Skim boarders favor Aliso Beach for its waves that break near the water’s edge and the annual Victoria skim contest. Visitors appreciate the county facility for its generally wide and clean swath of fine sand dotted by a few fire pits. There, young ‘uns can renew a summer ritual roasting marshmallows.
But it’s been a generation since beach-goers could take in a sunset or drop a fishing line from the Aliso Pier, the last of four piersthat once jutted from various spots on the Laguna Beach shoreline. Battering by El Nino storms in 1997 led to its demolition two years later.
Now, a remnant of that era will return, though in name only. The snack bar once located at the base of the pier and rebuilt set back from the shoreline is set to reopen next month under new ownership and christened Lost Pier Café.
“I’m hoping to hear locals telling their guests about the time they jumped off the old pier, taught their kids to fish, or just hung out and saw the green flash from that unique vantage point,” said Mark Christy, a Laguna Beach resident and managing partner of the nearby Ranch resort in Aliso Canyon whose proposal to operate the concession received approval May 8.
Lost Pier still awaits approval from the health department before salty and sandy beach-goers can place orders at its two roll-up windows. Christy expects the café will start serving 8 a.m. to sunset by mid August.
“We are really trying to create a cool spot for our Laguna family and offer something authentic to visitors at the same time,” he said. “The lack of a well-run facility at this popular beach has been a bit frustrating to the general public, both locals and visitors, for many years.”
Under the 10-year rental agreement, Christy was also granted permission to sell food, beer and wine, rent gear such as chairs, umbrellas and pop-up canopies and hold special events.
Café guests will not be permitted to leave the Lost Pier patio without polishing off their cup of wine or beer, similar to the practice of other concessionaires that also serve alcohol at Doheny and Crystal Cove state beaches.
Alcohol sales are also permitted at the county’s concert and movie series at Craig, Mason, Irvine and Mile Square regional parks and Salt Creek Beach, said OC Parks spokeswoman Marisa O’Neil.
Lifeguard Captain Jason Young, who supervises guards at Aliso Beach and other South Laguna beaches, said he expressed safety concerns about the proposed consumption of alcoholic beverages at the café during contract discussions and felt the patio restrictions properly addressed them. “It’s a reasonable step to take,” he said.
Lifeguards routinely advise beach-goers that imbibing on the sand is not lawful and call in police when their admonition is disregarded. Young said he intends to review statistics from Aliso to assess if café customers add to the demands on guards.
Christy said beer and wine will be secondary on the café’s menu. “It’ll be subtle, carefully monitored and highly regulated. No service after sunset, everything remains on the patio, etc. It has been done successfully at numerous other beach concessions in OC and elsewhere, and we intend to keep it very respectful,” he said.
Christy’s 10th Hole Associates was the only prospective concessionaire to fully complete the county’s request for a proposal, though three others submitted incomplete concepts and then failed to respond when asked for more information, according to the contract approved by the Board of Supervisors in May.
The previous concessionaire’s lease was terminated in 2016 after three years of operation for failing to fulfill financial obligations, the contract says. The Lost Pier lease calls for annual rent of $24,300 and 6% of gross receipts exceeding $500,000 annually.
Through his business ties with the family of the late Hobie Alter, Christy also has a role in another county concession, the Hobie Sand Bar restaurant, which opened in 2011 in John Wayne Airport during its expansion. He loaned the vintage boards for decor and his personalized drink recipe, the “Markarita.” His sister handled the design and her husband, Alter’s son Jeff, built the balsa wood bar.
Christy’s ownership of the nearby Ranch resort, with its golf course and Harvest restaurant, will give him the staffing flexibility and operational efficiencies at the beach café that the previous operator did not enjoy.
“We intend for this to be a stand-alone spot with its own identity, culture and vibe,” he said. Kurt Bjorkman, the Ranch general manager, came up with the café’s name.
Weather permitting, Lost Pier will operate year round.
While the county contract allows 10th Hole to use the concession space for special events four times a month, Christy said that hosting parties and receptions on the café patio or adjacent sand are not his focus. “Our primary mission is to be a cool place for locals and visitors to grab a bite (or a great cup of coffee and some beignets to start the day), perhaps watch the best skim boarders in the world and share a sunset with a flock of passing pelicans.”
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