By Valerie Yu, Special to the Independent
Over the past two decades, Ferdinand Lettner’s food shops, be it cafes or bakeries, welcomed patrons at several different Laguna Beach locations.
Hailing from Austria, the seasoned restaurateur has offered locals and tourists alike a sliver of European-styled entrees at Heidelberg Pastry Shop and Café Vienna. At his latest iteration, the new Thalia Beach Café, which opened for business on June 30, Lettner serves up similar fare as a result of a new partnership with the owners of the formerly named Goko Café & Deli.
Lettner hand-baked pastries for his Heidelberg Pastry Shop in Laguna Hills and another in Laguna Beach for 17 years before moving on to Café Vienna, which swung open its doors in 2002. A European-styled coffee shop, Café Vienna was similar to the pastry shops with Lettner’s signature breads and delicacies. And in 2009, Lettner started up the county beach concession Sands Café at Aliso Beach with Dana Point friend Michael Weiss.
When Café Vienna’s 10-year lease concluded, Lettner closed shop on April 15, unable to negotiate terms he found favorable. Nevertheless, the serial restaurateur moved on to a new counter in about the time it takes to fill a bowl of cappuccino.
The partnership with Goko Café owners, Kerry and Breshkai Berlin, happened coincidentally, said Lettner, at the urging of a customer who patronized both cafes and learned change was afoot at Goko’s. “We started talking, and here we are!” Lettner said.
Co-owner Breshkai Berlin, who goes by B.B., bought Goko Café with husband Kerry from former owners George Risteski and Connie Stojkoski, in 2010. They inherited a café dedicated to health, with gyros, sandwiches and acai bowls. Though B.B. added her personal touch to the place, she wanted a more contemporary vibe. That prompted the makeover to a more modern, chic style and the partnership with Lettner to create a new joint concept, Thalia Beach Café, whose namesake is a favorite beach of local surfers that spans the coast behind. The café is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and until 6 p.m. on weekends.
“It’s night and day,” said B.B. of the differences between Goko and Thalia Beach after the three-week remodel, where furniture, walls and ceilings were replaced. “The place is very different from what it was. The layout’s still the same, but the kitchen’s more out-front. There are still touches we have to add on, but basically right now, we’re more urban.”
Gone are the beach paintings hanging from the walls, outdoor umbrellas, and chalkboard menu overflowing with scrawls above the cashier. In are soft red and pastel yellow walls, glossy dark-wood floors, beach-thatch chairs.
Bradley Burdick, store manager of neighboring Second Reef Surf Shop, welcomes it. “It’s refreshing to see a new menu, and the remodel looks really nice,” said Burdick.
Others, such as 65-year Laguna resident Douglas Darder, mourn “another lost treasure of Laguna” that was Goko. The support and petition of “old timers” helped win a new 15-year lease for the previous owners, who sold the business to B.B., he said. She improved the vibe with tables and chairs painted with scenes of Rincon and Rockpile and surf art. “The place was a real tribute to the surf lifestyle and old school Laguna. After all the battle to keep the beloved Goko alive, what happened?” Darder asked.
Despite a drastic change in appearance, many elements of Goko’s menu have carried over. Thalia Beach will carry on Goko’s tradition of serving health foods. Of the vegetarian-friendly menu of sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, and granolas, new are the crepes and gluten-free items. “No fried foods, no oils, everything’s healthy, fresh, and tasty. With the kitchen moved up front, there’s also the fact that your food’s made right in front of you,” said B.B. Items like the Acai smoothies and the Acai bowl from Goko are still on the menu.
Both B.B. and Lettner embrace this takeoff.
“I think everybody’s kind of ready for a change, for something new and exciting,” said B.B., smiling. Lettner chimed in, “I’m excited for this new concept. It’s something different than what I’ve done before.”