The Laguna Beach Planning Commission on Wednesday gave the owners of a burgeoning beer business an enthusiastic thumbs-up to their request to open a microbrewery and 80-seat restaurant in Laguna Canyon.
On a 4-0 vote, commissioners approved conditional use and coastal development permits for Laguna Beach Beer Co. to set up the business at 859 Laguna Canyon Road, a space that once housed Serra's Bar & Grill but has been vacant for the past 10 years.
Mike Lombardo and Brent Reynard, who grew up in Laguna and currently reside in the city, established Laguna Beach Beer Co. in 2014 and for a time contracted with other Southern California facilities for their beer production.
They recently moved into their own production facility and tasting room in Rancho Santa Margarita, where they will continue manufacturing a group of core beers to sell wholesale.
The Laguna Canyon location, next to the [seven-degrees] events venue, will focus on specialty beers and also offer flatbread pizzas and other food, Reynard said.
Lombardo and Reynard wanted to open a microbrewery and restaurant in Laguna from the company's inception, Reynard told the Daily Pilot earlier this week.
"The Laguna Beach location is going to be our face of the company," Reynard told commissioners.
Commissioners said the brewery would add to a revitalization of the area, which includes the Ivory Restaurant & Lounge.
"I'm excited about it; it will be a great anchor" for the cluster of businesses and art galleries near the Sawdust Art Festival, Commissioner Susan Whitin said. "It's now starting to feel like a place and not a center."
"I can't believe it's sat vacant for 10 years," Commissioner Ken Sadler said about the particular address. "It's going to help. This center has somewhat struggled with continuity."
Canyon resident Lorene Auger said the idea of a microbrewery moving in "does not bother" her, but she is concerned about people drinking too much and milling about outside.
"There is a wall in front that can be easily removed to increase sidewalk usage so we don't have people going into the street," Auger said, referring to the frontage road off the canyon road.
"I definitely appreciate the safety concerns, but we are going to focus on specialty high-end beer," Reynard said as Lombardo pulled out tulip and taster glasses from a bag to show commissioners what they plan to use.
"We're going to monitor our pours and patrons, because the last thing we want is for somebody to get hurt," said Reynard, suggesting that the microbrewery, with its tasting room, will be more a place for beer connoisseurs than hard drinkers.
Tulip glasses resemble the shape of the flower and accentuate the aroma of the beer, Reynard said Thursday. Taster glasses are for sampling; Reynard said pours will average 4 ounces.
Of the restaurant's 80 seats, 29 will be spread among two outdoor patios.
The longtime friends started brewing beer as a hobby after Lombardo received a beer kit from his sister, the Coastline Pilot reported in 2014. For a time, fermentation buckets filled Reynard's living room as the two experimented with recipes.
Reynard said they are working on obtaining an applicable license from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and hope to open June 1.