Urth Serves Up Some Un-Earthed Treasures

The long-delayed opening of the Urth Caffe is now set for Sept. 21.Photo by Jody Tiongco.
The long-delayed opening of the Urth Caffe is now set for Sept. 21.Photo by Jody Tiongco.

The grand opening party may be a month away, but Urth Caffé founder Shallom Berkman anxiously awaits welcoming back the community to kick off a new life for the craftsman bungalow at the corner of North Coast Highway and Aster Street, just north of Main Beach.

“Along with the Hotel Laguna and the Heisler Building, The Cottage is one of those local architectural icons that everyone knows about when referencing the history of Laguna,” said architect Todd Skendarian, who was hired to refurbish the defunct landmark restaurant into the long-awaited Urth Caffe.

Originally slated to open last December, the restoration presented a series of delays and delights. Using old photos and researching details on similar cottages of the era, owners Shallom and Jilla Berkman worked with the architect, historical consultant Jan Ostashay and contractor Dan Burge to bring back many elements that had been obliterated by previous additions and alterations to the house. “We couldn’t have asked for better owners in terms of the attention to detail, the understanding of the approval process and the voluntary path they took to restore the building,” said Skendarian.

Built in 1917, the former Cottage Restaurant is rated “E” on the city’s historic rating classification, the highest rating possible, and is eligible for the national register. The bungalow with Japanese and Swiss influences housed various families, including local real estate developer Joe Skidmore.

In 1938, Howard and Le Claire Planalp made the house into a restaurant called the Laguna Vista Cafe, which was closed during World War II but continued as the Planalps family home until 1957. In 1964 it became the Cottage Restaurant, owned most recently by Jennifer McCulley. She closed the landmark in 2012 when the property was sold to the Berkmans.

The original front entry steps, which for years were previously concealed, were discovered along with other architectural details, according to Skendarian. And old bricks scattered throughout the property were re-used in the site walls and also to repair the brick inlay of the front entry pilasters, he said, noting that they were able to successfully restore most of the exterior features. Previously removed details were replicated using original building photos, he said.

The Laguna Beach location, now planned to open to the public Sept. 21, will employ 50 workers and become the first Orange County storefront and the first Urth café with a full time chef, Andrew Raab. The menu, expanded from what’s available at its Los Angeles locations, will offer stuffed French toast, organic buttermilk pancakes, gluten free organic white corn pancakes and vegan items as well as their famous, fresh-roasted, organic coffee. To instill a “very casual” atmosphere, the café will not serve liquor nor have wait service, Berkman said in an email.

The first Urth Caffé opened in 1991 in Manhattan Beach and the Berkmans have since expanded to five Los Angeles locations with the help of investors, who have all been long-time customers, he said.

The downtown Urth Caffe is housed in a historic building and another is underway in an architecturally significant 1888 building at 100 W. Chapman Ave. on the plaza circle of Old Towne in Orange.

With the Laguna Beach project, Berkman says they learned “we love restoring the beautiful architecture of the past, even though it is extremely expensive and painstakingly time consuming.”

Berkman called the project in Orange “a wonderful opportunity,” but with hindsight did not specify an opening date.


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