We have lived in Laguna for more than 30 years and, of course, we’ve seen some changes, but lately it seems these changes have been happening more frequently and rapidly.
Maybe it has something to do with our age, but for many years we both felt that Laguna remained pretty much the same.
Then, gradually, we began to lose the little shops that provided services to locals "” the five and 10 cent store, the electrical repair shop, the little markets like Gene’s and Acords, and we started to see more fancy furniture stores, expensive dress shops and high-end restaurants (for which we are very grateful) as the town grew wealthier.
McMansions and mini-palaces appeared on the hillsides, and house prices went crazy.
Since we see the world through food-colored glasses, we couldn’t help but notice, as we were researching an article on local bakeries the other day, that the two we were most interested in writing about represented the quintessence of the changes occurring in Laguna.
On the one hand, there is AndrÃ©es Patisserie and on the other, the Pacific Whey CafÃ©.
Embodying the old Laguna zeitgeist, AndrÃ©es is located in the quaint old Art Center complex in the south end of town at 1456 S. Coast Highway, (949) 494-1577.
Originally, it was the home of Brayton Laguna Pottery, established in 1927. With lots of old trees, brick walkways, wood and stucco buildings and shingled rooftops, the majority of the shops are still small art galleries. Tucked away in the back just off the alley is a tiny bakery, virtually invisible from the highway, which has been there since 1962.
The current proprietor, Ron Reno, who has owned it for 26 years, is a one-man show. He’s hired an employee from time to time, but it just doesn’t seem to work out for him. He is the baker, the sandwich maker, the moneytaker and the Indian chief. He bikes to work every day, opens at 7:35 a.m. and closes up at 3 p.m. to go kayaking or snorkeling.
As a young man, Ron really loved working with his hands and was looking for a way to make a living in this fashion. He came across a school catalog from Cerritos College that offered a program for bakers and thought it sounded like fun. He was so excited about the prospect that he arrived on registration day at 6:30 a.m. before they were even open.
There, he found a mentor in his teacher who showed him “how to make easy things look difficult.” Ron was very eager to learn, and he always did more than what was required.
He tells of taking a bucket of butter cream and parchment paper home after school to practice for hours, learning to use a pastry bag to master the art of cake decoration. He spent 2 1/2 years working nights at the old Renaissance bakery on Forest Avenue, baking and decorating cakes. Then, at the age of 27, he bought AndrÃ©es.
He prides himself on the fact that everything in his shop is handmade from scratch and is fresh everyday.
When asked what he does with the stuff that doesn’t sell, he said he used to give it to the senior center, but they started to get very picky about what they did and didn’t want, and it got so complicated they finally stopped coming by. Now he tosses the leftovers and said, “I just don’t worry about it.”
The care and attention he pays to what he does is evidenced in his product. His specialty seems to be breakfast pastries like muffins, bear claws and scones.
He has mastered the fine art of making croissants and his Danish is the best in town.
Eclairs, lemon bars, cookies, biscotti and giant palmiers are there to tempt you as well. He also makes sandwiches using his own freshly baked potato bread.
Special occasion cakes such as fruit and custard, black forest, mocha chocolate and strawberry whipped cream must be ordered three days in advance and come in a variety of sizes.
AndrÃ©es typifies old Laguna "” its location, its size and the fact that the owner is an individual artisan who loves what he does and has no interest in expanding or becoming an industry and whose business is designed to serve the locals.
Pacific Whey CafÃ©
In direct contrast to this is the new Pacific Whey CafÃ© located in the very high end and beautiful Crystal Cove shopping center, 7962 E. Coast Highway, (949) 715-2200.
It may have the best view of any shopping center in America. The contemporary space and large outdoor patio dotted with olive trees is the brainchild of Gina DeMichael, a Laguna Beach businesswoman.
This is the second of four Pacific Whey Cafes, and she and her partners have started a catering company as well. Here, in order to talk to someone about the business, you need to call the corporate headquarters.
In spite of their differences, the two bakeries have in common the commitment to absolute freshness and to making everything from scratch.
She learned to cook from observing her Italian grandmother and watching food shows on TV when recovering from an illness. Her first venture into the food business was selling her cheesecake and black and white mousse cake to restaurants.
In 1990, she opened Haute Cakes in Costa Mesa and sold it to open the first Pacific Whey CafÃ© in Newport in 1995.
In Crystal Cove, the well-to-do of Newport Coast, breakfast on cinnamon custard Danish (their best seller), muffins, scones, croissants and homemade granola or muesli are served.
Cakes include: German chocolate, coconut cream and flourless chocolate torte. The hottest trend in baked goods these days seems to be cupcakes, and they have quite a variety. They even have gourmet dog biscuits!
Time marches on!