Laguna Beach panel clears new coffee bar near playhouse

An architect’s conceptual drawing of Play Coffee’s remodeled location at 500 Broadway Street. Courtesy of Anders Lasater Architects

Downtown Laguna Beach will get its latest caffeine infusion courtesy of Play Coffee.

The Laguna Beach Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve a remodel design and conditional use permit for a single-story office building at 500 Broadway St. on Aug. 3.

Play Coffee owner Leon Wansikehian, has operated Play Coffee’s downtown Fullerton for two years. He previously worked for Kean Coffee, Orange County’s original artisan coffee roaster. Wansikehian lives with his family in Laguna Beach and is building a home on Flamingo Road.

“We’re so happy to be submitting this application to Laguna. Me and my family we’ve lived here in the city for a number of years,” Wansikehian said. “We’re excited to be a bigger part of the community commercially and residentially once again.”

Commissioner Susan McLintock Whitin said she visited the Fullerton location where she surveyed its younger customer base and energetic atmosphere.

“It feels like a place where the cyclists would stop. There are a lot of cycling groups that roar down the canyon to the beach and this could easily get overrun. I could see it getting too popular,” Whitin said.

Play Coffee will renovate the 1,450-square-foot space between the nonprofit Core IQ and Crankbrokers, an upscale bicycle supplies retailer. The 1946 commercial building was last occupied by Stearns Architecture.

Design plans include pulling back the storefront by about 13 feet to create a 12-seat outdoor dining area.

In addition to its coffee bar, Play Coffee will offer weekly courses where 12 to 15 participants can learn brewing methods and how to compare flavor, quality, and potential of various beans.

Commissioner Steven Kellenberg was happy to see city staff help reinvigorate a storefront at Broadway Street and Forest Avenue. A building across Broadway from the future coffeehouse has been vacant since Forest and Ocean Gallery closed earlier this year.

“That is such a dead-beat location and to be able to bring some life to it, especially a beautiful piece of architectural design, as well as a very cool use,” Kellenberg said. “We need another coffee place. I’m so tired of Starbucks.”

The Downtown Specific Plan requires that non-residential uses such as office, retail, and food services provide at least three off-street parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of gross floor area. However, given the property was developed without on-site parking, Play Coffee will be allowed to operate with this grandfathered condition. City staffers claim there will be no new impacts on public parking.

There will be space for a handful of customers to park their bicycles in the outdoor seating area, Wansikehian said.

“I think it’s a great environment for people to enjoy that space. I think it activates the intersection and gives it a serious upgrade to what’s existed there as long as I can remember,” Planning Commission Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin said.

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  1. Isn’t this Joe Hanauer’s property? Of course they would allow him to encroach on the public right of way. That sidewalk is incredibly narrow, but I suppose anything is possible if you are Laguna’s favorite developer. If I recall in one of the last few council meetings, it was leaked that Joe, along with Mark Christy, Mark Orgill, and Morris Skenderian, helped write the new development ordinance that was recently passed. Seems it strategically avoids stopping Joe’s development plans for the hip district and the hospital area, as well as anything else tied to those other names consultants and developers. As I always say, sometime reeks and it all points to corruption. Funny that my friends at Village Laguna have nothing to say about this all.

  2. Charles – please provide evidence/facts of what you say. Please provide the date of the City Council meeting. Why are you using the word leaked if it was said in open council meeting? How do you know who wrote the city’s ordinance bc I doubt they would state it in an open meeting.

  3. According to the City’s GIS system, and the conditional use application, the legal owner of 500 Broadway is Ara Wansikehian.

  4. This is not a Hanauer property. It is owned by the individual who is doing the redevelopment of the property. Facts are a good thing these days! Everyone should use them.

  5. Unless the owner has extremely deep pockets, I give this business a year max before it goes under. The article itself mentions this is a “deadbeat” location “developed without on-site parking.” These are the reasons nothing ever survives over there and it is crazy to me that the owner thinks this is a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, downtown is sorely lacking a good cup of coffee…but that is the wrong location.

  6. The Peanut Gallery Weighs In With Their Know-It-All Comments. What’s wrong is you have to get council approval to sell coffee.

  7. City Council approval does have its merits, which is why we don’t have strip bars and sex shops in Laguna. However, I do agree they absolutely stifle growth, causing downtown and South Laguna to be littered with closed storefronts and delapidated buildings (but they are historic!).


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