Officials: Restaurant has a chance

Officials at Fashion Island are confident that a new restaurant due to open there this year will stick around, despite the departure of some eateries in recent months and years.

True Food, a restaurant launching at Fashion Island and developed around the concept of healthy dishes cooked from high-quality locally grown ingredients, is set to open this summer.

The restaurant is the idea of Fox Restaurant Concepts and bestselling healthy-living author Andrew Weil. True Food Executive Chef Michael Stebner will concoct menus featuring influences of Mediterranean, Asian and Californian cuisine.

True Food will be next to Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in the space formerly occupied by Blue Coral. Blue Coral opened in 2006 and closed in 2008.

Recently, some food establishments, ranging from McDonald’s to the high-end gourmet food store Dean & DeLuca, have either quit Fashion Island or canceled plans to set up shop at the mall, which is undergoing a $100-million expansion.

However, Fashion Island executives said they’re optimistic that this won’t happen with True Foods.

“Restaurants and retail are a challenging business. This is a completely different concept,” said Nina Robinson, Fashion Island’s vice president for marketing and communications, referring to why True Food will succeed where Blue Coral failed.

“Fashion Island has a proud history of debuting new concepts or those that are unique to the area,” she added, citing Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, and R+D Kitchen as examples.

Gretchen Gunzel, a Fashion Island shopper, said she thinks that True Foods will succeed because, “All health restaurants in Orange County do well.”

And because True Food will be exposed to the street, it won’t be hidden inside the mall and will surely attract business, she predicted.

Amanda Turner, a Newport Coast resident, said she believes that True Food has a good chance at staying at Fashion Island for the long haul.

“Blue Coral and Roy’s both served seafood, so maybe True Food has a better chance, since their food will be different,” Turner said.

Yet, at least one other person expressed skepticism that True Food would be a success.

It doesn’t matter what type of restaurant it is, Fashion Island is not a place to start, said Anthony Rangel, an employee at nearby Yard House. People here like name brands and places they’ve heard of, he added.

Skip Fox, president of the Fleming’s steakhouse and former owner of Blue Coral, gave his take on why his old restaurant didn’t last.

“Even with very loyal guests and outstanding reviews for both food and service, sales never developed to the level that it would be economically viable to sustain the concept and build additional restaurants,” he said.

Terry Solon, who had leased a spot at Fashion Island for 20 years, said he closed his McDonald’s franchise there in December because business had been slow for three years.

“In 37 years of owning McDonald’s I’ve never before come close to closing one,” said Solon, who now owns six McDonald’s franchises.

But as Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce President Richard Luehrs sees it, Fashion Island is trying to upgrade, and that could be why McDonald’s didn’t renew the lease.

He said he believes restaurants that are well capitalized and offer what people want will be the ones that survive.

“Part of the problem [for restaurants] is that there are over 400 in the county,” Luehrs said. “There are lots of choices, and some restaurants lose patronage and are forced to close.”

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