Despite Setbacks, Aliso Beach Café Reopens


Gearing up to take advantage of potential spring break crowds, Michael Weiss plans today to reopen Aliso Beach’s Sands Café, the only food and beverage concession at the county’s second most popular beach.

Weiss’s plan to cash in on the exclusive 10-year concession was not as successful in his first season as he hoped due partly to Coastal Commission rules that upended his business plan as well as poor weather, including unseasonable low temperatures for the entire season.

After receiving complaints that the café’s tables and chairs on the sand would violate coastal rules, Weiss was ordered to revamp his seating around a concrete patio. Feeling victimized and frustrated by the county’s stance, Weiss hired an attorney and filed a breach of contract claim against the county, in an amount exceeding $10,000, which maintained that county officials approved his business proposal “with the knowledge that beach seating and storage was integral to the success of the business, considering the level of investment for that purpose.”

The claim, which states that county employees “made negligent and/or false representations” regarding his ability to open the restaurant described in his concession-winning business proposal, was rejected last fall. Weiss continues to battle his landlord and had plans to file a breach of contract lawsuit this week.

Richard Adler, OC Parks real estate manager, said that Weiss grossed about $120,000 over an abbreviated five-month season in 2010, which he said was about what the previous concessionaire, Barbara Perry, had made at the previous concession stand, since demolished along with the storm-damaged pier.

The terms of the county’s concession lease stipulate rent payments that are calculated as a percentage of gross receipts for the first year, 14 percent of sales under $150,000 or 17 percent of sales exceeding that amount. Going forward, though, the annual rent will be a minimum of $15,000 or a percentage of gross receipts, whichever is greater.

Weiss maintains his receipts were hurt by the prohibition on sand seating. “It wasn’t a very good year,” he said, referring to both the weather and the scuttled original seating plan. And while Weiss covered his daily operating costs, he counts the year as a loss on his income statement because of capital improvements.

Sands Café was envisioned as a venue more akin to a café than a concession stand, expanding beyond the concrete pad to a roped off, restaurant-style seating area on the adjacent sand. Laguna Beach residents Penny Elia and Bill Rihn lodged complaints about the tables and chairs on the sand, as well as containers to store them in at night, which were not authorized by the coastal development permit.

While county officials at least nominally expressed enthusiasm and acceptance for Weiss’s entire concept, they capitulated under pressure from the Coastal Commission and ordered Weiss to remove the offending furniture and storage containers.

After failing to persuade the county to change their stance or to apply for another permit for the extended seating area, a disgruntled Weiss opened Sands Café last Memorial Day despite the fact that it fell short of his vision. With palapa style umbrellas, menus on surfboards, succulent bowls and historical photos, he still managed to elevate the stand’s aesthetics.

With a new season ahead and an extra month of operation, Weiss is hoping Mother Nature will make up for last year’s shortcomings with plenty of sunshine luring beach-goers to his café.

Sands Café will open with a limited menu from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday until Memorial Day, after which the full menu will be available from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven


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