Ocean at Main Says Farewell

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Restaurant slated to close Feb. 5

By Chris Trela
Newport Beach Indy

How do you make a small fortune in the restaurant business? Start with a large one.

This rueful joke is often true, especially in Southern California, where hundreds—make that thousands—of restaurants compete for customers. Newport Beach alone has several hundred restaurants of all types and sizes with so many seats that they can’t rely on locals alone to fill them.

Chef Craig Strong with one of his pizzas. Photo by Christopher Trela

Laguna Beach has a similar problem, with additional challenges. The small town with a population of around 23,000 is practically landlocked, with only two roads leading in and out of town. It’s also a summer tourist destination, with thousands of visitors flocking to the charming seaside community between June and early September to enjoy Pageant of the Masters, the arts festivals, and the beach.

Other times of the year, the town is relatively quiet. Laguna Playhouse offers programs year-round and draws audiences from throughout Southern California, and tourists still come to Laguna during the off season, but foot traffic is down and both retail and restaurant businesses experience seasonal challenges.

Some restaurants, such as Lumberyard and 230 Forest, have been in Laguna for many years and seem to have carved a niche with local customers. Others give it a go, but for one reason or another, just cannot sustain themselves.

Launching a new dining endeavor in Laguna Beach is, to borrow a Vegas phrase, a crapshoot, but Chef Craig Strong came prepared with loaded dice when he opened Ocean at Main in October of 2018. He spent nine years at Studio at the Montage, one of the most acclaimed restaurants around, and garnered a loyal following.

He left Studio to open Ocean at Main, which has a large dining room and patio, along with bar seating.

“We wanted to create a great neighborhood restaurant that has the attention to detail and the quality you would expect from my pedigree at a price point that people can enjoy much more regularly,” Chef Strong said shortly after Ocean at Main opened. “The approachability, the way that we bring things to life here at Ocean at Main, is a lot more inviting and accessible.”

His menu at Ocean at Main is creative, fun, and accessible. His pizzas are terrific, his hamburger one of the best, and the oxtail risotto a delightful treat. And I doubt you’ll meet a nicer, more likable chef in the business than Chef Strong.

That’s why Strong’s announcement this week about his restaurant closing in early February came as somewhat of a shock.

“To our friends, family, guests, and patrons, it is with a heavy heart that we announce the last day of service for Ocean at Main will be Wednesday, February 5,” he wrote in an email statement that was also posted to the Ocean at Main Facebook page. “While we are actively looking for another location, we have loved serving and connecting with our patrons since 2018. Ocean at Main has been the adventure of a lifetime, and we are honored to have served so many wonderful guests, created lifelong friendships, and hosted so many memorable celebrations. We are wholeheartedly grateful for our hardworking staff who brought this place to life and for our guests and regulars who called our restaurant home. As a Laguna Beach local, it breaks my heart to see the challenges the restaurant community faces in Laguna Beach – and across California. With rising costs of rent and labor, we, along with many other restaurants, have experienced this incredible challenge. When one door closes, another opens. I look forward to serving you again soon.”

I’ll be dining at Ocean at Main one last time this Saturday, but I know it won’t be the last hurrah for Chef Strong. I’m confident he’ll find another location where he can continue to bring smiles on the faces of patrons and satisfaction to their souls.

For more information, visit OceanAtMain.com.

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