2013, we added another boy to the crew, Gideon – our first ‘rainbow baby,’” says Embry. “Rainbow baby is the term for a child that’s born after a loss. A friend helped us come up with the middle name Malex that was a combination of Zealan and Jedidiah’s middle names. We want to always honor and hold a space for Jedidiah as part of our family and have found so much comfort and healing in sharing his story with people.”

Southern California had been home for the Munseys for over eight years, and they were deep in community at Mariners Church Irvine, where they both worked on staff from 2012 until the time they moved back to Texas in 2016. They were expecting their first (and only) daughter, Liberty, and “although SoCal was home, we were wanting to be back by my family, and possibly have more space for our growing family,” Embry says. 

Launch of coffee catering

“While we were in Texas, I worked for a hunger initiative organization, and we launched our coffee catering as a side business in 2017,” says Steve. “Because of a friend’s suggestion, Jedidiah Coffee was named in our own son’s memory.”

The Munseys stayed three years and did very well with the mobile coffee bar but didn’t feel like Texas was home for their family, so they came back here to Orange County in 2019.

“A year after we had moved back and relaunched in OC, we were starting to get traction with the business. We served regularly to the staff and students at LCAD right here in the Canyon and were finding our way back on preferred vendor lists around town,” says Embry. “We’re so happy to see events picking back up after such a wild year, and grateful to have this facility to house our roasting operations. We love that we have a space for our community to come by for a chat!”

Jedidiah coffee Steve

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Steve preparing a “pour over” which is used for small events

The majority of Jedidiah Coffee’s business is online. The Munseys offer pre-customizable coffee subscriptions (fulfilled every two weeks) with a 10 percent discount and free delivery for Laguna and Aliso Viejo (or the coffee can be picked up at their location). Subscriptions are a surefire guarantee that you’ll never run out of coffee and have to rush out to get more.

Five 12 oz blends are available – Ethiopia Sidama, Honduras Copan, Guatemala Heu Huetenango, Colombia Jerico, and Decaf Columbia.

In addition to subscriptions, they also offer small packages for hotels, a 10 oz sampler pack, a 40 oz bag, travel cups, hats, and other items.

Of course, although they want the city to know “they are here” and want to succeed, Embry says, “What sets us apart is that we truly want to be here for our community. We have worked hard since 2017 to create a dependable, quality coffee product and catering experience, but what truly drives us is offering whatever we have as a family and business back into our community, and partnering with the other local families, businesses, and organizations that do the same.”

They have already partnered with Hobie Surf Shop, Laguna College of Art and Design, Summer’s Table, Jade Tea, and Amenah and hope to expand their collaborations. 

Mobile coffee bar

Jedidiah Coffee offers next-level, full-service espresso bar service alongside their locally-roasted craft coffee. The mobile coffee bar is perfect for any gathering. Their events cover a wide spectrum – weddings, office parties, birthdays, anniversaries, corporate events, house warmings, employee appreciation, grand openings, and backyard soirées – pretty much any function one could imagine. 

Jedidiah coffee Embrey

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The mobile coffee bar – perfect for any gathering

Recently, they provided coffee for the teachers and staff at Laguna Beach High School for “Teacher and Staff Appreciation Week.” 

For get-togethers, the Munseys offer expresso drinks from their mobile coffee bar or pour overs for those on a smaller budget.

Their website states, “Since we truly believe every day calls for great coffee, we literally bring the entire (ultra-friendly) cafe vibe to you. So nix the average brew and let us pour our love and professionalism into giving you the absolute best coffee experience around! So what are you waiting for? Let us transform your venue, office, or even your home gathering into a coffee lounge full of excitement, good vibes, and of course, unforgettable coffee!” 

“One of the aspects I especially like is the party planning – we get to be part of people’s special occasions,” says Embry.

Currently, she is working with a friend in South Laguna on personalized cookies to add to the special occasion events.

Environmental responsibility

In running Jedidiah Coffee, environmental impact is uppermost on Steve’s mind. “We use an importer for the beans. In choosing, I look for the quality of production. Because some farms use child labor, the kids skip school. That doesn’t line up with our beliefs and sense of duty. One of our values to the community is that we try to select products that respect the environment – and people – even if we have to spend extra money. Even our cups and packaging are ecologically friendly.”

Jedidiah coffee door

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The door is always open – the guitar is Steve’s and Embry sings 

“Our initial dream in 2010 was to open a vibrant, welcoming cafe right here in the heart of Laguna Beach, and we are finally seeing that process begin,” says Embry. “We look forward to operating a coffee shop that not only serves incredible coffee beverages but becomes a space that locals and visitors alike come together to enjoy one another, and hopefully, rally to give back to our special town. Our company has always been about gathering people together and setting the tone for genuine, vulnerable conversation and relationship.” 

Invitation to stop by

As the Munseys say, “Coffee cultivates community.”

They want the town to know that, “We are here! Feel free to come by our roasting facility this summer, we just can’t promise it will be a quick chat. We’ll be posting specific hours and days, along with some fun offerings we’ll have available certain days of the week – make sure you’re following us on Instagram to keep up with all the excitement.” 

When not at their facility, the Munseys spend time together as a family, hiking and surfing. Zealan is a student at Thurston, Gideon goes to Top of the World, and Liberty, when she’s old enough, will go there as well.

So stop by and take a look any weekday morning, but best to call ahead and let them know you’ll be coming by – at 2177 Laguna Canyon Rd. Use the driveway between the wine gallery and the classic car shop – take it to the end, go left, and then just follow the wonderful coffee smell to their location.

Caféphiles, don’t miss your chance to give Jedidiah Coffee your own discriminating taste test. You won’t be disappointed.

Stay tuned as their coffee journey goes full circle, marking ten years this summer. 

For more information about Jedidiah Coffee, go to www.jedidiahcoffee.comor call (949) 291-4325.

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Rumari expands with neighborhood Italian market

By Diane Armitage

As we inch ever closer to expanded restaurant seating options, Laguna restaurateurs are expanding their options, period. 

Chef Craig Connole (formerly K’ya and Rooftop) has gained traction since taking over Ristorante Rumari’s operation a year ago. With the City’s blessings, the crew created an entire 80-seat patio on its back parking lot (and discovered a lovely ocean view in the process.)

While that patio remains busily popping with Chef’s talented cooking, the interior of the restaurant is making way for a new Famiglia Alimentari with wine bar and bistro seating. 

Rumari expands wine

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Alimentari Italian Market has recently opened at Ristorante Rumari

Laguna’s first Italian market

Picture your favorite go-to market when you were last in Florence or a larger city’s “Little Italy,” and you know exactly what’s developing at Rumari over the next 30 days.

An Italian “Alimentari” is typically a family-run market that offers sublime pantry items, fresh-baked breads, daily made sauces and pastas for grab-and-go, wines and beers by the glass or bottle, and even butchery items.

Rumari expands burrata

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Photo courtesy of Famiglia Alimentari 

The Osteria housed in the market offers many of Chef Craig’s most popular items, including Burrata dishes

The market, which includes an Osteria (“wine bar with simple foods”) will be open from about 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. five or six days a week. Dinner seating for Rumari’s larger menu will continue as usual (once allowed indoors), Wednesdays through Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Keeping it in the family

In keeping with the family-run theme, Chef Craig has brought on his sister, Christi Bell, and niece Keely Bell to help him run the Alimentari operation. Older sister Christi is a familiar face, having been a staple in management in various restaurants operated by Craig and fellow business partner Chris Keller.

Rumari expands family

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Famiglia Alimentari is a family kind of thing with management between sister Christi Bell (left), Chef Craig Connole, and Christi’s daughter (Craig’s niece), Keely

“We put the plans together for this about a year ago,” said Craig. “But then, you know, everything got crazy, and we’re just now getting around to finally creating what really is meant to be a neighborhood go-to for our Laguna neighborhoods.”

As refrigerators for bottled items and grab-and-go dinners are rolling into play, Famiglia Alimentari already offers plenty of pantry items, and its Osteria remains true to its name, offering a fully stocked wine bar (and bartender!) at the Rumari bar. 

The wine bar and bistro seating will offer a revolving shorter menu of Chef Craig’s famous Meatballs Marinara, Smoked Salmon Carpaccio, Polenta with Ragu Bolognese, and Italian sandwiches with Rumari’s melt-in-your-mouth breads.

“We’ll be opening around 11 a.m. each day, so it’s easy to stop in, grab a great lunch or early dinner, maybe have a glass of wine, and pick up items for your next dinner at home,” said Christi.

Rumari expands chops

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Photo courtesy of Famiglia Alimentari

Ready-made dinners will include popular favorites including Chef Craig’s fabulous lamb chops

The grab-and-go refrigerators will be stocked with ready-made dinners from the Rumari menu, including best-selling lasagne, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti & meatballs, and more. Chef Craig is also packaging up his famous sauces, meatballs, salads, and desserts.

Italian beers and popular wines from both sides of the Atlantic will be housed in the miniature wine shop, too.

Customized picnic baskets 

In keeping with that old world, rustic theme, Alimentari is offering picnic baskets of various sizes, too. These can be custom ordered in advance or picked up with packed-to-go options.

“People can pick up a picnic basket for the beach or their backyard. And, we’re hoping hotel guests in the area will be interested, too,” said Craig. 

“A lot of times, you may be checking into a hotel after flying across the country. You know you need to eat but you really don’t feel like heading out again. So, grab your picnic basket and hang out on your deck where you have the best views in town, anyway.”

Rumari expands market

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Authentic Italian pantry items and foodie gift baskets adorn the shelves at the new Italian market housed in Ristorante Rumari

Ready for parties & catering, too

As the front of house is seeing significant changes, the back storeroom has been cleaned up too.

“We’re just here to be your go-to,” said Chef Craig. “If you want something special…if you need a private chef…if you have a special occasion you don’t know how to plan for…that’s what the Famiglia Alimentari specializes in.”

 It’s that added homey touch in one of the longest running neighborly restaurants in Laguna Beach.   

“In the end, we’re just neighbors helping out neighbors,” said Craig. 

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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