“The restaurant was packed with ‘regulars’ coming for a meal and to say good-bye. Pictures were taken, stories were shared and there were lots of laughs and hugs and a few tears,” said Marjorie Hall, describing the scene Thursday, June 30, closing night for Polina’s Salerno Restaurant on Beach Street downtown.
“I’ve lost my go-to place,” said another local, Jeff Redeker, present for a final meal at the restaurant owned by Polina Ferrell, mother of his boyhood friend, Mikhail.
Redeker, who went to Dana High, met Mikhail, who attended Laguna Beach High, while surfing. They spent a lot of time together especially at the restaurant. Years later when Redeker finished graduate school, the celebration party took place at Salerno. “It’s always been a place to relax; there were no hassles there,” Redeker added.
New York restaurateur Tony Manzi opened the restaurant in 1975 with his wife, who Hall believes was French and may have tweaked a few of the original Italian recipes.
Four years later, Ferrell signed on as a waitress, eventually eventually becoming Manzi’s personal assistant as well. When Manzi died in 1993, she was able to buy the restaurant.
“Polly,” as she was known to most of her customers, carried on the tradition of feeding Laguna’s families Southern Italian favorites – fried mozzarella, spaghetti and meatballs and tiramisu – at the same price. She maintained what the restaurant’s website called “a cozy atmosphere, friendly service and great food in a family dining atmosphere.” Ferrell could not be reached for comment, but Hall described the send-off as a “well-deserved” retirement for the entire family.
News of the restaurant’s closing circulated through the social media site Nextdoor, along with the thread that chef Alessandro Pirozzi would be taking over. Salerno will be his fourth restaurant; he already owns and operates Alessa and Mare Culinary Lounge in Laguna Beach and Pirozzi in Corona del Mar.
Ferrell’s daughter, Alina Sanchez, has managed the restaurant for the last several years, said Hall. Redeker says that Sanchez is expecting her second child and now wishes to spend more time with her family. Ferrell’s son, his old surfing buddy, has married and moved to North Carolina, Redeker said.
Although Pirozzi did not respond to requests for comment, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control confirmed that a new license was issued to Pirozzi Enterprises LLC, based in Costa Mesa, on June 24 and that the restaurant will continue under its current moniker, Polina’s Salerno Restaurant.
Meanwhile the answering machine at Salerno’s, which is still on, informs callers that the restaurant “is closed for a few weeks for remodeling,” and invites them to make a reservation at Alessa’s on Forest Avenue.