Corona del Mar Today: Grill at Big Corona closes in bad economy

The Fuji Grill at Big Corona Beach closed earlier this month — the victim of the bad economy and the city's increase in parking fees at the beach.

"The parking really hit me," said owner John Lee. "The parking system should transition to usage-based billing system by using parking meter or some type of paid-by-hour system. This issue's been requested (by the) city ever since we opened to the public. The road block was the parking fee. It's a shame. I learned a good lesson. I am sure I can't win all."

Lee, who owns several other Fuji Grill restaurants, was awarded the beach concessions contract in February 2008. He said he had a 10-year contract and was to pay 15% gross sales.

During the summer seasons, he said, business was fine. But in the winter, or on rainy days, business was "really bad."

Parking and the parking fee increase was a major problem, he said.

During winter months, customers had 16 spaces available to them in the beach lot, although customers had to buy at least $15 of food to get two free hours.

But in the summer season, the validation and parking system was unavailable, and nothing resulted from his discussions asking the city to consider creating a validation system for his customers, or adding metered parking to the lot.

Then, in February this year, the City Council increased parking fees at the lot from $8 to $10 weekday/weekend rate, to $15 with a $25 peak rate for the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays.

"I don't think the city realized the parking increase would hit me," he said. "I told the city I can't continue business any longer."

City officials, he said, were understanding when he closed on Nov. 8 and returned his key to City Hall. They also appreciated that he made more than $300,000 in improvements to the restaurant, including adding a bathroom, which will make the space more appealing to the next business that takes over the space.

"He decided that his model just wasn't working there," City Manager Dave Kiff said in an e-mail. "We amicably settled, and he vacated as of early November. He invested a lot in tenant improvements, some of which we will keep."

The City Council will formally approve the termination of lease it the Nov. 23 meeting, he said.

Meanwhile, the Fuji Grill sign is gone from the top of the ramp leading to the beach and from the top of the building by the volleyball courts.

A sign in the window directs customers to other locations and thanks its customers.

"(W)e have enjoyed being part of this community," it says.

"I wanted to retire from this location," Lee said. "It's really sad."

Bobcat known as 'Cinnamon' dies in CdM, expert says

A car struck and killed a bobcat known as Cinnamon as she tried to cross East Coast Highway at Cameo Highlands Drive, a local wildlife expert said last weekend.

The bobcat was discovered a week or so ago, said Dick Newell of the wildlife group Orange County Trackers.

"Apparently she had unsuccessfully tried to cross the highway when she was struck by an automobile during the early-morning hours," Newell said. "It is not easy for a wild animal to exist in such close proximity to humans and their high-speed automobiles."

Cinnamon — named so because of the color of her coat — apparently gave birth to three kittens earlier this year, but the kittens have not been seen since their mother's death.

"Hopefully they were old enough to survive on their own," Newell said. The animals are likely hiding in nearby hills or in Crystal Cove State Park or El Moro, he added.

Union Bank branch to open in Corona del Mar

A Union Bank branch is scheduled to open in early 2011 on the ground floor of the Port Plaza building at 2864 E. Coast Highway.

An e-mail to a bank spokeswoman was not immediately returned. But crews working on remodeling the space said the bank was scheduled to open in January 2011.

The space has been vacant for years. Previously, the space was occupied by a Fastframe shop.

B.Candy unveils sweets in new Fashion Island kiosk

Corona del Mar's B.Candy will be opening its doors in the new year, but you can get a sneak peek at a Fashion Island kiosk that opened for the holiday season.

B.Candy is one of four kiosks located near Santa's house. The others include Christmas Creations, which sells personalized ornaments, Cushie Pillow Pillows, which sells $25 pillows shaped like animals, and Wrap It Up, which sells scarves and pashminas.

"We're so excited to be opening here," said owner Brandy Valdez as she and her employees added decorative candies and stacks of goodies to the stand. "It's a dry run for when we open the real store in early 2011."

B.Candy will be located at 3617 E. Coast Highway, near the Blooms flower stand. Valdez is planning a "soda wall" with soda drinks made from pure cane sugar as well as a dessert bar.

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