Laguna Beach Brewery & Grille owners are unexpected restaurateurs

Jim and Kathy Smith initially did not want to be in the restaurant business. They wanted to help a friend who had dreams of starting his own place.

For a couple of years, their friend scouted places and discovered last year that the owners of Ocean Avenue Brewery in Laguna Beach were selling the spot at 237 Ocean Ave.

The Smiths, who live in Newport Beach, thought they had the place and the staff to run it, but then their would-be business partner backed out.

"He did not want to be the chef," Kathy Smith said, declining to identify the person or provide further details.

The Smiths persevered, though, and were all smiles this week as they sat at a table inside the Laguna Beach Brewery & Grille, an upscale Mexican eatery featuring regional specialties that opened late last month.

"I'm still in shock we're going into the restaurant business," said Kathy, an accountant who has also trained show dogs. "We had not planned on it. We were doing it for a friend."

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The 87-seat restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner, includes appetizers such as a scallop ceviche with mango and avocado, and Tuna Tiradito, a preparation in which the fish is quickly seared, then sliced and accompanied by fried artichokes, pumpkin seeds and sesame vinaigrette.

The inside bar and floor have been redone with a material made of concrete and marble, and guests can partake of a rotating quintet of tap beers from Laguna Beach Beer Co. The Smiths are working on obtaining permits to brew their own beer on site.

Despite the initial plans falling through, the Smiths were determined to stick it out.

"We put too much time and money into it," said Jim Smith, owner of an electrical conduit company.

The Smiths hired Giovanni Labile and Tique Serratos as co-general managers, and Guillermo Sandoval as executive chef. Sandoval held the same position at the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort in Cabo San Lucas.

Labile and Serratos, who met while managers at Ocean Avenue Brewery, convinced the Smiths to pursue their first restaurant. Serratos helped open Javier's in the Crystal Cove Shopping Center and La Vida Cantina in Costa Mesa.

"We didn't say, 'We'll get back to you tomorrow,'" Kathy said. "It is so amazing."

The Smiths would like to eventually serve brunch.

Sandoval envisions homemade banana bread as the base for a French toast recipe.

Labile praised the variety of tacos, which come with either homemade corn tortillas, such as the Taco Culiacan with steak and melted cheese, or a version popular in Mazatlan that he said resembles a quesadilla and includes shrimp and poblano peppers.

Laguna Beach Brewery & Grille is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily, Labile said.

For more information or to make reservations, call (949) 497-3381.

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Bryce Alderton, bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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