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Office developer serves up amenities to attract employers in search of productivity

The workplace revolution is in full swing in Orange County, and it involves ping-pong, hammock swings, volleyball — even chickens and craft beer on tap.

Inspired by big tech companies, the Hines real estate investment firm just spent $5 million to turn an Irvine office campus into a rustic, hipster playground with an upscale, chef-driven restaurant.

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Four office buildings surround what was formerly just a lone fountain and standard landscaping. Now it looks like summer camp. There are wood decks, strings of lights, cornhole boards, sofas and picnic tables so you can eat your lunch in the sun and get that Vitamin D everyone keeps talking about.

The restaurant is a timber-and-concrete affair with an exhibition kitchen, a full bar, a succulent wall and fire table seating. Cooks will use organic veggies from the raised beds outside — right next to the chicken coop.

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The campus is open to the public too, so employees (2,500 when fully occupied) can invite their spouse or children to join them for their lunch break — or a game of billiards.

This, declares Brian LaGrange, is the office of the future.

LaGrange is the executive vice president of the Patio Group, which began partnering with industry leaders in 2016. Their first three Patio Marketplaces (what they are calling the projects) are in San Diego. This is their first foray into Orange County.

Patio Marketplace at Intersect (the Hines project) is slated to open in April. Another smaller project, Patio Marketplace at 400 Spectrum, recently opened in Irvine. The Irvine Co. spent $1.3 million to build an upscale cafe on the ground floor of a 21-story tower. Employees can pull up a leather chair at the marble counter for a quick lunch, a craft beer or cold brew coffee on tap.

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Both restaurants are helmed by chef Amol Thanky, a former lead cook at the Michelin-starred restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco. His menus are California coastal, but in the spirit of classic European cafes, sophisticated, yet approachable.

Fine fast, LaGrange calls it.

“Even if they’re receiving something as simple as a panini, they’re getting all the effort that a Michelin Star-dish would have,” Thanky says. “We’re gonna put in the love.”

A chef-driven culinary experience is the cornerstone of the Patio Marketplace projects. The idea is that you shouldn’t have to leave the office to find healthy, fresh and tasty food — or be subjected to frozen microwave meals and vending machines.

The restaurants have healthy grab-and-go items (protein boxes, bean salads) for employees in a rush, and they even deliver to your desk. They will also cater meetings. But the idea is really to get outside; hence the variety of seating. There are tables for working lunches, sofas for collaborating with co-workers — or taking a nap, which someone was doing on a recent day.

“We’re building a place you’d want to park it a little bit, grab a coffee or, depending on the time of day, a beer,” LaGrange said. “Maybe open your laptop. It’s another place to go and relax.”

At 400 Spectrum, the cafe opens onto a patio lounge with a swanky hotel vibe: sofas, shade structures, music in the air and a long fire table to take off the afternoon chill.

Intersect is more playful. There’s a basketball court, a putting green and a pool table near a big screen TV. Music — Coldplay and Wilson Pickett are on rotation — is piped in from somewhere. You can grab a kombucha on tap at the shipping-container coffee bar. The Intersect campus also has a shipping container bar where you can order a beer, glass of wine or cocktail. A grassy space is set aside for group yoga.

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“It’s cool, it’s kitschy,” LaGrange says. “We like to be a little whimsical. People want to be in cool places.”

The designer is Matthew Ellis, who designed “Top Chef” Richard Blais’ Juniper & Ivy in San Diego and artsy-rustic Crack Shack in Costa Mesa.

These bells and whistles are not completely altruistic, of course. Landlords want the best companies renting from them, mostly so they can charge higher rent. Amenities sweeten the deal. Employers want their staff to enjoy their surroundings, so they stay put and work harder.

“The Googles and Apples of the world have these great campuses because they don’t want these people to leave,” LaGrange says. “It’s all about productivity.”

Both Spectrum and Intersect restaurants have happy hour for employees working late Wednesday through Friday. And meals are served until 7 p.m. Meals that involve sautéed shrimp and pork and brisket smoked in house.

“We’re providing an elevated dining experience for their staff to attract the kind of people they want to inhabit their property,” Thanky says. “It’s gonna almost at a certain point be compulsory, the expectation.”

Both spaces will also be rented out on weekends for events, like farmers markets and weddings.

LaGrange’s in conversation with other developers in Orange County.

“In my humble opinion, the building owners, when they’re building ground up, need to budget [for restaurants and activities],” LaGrange says. “If you don’t, you won’t be able to compete with the guys who do.”

Lori Basheda is a contributor to TimesOC. Follow her at @loris_world_ and follow @timesocofficial for more news and features about Orange County.

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