Big Changes in Small Packages


By Randy Kraft, Special to the Independent

A duo of innovations hit the downtown this month with the Planning Commission’s approval of a temporary use permit for a cottage foods storefront on Beach Street and the introduction of Forest Avenue’s first social robot.

Micheau Folse’s Lightning Bolt Foods, currently operated out of her home in North Laguna, received approval to sell homemade backed goods at a storefront. The plan will extend her OC Environmental Health Agency’s Cottage Food Operations permit to distribute prepared, shelf-stable foods at local outlets. Folse claims that demand at the farmer’s market has exceeded her expectations and she is ready to ramp up production for a small shop. Opening soon in just 220 square feet across from Whole Foods, she will sell standard and gluten-free bakery goodies.

Folse’s family has won baking awards at state fairs and in her application to the Planning Commission said, “I built my business based on amazing quality and taste, nostalgic beautiful packaging [featuring one of Laguna’s beaches] and outstanding customer service.”

Since the cottage foods law took effect in January 2013, more than 200 operators throughout the county have secured permits to market products through established vendors and at community events, including three other Laguna Beach residents. Cottage food operators must comply with labeling and processing regulations and cannot exceed $45,000 in sales this year of $50,000 in 2015.

If the three-month trial period is successful, Folse has the option to renew the lease and apply for a conditional use permit.

Luna welcomes visitors to One Laguna, a private discovery center at 225 Forest Ave.
Luna welcomes visitors to One Laguna, a private discovery center at 225 Forest Ave.

From homemade to high tech, One Laguna’s Discovery Center introduced a two-foot tall “humanoid” to welcome visitors. Despite the storm trooper white and blue styling, Luna, created by a Boston robotics firm and produced in France, is decidedly androgynous, with a voice like a GPS system, a talent for tai chi, and a tendency to wind down suddenly to take a nap because of a limited battery life.

Megan McCabe, Luna’s handler and programmer, said that at $8,000, Luna was the most affordable of social robots. Luna was introduced to lure visitors into the two-story, space-age visitor’s center and has the potential for any number of programming options from entertainment to information. The center at 225 Forest Ave. also incorporates a satellite gallery for the Laguna College of Art and Design.

One Laguna, founded by Firebrand Media and the brainchild of chairman Allan Simon, is different from Visit Laguna, the town’s official visitor’s bureau, which declined to participate in the Firebrand venture. Visit Laguna operates under a city contract that is funded largely by a business improvement tax on hotel visitors. Simon’s idea of an interactive downtown center for tourists has evolved into a multi-pronged enterprise providing traveller’s information, real estate listings, and a special events space.

This month, the center added live music Thursday nights in addition to Art Walk activities. Cooking classes are planned for the near future and the space is being used more frequently for private events, said Scott Sanchez, Firebrand’s publisher and chief technology officer.

An unexpected byproduct has been a rush of inquiries from municipalities across the country requesting assistance to establish similar high-tech downtown welcome centers. Firebrand is working on strategies and content modules to meet the demand.

Even as attention is on the canyon’s summer season, additional central business district changes are in the works. Architect Todd Skenderian is putting the finishing touches on Ocean Avenue’s former Laguna Federal Savings and Loan building, transforming the landmark into Dom DeMarco’s Italian restaurant via Brooklyn’s famous DiFara Pizzeria family. Sam Goldstein’s rooftop at the Heisler Building is under consideration this week by the Planning Commission and Urth Caffe is on its way in the former home of The Cottage just as Jean Paul Leguy retires his coffee urn.

Change may come slowly to Laguna Beach, but it keeps coming.

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