Chef Alessando Pirozzi thinks divine intervention played a role in his becoming the new owner of Salerno’s Italian Restaurant on Beach Street.
“God sent it to me,” said Pirozzi, who pointed out that he and Tony Manzi, Salerno’s original owner, are both natives of Salerno, Italy.
Even so, the joy of designing a new look for Salerno, which closed in June, was dampened by a City Council decision last week denying his appeal to extend the life of a “parklet,” a street dining area built at his own expense within two parking spots outside his other restaurant, Alessa Laguna.
As he ordered new tiles reminiscent of those in his grandmother’s kitchen in Italy for the Salerno revamp, he received news that the parklet would have to come down. Although comments from customers, such as Christine Cuevas, said “they loved it,” some locals complained about its size and some merchants felt it obstructed their storefronts.
Pirozzi will shift focus on developing the menu for Salerno, which he says will be “old school” with some new items from Napoli.
Same Name, New Aim
The fish tanks are gone, but the tiki vibe remains strong at the Royal Hawaiian, which expects to re-open on North Coast Highway when the county health department gives the go-ahead, says new owner Mo Honarker. “I am excited to bring a family friendly restaurant to Laguna; we don’t have enough of them,” said Honarker, who lives in town and previously owned the Heisler Building where Tommy Bahama and Skyloft operate.
George Poulos will manage the restaurant, which was originally slated to open in July. Poulos left Mozambique for the Royal Hawaiian job and says he has opened 28 restaurants over his career. Once permits are obtained, “I’ll finalize hiring and training and open within seven to 10 days,” he said.
The hospitality team includes the owner’s daughter, interior designer Hasty Honarkar. Architect Morris Skendarian was also hired to help with the remodel. Lantern-like fixtures add a tropical ambience over spacious booths in the dining room, whose dominant feature is a decorated outrigger signaling the restaurant’s longevity. “Established in 1947” it reads. Palm fronds, palapa style, demarcate the bar. Ms. Honarker says she was intent on recreating the iconic restaurant started by the founding Cabang family, which sold the business in 2006. The subsequent owner, Lyndon Douglas Cole, struggled with his concept and noise complaints. The third version of the Royal Hawaiian will maintain a Polynesian flair and signature lapu lapu cocktails while offering an updated menu.
New Brew and Menu Too
Laguna Beach Brewing & Grille, formerly Ocean Avenue Brewery, has gotten a new identity. “Some people came in skeptical; some didn’t know we served Mexican food, but everyone has left happy,” said Giovanni Labile, the manager of what he calls “a Mexican brewery,” now owned by Jim and Kathy Smith of Newport Beach.
Labile, who also managed the restaurant’s previous incarnation, does not consider the newly revamped eatery competition for the half dozen other Mexican restaurants in town. “Our menu showcases what is happening in Mexican cuisine today,” said Labile, who added that part of the concept – with its contemporary décor – is not intended to evoke Mexico, but Laguna.
The menu offers tacos five ways, lobster tail and guacamole served Baja- style with grilled cheeses and fresh tortillas.
Cold ones from the Laguna Beach Beer Company are on tap and plans are underway to brew the restaurant’s own beer on site.
“I’ve spent 10 years in this restaurant, a third of my life,” said Labile, adding that the owners envision the brewery as a local’s hangout.