Huntington Beach City Council backs local company for pier restaurant

Danny Lopez of Chino Hills and Frances Pluma of Norwalk stroll on the pier in Huntington Beach in June 2020.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Huntington Beach City Council members on Tuesday night supported a new vision for a long-standing business on the iconic Huntington Beach Pier.

Members voted 6-1, with Councilman Erik Peterson dissenting, to support an exclusive negotiating agreement with Surf City Partners, LLC, a group pitching Huntington’s Restaurant for the space at 21 Main St.

In a study session earlier Tuesday, Surf City Partners pitched the restaurant as a “locals” eatery that would feature comfort food and beverages, outdoor dining and occasional live unplugged music.

The address 21 Main St. has housed the bait shop Let’s Go Fishing and the Surf City Snack Bar since 1992. But two years ago, the city informed owner Marian Johnson that it would be issuing a request for proposals for the site and she would not be given right of refusal.

Surf City Partners was one of three entities that was being considered after the city’s request for qualifications, which was issued in May.

The others were Ruby’s Hospitality Group, LLC and the current tenant, Let’s Go Fishing and the Surf City Snack Bar, LLC.

Ruby’s, which closed down its restaurant at the end of the pier in February, was seeking to return to the pier with a “grab and go” menu.

That option was recommended by the city’s economic development office, and an item to execute an exclusive negotiating agreement with Ruby’s Hospitality Group was on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

Huntington's is a restaurant proposal for 21 Main St. put forth by Surf City, LLP.
Huntington’s is a restaurant proposal for 21 Main St. put forth by Surf City, LLP, shown in a screen capture from Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
(Staff screen capture)

But council members favored the local vision that Huntington’s would provide.

Surf City Partners, LLC, with architect/contractor Jeff Bergsma, projected a budget of $532,000 for improvements, as well as operating and improving seven bathrooms across the way on the pier.

“We had some discussion about risk and reward, and that’s really the crux of it,” Councilman Mike Posey said.

“We can take a look at the three RFQs that we had for the Let’s Go Fishing site, and the standout, of course, is Huntington’s. Huntington’s also presents some risk and delays, but the payoff and reward for the taxpayers is much greater, and it’s also a much greater reward for the the branding of the pier and the branding of the city.”

City staff cautioned that Huntington’s did offer its own set of challenges. Due to the possible expansion of the current 800-foot space, a coastal development permit would be required from the California Coastal Commission, and parking requirements are another question mark.

“What’s being proposed with the Huntington’s group seems to be too much for too small of a building,” City Manager Oliver Chi said. “The city’s community development department has serious concerns that the concept, as it’s being proposed, can be advanced.”

Councilman Dan Kalmick said he’d like to direct staff to keep the property open during the entitlement process, and agreed with his colleagues that Huntington’s was the right choice. Posey recommended keeping Let’s Go Fishing open during that time, on a month-to-month lease.

Mayor Kim Carr agreed that the new restaurant could be a winner.

“I think most people would agree that the vision that [Surf City, LLC has] is spectacular,” Carr said.

“If we knew for sure that all of these permits could go through and all of this would happen, I don’t think there would be a lot of discussion about it. There’s so many ‘what-ifs’ — will Coastal approve it, will they get everything passed? But I love the vision, something that is bold, something that is outdoors, a destination ... the question is can you actually do it?”

Chi told the council members that city staff would work with Surf City Partners during the negotiating agreement process.

“The protections that we would have, the risks that we’re taking, all of that could get worked out,” he said.

Johnson, owner of Let’s Go Fishing, told the City Council that she wanted to stay in the spot permanently.

“You can take my business, but when you take it, you make sure that you don’t say anything negative about it,” she said. “We ran a good business.”

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