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Aliso Beach cafe to open in April

Aliso Beach concessionaires Michael Weiss and Aaron Trap hope to attract customers to their Sand Café with a tropical decor and more than hot dogs and hamburgers on a tasty menu.

Weiss and Trap will open the cafe to the public April 1, with a grand opening planned for May 1. They want year-round patrons, not just summer beachgoers.

“We know we will have a significant crowd on weekends, but we really want to give the community a year-round opportunity to eat on the beach while watching the sun set,” Weiss said.

The Sand Café will offer more space and a better view of the ocean than the old snack bar, which was located with public restrooms at the base of the Aliso Pier. The pier, built in 1971, was so severely damaged in the 1997 La Nina storms, county officials voted to demolish it in 1997 with vague references to rebuilding it if financing could be found.

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Many longtime residents, including City Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, then the city clerk, could remember Aliso Beach without the pier and preferred it that way.

In any case, plans to rebuild the pier never materialized, and county officials decided in 2007 to tear down the dilapidated restrooms and the snack bar, which had been out of operation since 2006. Repairs would have had to meet the costly standards of the American Disabilities Act.

The Board of Supervisors voted in May 2007 to award $855,000 for the construction of the restrooms. Construction started in July in the new location near the bluff.

Ten stalls were built, two of them wheelchair accessible.

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The restrooms are adjacent to the Sand Café, according to Rich Adler, manager of Orange County Parks’ real estate, which handles commercial enterprises on county parks and beaches.

A small enclosed area has been set aside to store rental items such as skim boards, beach chairs and umbrellas, which the county required the concessionaire to provide, Adler said.

It has been about 18 months since bids were submitted to the county by hopeful concessionaires.

“I was sitting at the market at Monarch Beach eating a sandwich and reading the classified ads when I saw an RFP [request for proposal],” said Weiss, a Dana Point resident whose family used to own a home on Lombardy Lane. “I come down [here] all the time with my kids.”

“Jeez,” he thought, “that’s interesting, so I called and found out the bids were due in 13 days.”

That’s not a lot of time in which to prepare a business plan to present to the Board of Supervisors.

“We didn’t get a lot of sleep for a couple of weeks,” Weiss said. “Now it’s a year and half later and I am here interviewing for line cooks, cashiers and bussers to maintain the eating area.”

The process took longer than expected, according to Adler.

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“But the concessionaires have everything in place now and are finalizing improvements,” Adler said.

Tucked up against the bluff, the 810-square-foot restaurant will have a tropical theme, with bamboo outdoor dining furniture under thatched umbrellas on a 770-square-foot patio surrounded by a low wall that can also be used for seating, Adler said. A small area of sand also has been approved for cafe use.

The eating area will include a separate space for children, furnished with picnic tables and easels to entertain them.

While waiting for their orders, adults can entertain themselves perusing a bamboo-framed collage on the ocean-facing wall of about 25 photographs, depicting the history of the beach. The photos were supplied by Victoria Skimboards, the Laguna Beach Historical Society and the Orange County Archives.

Food service will begin at 10 a.m. and close an hour after sundown, Weiss said.

Breakfast choices will include pancakes, an egg sandwich, pastries and a children’s menu.

The afternoon and evening menu will include nachos, four fresh salads, steak and chicken plates, fish tacos, shrimp and a full kids’ menu to be ordered at the counter, either to “grab and go” or to be eaten outside.

Plans for a splashy grand opening are waiting on county approval of a temporary half pipe for skateboarders and bicyclists, musical entertainment and a raffle to benefit a local charity, as yet not selected.

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