Laguna Beach is a unique place. The flip-flopped, casually dressed person next to you in line at the grocery store may be a famous business owner, musician, athlete or philanthropist. Most people don’t put on airs in this town. People are real. Fascinating folks are among us.
Among a new generation of business owners in Laguna is a man who favors laid-back black t-shirts that belie his high-energy, scattershot strategy for nurturing new vigor from businesses such as the historic La Casa Del Camino Hotel, K’ya Restaurant, the Rooftop restaurant and the Marine Room Tavern. He has also started new endeavors including the House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer and is in the final stages of yet another venture, a Juice and Shakes shop.
I am talking about Chris Keller. From the Rooftop, atop La Casa Del Camino Hotel, he very candidly and casually answered question about his upbringing, his personal life and doing business in Laguna Beach. He has two kids including a new baby who was born with Down Syndrome.
Chris is a regular guy. He is like any of the people you are friends with in Laguna. When he talks about his new son Rocco, you can see the new baby has shifted Chris’s hyper business focus a bit. It has happily redirected some of his energy to his family. Chris and his fiancée, Amy, live within walking distance of the landmark Casa Del Camino.
Chris loves Laguna. He grew up in Cranford, N.J., a small town that he describes as similar to Laguna, with small shops and restaurants where everybody knows each other. His dad owned a Dairy Queen and Chris observed how he ran it. His dad provided the inspiration for the business culture Chris wanted to nurture. Chris attended Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island and years later was involved with opening Las Vegas’ MGM Grand and later New York, New York in 1998. His career in the Las Vegas casino-hotel business bloomed, but he accepted an offer from the Hilton Corporation in 1998, which brought him to Southern California. A few years later, Chris, along with his two business partners Richard Ham and Takao Shinomiya, bought the tired hotel at 1289 S. Coast Highway in Laguna Beach.
Chris drank hot tea and happily volunteered answers to a few questions.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to own a business like my dad. I saw the way he did things and how he ran it. Since I was young I liked the hospitality business.
What made you decide to do business in Laguna? I love Laguna. It’s special here. There is no other place I would rather be. Of all the places I have been, this is the best place on earth maybe. I love it for the beauty and people.
You have a lot of business in Laguna. Why? It just evolved, the more businesses I have here the less I have to leave Laguna.
You have great bars and drinks at your locations. What’s your favorite drink? There is nothing better to me than a mojito at The Rooftop.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? I would like to pursue something in education, health and technology fields. These are on my agenda in the next five or so years.
Name of the last book you read? “The Baby Book” by Dr. William Sears.
Favorite place to vacation? Hawaii.
What are you usually doing at 2 on a Sunday afternoon? Hanging with the family at home or the beach. Sunday is pasta night so we try to stay close to home.
Your favorite sound? The least favorite? Favorite is the sound of a full restaurant. The least is the sound of a full tray of plates hitting the ground.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say as you arrive at the pearly gates? Welcome!
Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack. http://roderickreed.com/.