Laguna Beach businesses take a handcrafted approach to ensure fresh, high-quality food, drinks and specialty products.
By Adreana Young
In a market saturated with big-name products and chain stores, the opportunity for businesses to connect with their customers on a more personal level has never seemed more appealing. Small-batch, specialty and mom-and-pop stores offer customers the chance to buy products that aren’t available everywhere, creating a more authentic experience.
From Laguna Beach Beer Co.’s crisp ale to Haute Toffee’s creative flavors, these small-batch purveyors each have a unique focus that keeps customers coming back for more.
LAGUNA BEACH BEER CO.
Mike Lombardo and Brent Reynard hold on tight to the barrels of hops as they pour them into the vats. They mix the mash and churn the ingredients. After an eight- to 10-hour day, followed by two to three weeks of fermenting, the guys pour a glass of Laguna Beach Beer Co. ale.
The company, owned and operated by Mike and Brent, began as a hobby after Mike was given a home brewing kit about five years ago. The brewing hasn’t stopped since. “We started home brewing 5-gallon batches,” Brent says. “It turned from just a little hobby to something we’re more interested in.”
The two entered their beer in competitions and made it for family and friends, then began talking with local breweries and researching business options. They saw an opportunity after noticing that Orange County didn’t have as many craft breweries as San Diego or Los Angeles. “If you were really to look at a map where these craft breweries are located, you’d see a very large void in the southern Orange County area,” Mike says. On Oct. 3, 2014, Mike and Brent launched Laguna Beach Beer Co. to fill the gap.
The small-batch approach gives brewers like them the flexibility to fine-tune recipes. However, Brent says the most important and beneficial aspect of microbrewing is the freshness it yields. “Instead of doing one big batch for three months’ worth of beer, we do two batches a month, so we can always have fresh beer,” Brent says.
Although a market exists for their company, Mike says it’s a highly regulated industry that is largely controlled by the big franchises in beer. “For a smaller brewery like us, the odds are definitely stacked against us,” Mike says.
The guys of Laguna Beach Beer Co. have proven that they’re up for the challenge: In less than a month after launch, they had sold 10 barrels, with 31 gallons per barrel, of their Greeter’s Ale. For the month of November, they doubled production to 20 barrels. In December, the duo released a new offering: Second Reef Session Ale, an easy-drinking beer with 5.4 percent alcohol by volume.
Mike and Brent produce their batches at two breweries—one in Orange County and one in Los Angeles—but hope to eventually have their own. As Mike explains, “We’ve always been told, to be happy and successful, do something that you love.”
Julie Podolec conceived her Modern Pop specialty fruit-bars business when her 8-month-old son began teething. She sought relief for her baby that didn’t involve giving him tons of sugar, so she decided to puree fresh fruit and create her own frozen fruit bars.
“We came up with these different concoctions of herbs as well as fruit … so this would be a good snack for a healthy parent to grab and get for their kid,” Julie says. “It looks and acts like a treat.”
Julie launched Modern Pop in 2013 and the business has grown steadily since. Initially she made the frozen bars herself, but the company now works with a manufacturer in Costa Mesa. However, Julie says, Modern Pop is still a small enough business that each bar is hand-poured, ensuring that more attention is paid to the quality of the product. “Having a small business [means] you can have your hands more on the products, rather than with big corporations. I think you lose touch with that,” she says.
The company is run entirely by Julie and her husband. As they move forward, Julie hopes they will be able to hire employees, and the couple aims to continue expanding by working with retailers such as Whole Foods Market to sell their products.
For Julie, seeing an idea transform into a tangible product—and then into a business—makes the failures and frustrations of small business ownership worth it. “Eighty percent [of owning your own business] is failure and 20 percent is success,” Julie says. “So, you just have to keep pushing through to get that success, because the success is worth [enduring] that 80 percent failure.”
After a 25-year friendship, teaching cooking classes together and dabbling in catering, Tina Tiezzi and Debbie Hild began making toffee together in their homes about four years ago. Their flavorful treats were a hit with friends and family, so the pair decided to market their creations. They started Haute Toffee in 2010.
The freedom that comes with owning a small business has allowed Debbie and Tina to create the type of toffee that they believe tastes the best. Debbie says that making their toffee in small batches is a must because the delicate caramel can easily burn at such high temperatures. Now in a commercial kitchen, the ladies of Haute Toffee make their product on 3-pound trays. They can produce up to roughly 1,000 pounds during the holiday season. Haute Toffee recently introduced a new flavor, white chocolate and pistachio, and the product is sold to high-end establishments such as The Resort at Pelican Hill, among others.
Tina says that the core of their business stems from the persistence of their long friendship. “It’s worked out very well for us. I know a lot of people say don’t go into a business with a friend because it can ruin a friendship, but we spend a lot of time together … [and] we’re still best friends.”
The Haute Toffee friendship-turned-partnership remains important to Tina and Debbie as a way to keep the business going. “I think we both respect each other and our friendship so much that our No. 1 rule we set when we went into business with each other is that this will never affect our friendship,” Debbie says.
Still, they have big dreams for their company. The pair hopes to make it into every store in the United States, Tina says, half joking. For the next year, they plan to focus on high-end resorts and continue expanding the small retail business.
Orange County is big on small batch—check out these nearby products.
The ladies of Santa Ana’s Backyard Bees are honeybee heroes. Their rescue and relocation service transports unwanted colonies to local backyards and gardens. The hive manager checks them for honey (and health), harvesting about 100 pounds of honey and beeswax on a typical day. It’s sold online and at OC venues such as the Santa Ana farmers market and Whole Foods. Rescued honey is also available at Fairmont Newport Beach: In 2011 Backyard Bees relocated a hive from the front of the hotel to the rooftop. Fairmont still uses that hive’s honey in its dishes, and sells it in the gift shop. (backyardbees.net)
Cheese connoisseurs, look no further than Vin Goat in Corona del Mar. This specialty shop carries more than 250 small-batch varieties sourced from artisans across the globe, including Tunworth, a Camembert-style cheese from England, and Harbison, a creamy option from Vermont. Once you’ve narrowed down which to purchase, the cheese is cut fresh from the wheel. The store also sells craft brew and wine from small-production facilities, and other pantry staples. (vingoat.com)
Restaurant-goers have been hooked on Memphis Cafe’s Memphis Original Barbecue Sauce since 1995. Then, in 2011, the Costa Mesa restaurant finally began cooking up small batches and bottling it for sale, making 130 cases per run, with 12 bottles per case. Ingredients such as whole stewed tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, fresh onions, garlic and the cafe’s proprietary spice rub combine to make the sauce’s sour-spicy-sweet flavor, which complements smoked meats, grilled fish and vegetables. (memphiscafe.com)
Each jar of Pernicious Pickling Co.’s pickles reads, “Pickles ain’t just for sandwiches!” The company’s bold flavors, such as Extra Spicy Habanero Hottie Pickles and Bread & Butter Sweet Mustard Pickles, can certainly stand alone. The OC transplants behind Pernicious Pickling Co. slice and pack everything by hand, in small runs of 150 jars, at The Hood Kitchen in Costa Mesa. Beyond pickles, the company also sells a variety of pickled vegetables, including cauliflower, carrots and beans. Products are available online and at many OC stores, including Whole Foods Market. (perniciouspickling.com)
Nuvo Olive Oil makes organic, estate-quality extra-virgin olive oil from the 100-year-old trees at its farm in Oroville, Calif. Freshness is essential: The Costa Mesa company advises against purchasing olive oil that is more than 6 to 18 months old (depending on factors like harvest technique and olive variety). To that end, Nuvo stamps the harvest date and best-use-by date on each bottle. The oil is available in seven varieties, including flavor-infused options like blood orange and jalapeno. They can be purchased online or at local farmers markets. (nuvooliveoil.com) —Katherine Duncan