Thalia Café’s Owners Turn in the Key

By Justin Swanson | LB Indy


BB Berlin behind the counter at Thalia Beach Café, which will close after the Memorial Day holiday.

BB Berlin behind the counter at Thalia Beach Café, which will close after the Memorial Day holiday.

Thalia Beach Café will close its doors for good after Monday, May 27. The dining establishment, which originally began as Mediterranean food stop Goko’s Cafe, is unable to meet the demands of a new lease with higher rent, say its owners.

Goko, in business since 1993, was bought by Breshkai “B.B” Berlin and her husband Kerry in 2010. Last June, with the help of then-new co-owner Ferdinad Lettner, the establishment transformed into Thalia Beach Café, which served crepes and gluten-free foods, expanding beyond the established Goko health food menu.

Mrs. Berlin plans nothing special for the café’s final day, though she appreciates the customers who became regulars during her period of ownership. “I’ve met some great people here.”

In the café’s place, property owner Cary Glenn says a hamburger joint specializing in fresh, organic foods will take over the lease for the storefront sandwiched among three surf shops.

Rising rents and turnover among tenants left many storefronts dark in recent years. Six years ago, the previous owners of Goko, Connie Stojkoski and George Risteski, confronted a lease that more than doubled after Glenn and his partner bought the building for $5 million in 2006, as the real estate market neared its peak. Loyal customers sent up the rallying cry “Save Our Goko,” halting his plans to open a Quizno’s on the location. Still though, while Goko survived, owners Stojkoski and Risteski ultimately did not remain behind the counter.

The Berlins and Lettner took over Goko after Stojkoski and Risteski, but their fate appears no different. Their efforts to attract locals and visitors with a more contemporary vibe and specialty menu items was too little too late.

“Year on year, we were up over where we were before the change,” says Mr. Berlin. “We could see the potential but just ran out of time.”

Glenn, the property owner, says the terms of the cafe’s lease have not been revised in a few years. He suggested that the Thalia Café concept might not have been strong enough to build a broader customer base.

Since taking over Goko, Mr. Berlin says rent increased annually, starting at $4,700 a month and rising in recent months to $5,600, the tipping point that forced them out. Since fall, the business has struggled, he admits, resulting in an agreement with Glenn to forfeit their security deposit to cover arrears. In April, when rent rose to $5,300 a month, the Berlins and Lettner began trying to sell the café, but ultimately were unsuccessful, Mr. Berlin concedes.

In the meantime, Glenn found a new tenant. He said the other businesses in the building are thriving.

Three Arch Bay resident Tony Babb built the venerable building with four storefronts and four apartments in 1936 at the corner of Thalia Street and South Coast Highway, now near the beach access for one of the town’s most popular surf breaks. Owners Richard Zona and Glenn, Laguna Beach residents and partners at Main Beach Realty, acquired what had become a rundown property in 2006 and made significant upgrades.

The Berlins, of Irvine, are now seeing an end to what they describe as a “labor of love” lasting more than three years.

“It’s never good to see something you put so much work in on not work out, but that’s life sometimes,” Mr. Berlin reflects.

Mrs. Berlin, who runs the café, says she will take the summer off to decompress before deciding what to do next.

“We enjoyed being a part of the Laguna Beach community as owners,” says Mr. Berlin. “I guess we’ll just be customers in Laguna now.”

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