Don Varley’s van was in the shop the other day, so he opted to make his daily commute from Simi Valley to Ventura by shuttle bus.
The other five passengers, not surprisingly, were a bit envious when they learned of Varley’s waterside destination.
“They asked where I needed to be dropped off,” Varley said, “and when I told them Ventura Harbor Village they all said, ‘Ah, man, you work out there?’ ”
Varley, an erstwhile bricklayer, has worked “out there” since October when he became the new owner of Lorenzoni’s.
The bakery-cafe, which offers patrons a relaxing view of the harbor, has long been an enticing spot to lunch on gourmet-style sandwich fare and baked goodies.
For Varley, an entrance into the restaurant business came as something of a surprise.
“I am kind of a health food nut and through the years just took up a hobby of baking and cooking,” he said. “I never really thought about it professionally.”
Then he spotted a “for sale” ad for Lorenzoni’s in a newspaper and decided to have a look-see.
“I immediately saw from my construction background that this store needed to be remodeled,” he said. “I thought it had huge potential if it was changed. It was just kind of an idea that evolved into ‘You know, this could work.’ ”
After a period of indecision, Varley settled on a new name for his eatery, Pelican Bay Cafe. And while patrons of the old Lorenzoni’s will recognize many of the same menu items, Varley’s vision of a new interior design is now complete.
“We reinvented the whole store,” he said. “I tore it all out. I opened it up. Now we have a whole new, wider, brighter seating area.”
There are also new stylish counter tops and a coffee bar. One of the two small elevated seating areas serves part time as a performance space for musicians. Hanging blackboard menus are a new addition, as are the marine-themed paintings and photos.
The upgrades did not stop with decor and seating. Before Varley’s arrival, the cafe had come to earn a reputation for slow service. Varley said he has made a concerted effort to move those orders.
“I have two sandwich tables now, so on the weekends, especially, we can pump the sandwiches out faster,” he said.
The Pelican Bay Cafe is at Ventura Harbor Village, Spinnaker Drive, Ventura. Extended summer hours: Mon.-Thur., 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri-Sat., 8:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. The bakery-cafe offers breakfast, lunch and early dinner service. Call 658-2228.
Fish tacos are nothing new to Ventura County. But Rubio’s Baja Grill is. The Carlsbad-based restaurant chain just opened a store, its 76th, in the Rose Avenue shopping center in Oxnard.
Some will no doubt already be familiar with Rubio’s grilled fare and its fish tacos, since the company enjoys a certain degree of prominence in other regions of Southern California.
Now a corporate success story, Rubio’s spawned from a simple beginning.
When Ralph Rubio tasted fish tacos on a spring break trip to Baja California in 1978, he requested the recipe from a vendor named Carlos. Rubio would later persuade his businessman father to join him in launching the first Rubio’s “Home of the Fish Taco” restaurant at the site of a failed hamburger joint in San Diego.
It was eventually a hit. Today the publicly traded company boasts that it has sold more than 35 million fish tacos in restaurants across San Diego and Orange counties, plus a few in the Los Angeles area, as well as a few restaurants scattered around Nevada, Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.
If you are new to Rubio’s, expect to find a menu not entirely dissimilar to the likes of Baja Fresh and La Salsa. There is an emphasis on cooked-to-order items, such as burritos, tacos and quesadillas, plus fresh salsa.
Rubio’s Baja Grill is at 2121 N. Rose Ave., Oxnard. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thur.; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sun. Call 485-8603.