Our Laguna: Tommy Bahama's opens new store

Tommy Bahama's newest bar, grill and retail store opened its doors to the public on Saturday, in Laguna Beach.

A traditional ribbon cutting ceremony was conducted by Mayor Elizabeth Pearson, with Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Hancock and Tommy Bahama Big Kahunas Terry Pillow, Rob Goldberg and Brian Pierce at her side.

The ceremony followed a private party the previous night to celebrate the opening.

Building owner Sam Goldstein said Friday that he never doubted the project would come to fruition despite disputes and delays. Goldstein blamed the economic recession for most of the problems encountered in the project.

"But I never lost a night's sleep," Goldstein said.

Not so for his wife, Pam.

"I haven't slept in four years," she said.

The project had been delayed at the start by a difference of opinion between Goldstein and the city's Heritage Committee about what constituted historical restoration.

Built by the same man who donated the land for Heisler Park, the building is E-rated, which means it has exceptional historical value to the city. Goldstein's first proposal to the Heritage Committee was turned down flat.

He came back with a plan that was endorsed by the committee, city planners and the City Council.

Laguna's normal ration of red tape and litigation between Tommy Bahama and its prospective landlord caused further delays

But that is all behind them.

"We couldn't be happier about being part of this community," said Pillow, Tommy Bahama's chief executive officer. "They couldn't have been more welcoming.

"I had heard about nightmares, but the city couldn't have been more cooperative. We are a perfect fit."

Laguna Beach Tommy Bahama is the 13th restaurant/retail combination launched by the company in the country. The city was chosen because it exemplifies the Tommy Bahama mantra, "Life is One Long Weekend," company officials said."

"I had the opportunity to live in the area when I was 25 and I have never forgotten the experience," Pillow said. "Everything here speaks to the essence of our brand."

The night before the public opening, invited guests jammed into the ground floor of the historic Heisler Building renovated by Goldstein on the corner of Laguna Avenue and South Coast Highway.

Guests included Laguna's Who's Who and Tommy Bahama VIPs, said Greg Lutchko of Orsi Public Relations, which represents the company.

Suggestions were submitted by Chris Loidolt, Montage Business Center manager, and Cindy Prewitt, founder with Goldstein of Laguna Beach Live!

Marguarite Clark, who formerly worked for the Montage Resort and Spa, and is familiar with and well-liked in Laguna, was contracted by Janet Orsi to deal with local media and guests.

The event had to be considered a success in terms of attendance—more than 320 people showed up—and the crowd's enthusiastic response to the hors d'oeuvres, desserts, mai tais and champagne served.

Another restaurant on the second floor is expected to open the first week in December. Tenant improvements are still underway, Goldstein said, but the kitchen equipment has been delivered.

The upstairs area was last occupied by a micro-brewery, one of a series of restaurants and bars that came and went over the years since the building was constructed

"Construction started in 1890 and from the beginning there was a restaurant." Goldstein said.

Jolly Roger was located down stairs when Goldstein bought the building in 2006. That relationship ended badly and the restaurant was closed.

Demolition of the building began in 2007, but reconstruction didn't begin until May of 2009.

Originally the entire 5,000-square-foot ground floor was to be retail, but in February of this year, Goldstein submitted a revised plan to the city council, dividing the space between retail and the restaurant, with separate entrances. The space formerly occupied by Soul to Soul was added to the plan.

"I didn't have a real game plan until then," Goldstein said at the time.

Goldstein said at that time that he was glad that he and the Tommy Bahama brand had recently reached an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit.

"I'm just glad they are in," he said.

While the city generally frowns on mass-marketed retail stores in the downtown, the merchandise and the restaurant menu are tailored to Laguna, according to Clark.

The restaurant and store, which can be entered by different doors, are separated internally by stairs.

Before and after drinks and meals, diners can browse the Tommy Bahama collection of men's and women's sportswear, swimwear, accessories and home décor items. There are also a number of products that are exclusive to the Laguna store, including logoed versions of the Tommy Bahama signature Aruba Zip and Easy Breezer and the co-branded collection "Sea Bags for Tommy Bahama," tote bags made from recycled sails.

Guests at Friday' soiree got first crack at the merchandise.

As of Saturday the Tommy Bahama Bar and Grill will be open for lunch and dinner. The menu includes starters such as the lobster corn dogs a variety of signature burgers, sampled by guests on Friday.

There is also a selection of wines and craft beers, as well as handcrafted cocktails such as Sunburn (Tommy Bahama Golden Sun Rum, St. Germain, muddled jalapeno, passion fruit and lemon) and Cant-e-lope Tonight (Ketel One, fresh O.J. & melon liqueur).

Among the guests Friday: council members Kelly Boyd, Toni Iseman, Verna Rollinger, Jane Egly and Pearson, Planning Commissioners Anne Johnson and Norm Grossman, Design Review Board member Ilsa Lenschow, Jim and Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda and Matt Lawson.

Also: Playhouse Managing Director Karen Wood, Barbara and Greg McGillivray, Chamber of Commerce Board member Dennis Junka, Stephany and Morris Skenderian and Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau President Karyn Philippsen and Executive Director Judy Bijlani with her mom, Marge Alderson, visiting from Florida.

And: Festival of Arts board members Steven Dicterow and Wayne Baglin and his wife, Faye, Festival publicist Sharbi Higuchi, Johanna and Laguna Beach Historical Society officer Gene Felder, Glori Fickling, John Hoover, Barbara Ring and brother-inlaw, Sanford.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com

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