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Chris Olsen’s crazy busy world: wine and family life

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When he was a young guy in college, Chris Olsen had a fortuitous friendship. Chris was studying business and finance with the aim of going into the mortgage business, while his friend, whom he had known since high school, was researching a way to go into the wine business. Chris went on to pursue the world of mortgage financing, working for a large company, but a little voice inside his head kept reminding him about his love of wine and that friend’s thesis, and how fun and rewarding it would be to be in business independently.

He dropped what he was doing, contacted that friend, partnered up and launched The Wine Gallery. 

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Chris Olsen

Business on your own? Not always so easy.

“There are times I wish I wasn’t, but this is what I signed up for!” Chris says with a smile, as he checks his phone while answering vendor’s questions, inspects an order of shrimp, and still manages to give me the time to get to know him better. Oh, and he threw his back out, but that doesn’t stop him from loading supplies into the kitchen at their Woods Cove restaurant.

The entrepreneur is born

It was once upon a time, in 1999, that the partners opened that first little business – a boutique wine market in Corona Del Mar. Chris was 26 years old. That small space expanded into neighboring property, and then added a kitchen to the delight of their devoted customer following. But as time went on, Chris hankered for a full kitchen, not simply the electric one that they had been using.

“We were organically growing as we went along,” Chris says. “But I wanted to build on that – add a full kitchen.”

One of his customers happened to own property in Laguna that would be a perfect fit. Chris signed on for that space in 2012, and Wine Gallery Laguna Beach was born. It quickly became a happening place, both for wine and for the food. 

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Chris laughs, “[Corona Del Mar] that’s my day job, this [Laguna Beach] is my night job.”

In Laguna Beach alone, he manages 18 employees, some part-time, some full-time. Between the two locales, Chris says he’s something of a moving target these days.

Enter the wine world

Chris entered the wine world in an unconventional fashion. Growing up in Corona Del Mar, he would bring his high school dates to Laguna. He’d take the girl to a restaurant and order a bottle of wine.

“My date spot was Las Brisas,” he says. “My go-to spot.” 

Having a “baby face,” he knew he would command better attention and respect, and get away with it, ordering by the bottle (“The least expensive bottle”). At any rate, going to Laguna Beach, and going out to its restaurants, most likely launched Chris’ career.

“I love going out to eat, and cooking. I’ve always had an affinity for wine,” he says. “I just had a palate for it. And I always loved Laguna Beach.”

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As far as wine, Chris says he knows what he likes, and especially, “I know what sells.” One wine that is both his favorite and a best seller, is actually his own wine. Yes, he makes wine too! It’s a Pinot Noir varietal, called Mile 216 (named for the distance of the drive to the vineyards).

A family guy

A special girlfriend he brought to Laguna changed his life, one restaurant at a time. Chris and Heather loved to go to Javier’s, Sushi Laguna, and Tabu Grill often. Dating for almost nine years, they married and are now the happy parents of daughter Tyler, seven, and their four-year-old son, Tanner. And not only are they busy parents, they’re re-modeling their Laguna Beach home – another sort of full-time job.

The family is anchored in Laguna.

“I’m going to raise my kids here start to finish,” Chris says with pride. “Good friends, great schools, the beaches… we’re embedded in this community.”

And then he’s off to his son’s T-ball game, where he is the assistant coach.

“They’re learning to catch the ball ‘like a bulldozer’ and throw ‘like a cobra.’”

Just getting started

Before his “day job and his “night job,” Chris’ day goes like this: “I drop my kid at pre-school every day. Go check on the remodel, check emails, and work out… weights and run. If I’m lucky, I’ll get in the water and surf.”

How does he manage to juggle so many things in his life? He’s barely scratched the surface. Ahead are further plans to expand the business, and launch new lunchtime hours at the Laguna Beach locale.

“And I’d like to plant a vineyard.” 

Of course he would!

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If there was one word to describe Chris Olsen, it is energetic. He’s not one to let his back spasm slow him down; he’s a can-do guy, and he’s always ready with a quick smile. You can catch that smile just about every evening at Wine Gallery.

As the man says, “People know where to find me!”


LBPD Detective Cornelius Ashton is a “Top Cop”

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Detective Cornelius Ashton has been with the Laguna Beach Police Department for just two years. His brief tenure has, however, hardly hampered his ability to make an impact, not just on the police force, but in the wider community as well. In June 2016, after being on the force only a year, Ashton was awarded Laguna’s “Top Cop” award along with fellow officer, Dave Gensemer. The award was created to publicly recognize officers who exemplify exceptional dedication to their communities. 

After spending time with Detective Ashton it is easy to see why he was recognized: he is passionate about his job and committed to having a positive impact on everyone he meets, regardless of the circumstances.

The Juvenile Crimes Detective for LBPD

As the city’s Juvenile Crimes detective, Det Ashton is responsible for investigating all crimes involving juveniles including sex crimes, child abuse, narcotics and burglaries. It’s a big job because he works with children who are victims as well as perpetrators. “I deal with not only kids who commit crimes, but I’m also a school resource officer. I do what I can to build trust between the police department and our youth,” he explains. 

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Detective Cornelius Ashton of the Laguna Beach Police Department

Well-suited for detective work

One of only four detectives in the Laguna Beach Police Department, Det Ashton says each detective has an area they handle: crimes against persons, property crimes, fraud and juvenile crimes. If a juvenile is involved in any of the aforementioned crimes, Det. Ashton will become involved, depending on his caseload. As a newcomer to the department, Det. Ashton says he has two more years as a detective. Then, because Laguna has such a small force, he will rotate out and go on patrol. 

Every detective follows this rotation. Det. Ashton says it’s to ensure the younger officers in the department get a chance to be a detective. “I prefer being a detective,” he explains. “I can connect with people more effectively. On patrol you’re there and then you’re off to the next patrol. When my time is up I will be really sad.”

Committed to impacting people in a positive way

Connecting with people comes up frequently in Det Ashton’s conversation about his work. Whatever role someone plays in a crime, victim or perpetrator, Det. Ashton’s goal is for that interaction to be constructive. 

“I feel like my purpose is to affect people in a positive light. What better way can you do that than as a police officer? Helping people with their problems, it’s the most rewarding thing. The Top Cop award, or any award, doesn’t thrill me as much as impacting people in a positive way,” he says sincerely.

An empathy born of experience

A San Diego native, Det. Ashton brings a level of empathy to his position that comes from a challenging upbringing. Without elaborating, Det. Ashton says he grew up around drug addiction and homelessness. 

“I left home in my early teens and began working,” he says. “I met a police officer who told me about the Explorer program at the Chula Vista Police Department. It had a sense of family that I was looking for. I stayed three years. When I was 20 and half I got hired on as a police officer,” he says.

Building trust in difficult situations

His history gives him a credibility that the people he interacts with feel. “I’ve grown up around those situations (drugs and homelessness). I have a way of making people believe and trust in what I say to them. I always make a point of shaking hands with someone I’ve arrested. It’s powerful. When they hear me tell them ‘they can do it and turn it around’…sometimes they’ve never heard that from anyone before. It’s a good day.”

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Detective Cornelius Ashton in front of the Laguna Beach Police Department

Looking for – and finding – the right community

Before coming to the Laguna Beach Police Department, Det Ashton was with the San Diego Community College Police for 15 years. He left because it was such a small force and there wasn’t a lot of room for advancement. He may not have known exactly where he wanted to end up, but Det Ashton knew what he wanted in a force: “I wanted to work in a vibrant community where I’d have a positive impact and work for a police department that had a feeling of a family environment. The Laguna Beach Police Department definitely won me over,” he remembers enthusiastically. “I went on a ride along and there’s just this positive vibe in the air here. It doesn’t feel militant. People truly care about you – totally different from the policing I was accustomed to.”

The importance of teaching youth to trust the law

The position that was available is the one he holds now, juvenile crimes. Because he had worked on college campuses that had child development centers he found his new position to be compatible with his old. 

“I was very familiar with how school services worked and how they expected it to work with the police department. Having children of my own I feel it’s important to connect with youth at an early age to have them trust law enforcement and understand the importance of respect and following the rule of law.” Det. Ashton lives in Irvine with his wife and children.

On call 24-7 all summer long

One thing that surprised Det. Ashton about Laguna Beach was how many people come to visit all year round. This presents problems with traffic and “bad elements” coming in, in addition to the normal crime that happens in any community. However, while being a vacation destination poses challenges (Det. Ashton says he is on call 24-7 all summer long), he and his fellow officers strive to be what he calls a “service oriented department.” “We take time and we go above and beyond to help people. That coincides with my values. It was something I paid attention to before I transferred to the LBPD.”

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The Laguna Beach Police Department at 505 Forest Ave

Determined to change negative perceptions

Something he is determined to fix is some of the negativity directed towards police officers, especially right now. “I’m an African-American…” he begins thoughtfully, “So…I take it as a challenge. As police officers, we’re parents, we have loved ones just like everyone else. Our interest is to keep people safe, solve crimes – solve problems.”  

Det. Ashton is determined to defy negativity. If people walk by and give him a bad look, he will intentionally smile and try to engage them in a conversation. He says that frequently, after such efforts, the response he will get is a somewhat surprised, “You’re a cool cop.” 

More than a job: a calling

Working in law enforcement is not an easy job. Det. Ashton says the only time he really relaxes is when he’s away from his job with his family. However, while it is stressful, he says he can’t imagine not doing it. “This is my calling. This is my purpose. I can’t think of any other profession where I can use my strengths --communication, problem solving -- to such an extent,” he says. 

And Laguna Beach is a great place for Det. Ashton to use those skills. “There’s more diversity here than people think. That’s what I love about Laguna. Laguna Beach Police Department is good about finding people that fit their values. I’m definitely happy that I came here.”


Frets, strings, and jumping fleas: Tom Joliet, ukulele player and teacher, tells all

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Whether ukulele is pronounced “oo-koo-lay-lay” or “yoo-ka-lay-lee” the word and the instrument it describes almost inevitably makes people smile. Why?  Most musical instruments don’t evoke that response. No grin follows the mention of a guitar, or piano, or cello. 

Tom Joliet, beloved teacher of the classes at the Susi Q, thinks that the smiles occur primarily because people associate sing-alongs with the instrument, nor are there expectations that players should be musical geniuses, so there’s a comfort level with the instrument. 

“Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s an accompaniment to singing,” Joliet says. “And the melodies are fun, they’re universal, catchy tunes.”

Also most folks can at least imagine themselves learning to play the instrument, because its simplicity, small size and portability make it appear much less daunting than, let’s say, a harp.

Why fleas?

Joliet then began to speak of frets and strings and fleas. He is fascinating on the subject of his favorite instrument, even to someone as musically challenged as I am.

“The word ukulele means ‘jumping fleas,’” he tells me. “They say when Portuguese sailors arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, the locals were fascinated by the speed of their fingers on the strings of a small guitar that would later evolve into the ukulele. That’s how the name came about.” 

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Tom Joliet and Jack Morse: Ukulele players extraordinaire

“Here in Laguna Beach in the forties, if you were strolling along the old boardwalk, you might encounter Jack Morse playing melodies along with Hawaiian transplant beach boy Hockshaw Paia,” Joliet says. 

Morse is now 82 and still teaches beginner and, sometimes, intermediate classes at the Susi Q.  

For a while, Joliet says, the ukulele became an object of some derision, when Tiny Tim “killed it on the mainland.” 

Fortunately, Beatle George Harrison was a big supporter. “I’m told he composed Here Comes the Sun on the ukulele,” Joliet says.

Then, in the early nineties, the instrument regained popularity when Hawaiian Israel Kamakawiwo’ole recorded Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World with a reggae beat. 

From sutures to strings

Joliet didn’t set out to be a ukulele maven.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he lived in an orphanage until his first birthday. Then he and his sister were adopted and the family moved to Reseda and then Huntington Beach – the nearly perfect place for a wanna-be surfer. 

But not as perfect as Maui, where he headed after high school.

“I realized that odd jobs in construction would not pay for college so I joined the U.S. Army from Wailuku to get surgical tech training and four years of college paid by the GI Bill,” Joliet explains. “Army Basic was at Fort Ord, and I was sent to Advanced Combat Medic/Operating Room Technician training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas.”

His on-the-job surgical skills were put to use in Long Binh, Vietnam. “I learned to sew stitching soldier’s wounds. I won’t detail the mass casualty triage or medevac situations, but I did catch choppers to surf in the South China Sea at Vung Tau with the Aussies who were based there, where the sea snakes were plentiful!” Joliet adds.

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This great shot shows Tom Joliet in action during his ukulele class

Back in Maui, he led hikers through Haleakala Volcano, surfed, spear fished, played tennis and guitar. Further adventures followed in Europe, where he hitchhiked with his surfboard, after which he returned to Hawaii, working as a tour guide.

“A job in Hollywood writing scripts and imagineering amusement park rides moved me back to California,” Joliet tells me. Turned out, though, that much of the work had to be done on spec, so he looked for alternatives.

His surgical training resulted in a job as South Coast Medical Center. He then earned a degree in social ecology at UCI, working as a wilderness tour guide to pay for school, and also gained a teaching credential and later a Masters degree. He spent many years teaching and also coached surf and golf teams. In 2007 he was named Teacher of the Year. 

He and his wife Gayle are focused on social justice and recently he got an enormous kick out of leading his ukulele players on a rendition of “If I Had a Hammer” in front of approximately 1,000 people at the Women’s March on Main Beach.

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Tom Joliet has strong connections to Hawaii

Our conversation turned again to ukuleles. I wondered if his skill with sutures was perhaps related to his skill with strings. Joliet said that could be the case, because dexterity is important to playing the instrument well.

“That’s the great thing about learning to play the ukulele,” he said. “It helps with hand-eye coordination, stimulates your synapses and sharpens your ability to memorize. And it’s a lot of fun.”

Joliet and his wife Gayle lived in a small home in Treasure Island for years. “Gayle is my soul mate,” he says. “We got married on the beach, March 24, 1984, accompanied by the spouts of migrating whales.”

In addition to teaching at the Susi Q, the retired Joliet also volunteers at the local youth shelter and he is a volunteer co-host of The Radio Neighboring Show on public radio KX 93.5 FM in Laguna. 

And how does he plan to spend the rest of his days on this planet? (As if he isn’t already busy enough!) 

Cruising to the finish line

“I love to play guitar at beach bonfires, longboard, golf, play paddle tennis, hike the Sierra and ocean kayak with Gayle. As members of the garden committee, Gayle and I have helped build and maintain the South Laguna Community Park,” he says. “And travel, we love to travel, we’ve been to all seven continents. We have a cabin in Huntington Lake in the Sierras where we love to stay also.”

Then Joliet leans across the table, his eyes bright with mischief. “And then, when we get too old to be active?” he says. “We’re going to go on endless cruises instead of to a nursing home. They’re half the price, you get clean sheets every day, there are valets, and doctors on board and great food that they’ll serve to you in your room, and then when you’ve had enough of it all, you just throw yourself overboard!”

Sounds like a plan to me – though I imagine (and certainly hope) that there’ll be a lot more ukulele playing and adventuring for the cheerful, generous, multi-talented Joliet and his wife before those days come to pass.


Lori Kahn: Teaching, coaching and sharing at Om

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

When Lori Kahn, owner of Om Laguna Beach, moved to Laguna full time from Los Angeles in 1999, reluctant might be the word to describe how she initially felt about it. “I didn’t know what I was going to do down here,” she remembers with bemusement. A former clothing manufacturer and stylist, she felt that Laguna did not present a lot of options for her in those areas at the time. 

However, it didn’t take long for her reservations to be put at ease. “When I finally surrendered (to living here) and we could just walk down the street to the beach it was such an amazing way to raise kids. I fell in love with the town, the community. The other moms, they became like my family,” she says.

Trusting in Om Laguna Beach

Kahn opened Om Laguna Beach in 2012. Her vision was to create a space to “introduce people to all different kinds of meditation. Originally, I envisioned a ‘Yoga Works’ of meditation,” she explains. However, five years later, while her studio is certainly a hub of meditative practice, Kahn finds that her business of teaching and coaching has grown beyond its four walls. 

“I approached my business like meditation,” she says, explaining that when she first opened, “I’d sit and wait for people to come in. That’s what mindful practice does. You trust the moment even if it’s uncomfortable. Show up. Trust. Things will happen as they should.”

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Lori Kahn, owner and founder of Om Laguna Beach

Fashion, yoga and “moving meditation”

This faith in things falling into place is something Kahn has developed throughout her years of first practicing yoga and then meditation. The fashion business, she explains, was stressful. The intensity of that industry led her to seek an outlet for that stress which led her to yoga. “I didn’t like gyms. I’m not athletic. A friend got me to try yoga and I totally fell in love with it,” remembers Kahn. 

She was so enthusiastic about it her friend convinced her to do a yoga training program. Her teacher, Erich Schiffman, taught “moving meditation.” So while yoga was the primary focus, Kahn says for her, “the fundamentals (of meditation) were already there. I always had that meditation component.”

Health woes bring meditation front and center

Kahn began teaching yoga when her then husband took a job in Vancouver. Kahn could not continue working in fashion but she still wanted to work. Teaching yoga was a perfect fit. “I could get paid in cash,” she says with a laugh. It didn’t matter if I was legal.” Unfortunately, after the birth of her second son, Kahn’s health began to decline. 

“I had headaches, joint pain, fatigue. I had to stop teaching,” she says. “My health had become so unmanageable all I had left was my meditation practice. It saved me. I had a husband who traveled all the time, two boys ages five and two and I was sick all the time. The only thing that kept me moving forward was meditation.”

Meditation leads to “integrative coaching”

The more committed Kahn became to her meditation practice the more she wanted to learn about it. “I started really getting into it,” she says, “As the kids got older I started going to workshops and that kind of thing. My health got better. I didn’t want to teach yoga, only meditation.” Then in 2007 Kahn went to the Ford Institute and became a certified Integrative Coach. “I very much blended meditation in my approach to my coaching practice,” she says of the progression.

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Lori Kahn in her studio preparing for her next client

Helping make meditation do-able

Kahn believes that meditation is slowly making its way to the mainstream as yoga has, but it’s not there yet. “One of the obstacles is people feel they are too busy or too stressed. It’s a double-edged sword.” She likens it to exercising; something easy to put off but once you push through you see the results and it becomes a habit.  “When it comes to doing stuff that’s good on an emotional or psychological level we resist. A lot of people think it’s hard. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but it’s a lot more do-able than people think.” 

A coach is an ally

The same goes for coaching, something that has really taken off for her. “For my integrative coaching I use meditation to help people get through whatever it is they’re going through. It’s more of an ongoing relationship,” Kahn explains. “People often don’t know what to expect. They think it’s like therapy. It isn’t easy to change, but wouldn’t you rather have an ally who supports you as you go through challenging times?”

Working with groups and individuals

Besides the individuals she coaches, Kahn also works with groups like Fisher-Paykel, United Capital, The Whole Purpose Company and Lululemon. She really enjoys the challenge of developing programs for her corporate clients, as well as those for a one-on-one environment. “My corporate clients are probably my biggest area of growth which is really exciting, but I also really enjoy designing practices for just one client. It’s so intimate. I love teaching,” she says enthusiastically. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Something clicks and it’s not about me. No ego, no pressure…it’s so satisfying.” 

“Om at Home” on KX93.5

Her love of teaching is what prompted her to do a radio show, “Om at Home,” on KX93.5 every Sunday from 7:00-7:30am. “It has been three and a half years, a couple of hundred shows,” marvels Kahn. She describes her show by saying, “It all starts with the basics of meditation, learning to focus and direct our attention to simple things (like the breath and the senses), and what to do when we can’t! “OM at Home” is an opportunity to give ourselves the permission to stop for 30 minutes and do nothing, just listen and breathe and practice what it feels like to relax and let go, a natural sense of peace of just being in the moment starts to grow and becomes something we want to spend more time doing!”

NeurOptimal Neurofeedback

In addition to meditation and coaching (in person, via Skype, FaceTime or on the radio) Kahn provides NeurOptimal Neurofeedback. “It’s an incredible program,” she says. “It treats nervous system disorders like PTSD, depression, anxiety.” It is offered as a stand-alone service or in conjunction with coaching and/or meditation.

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A wall helps clients remember to “breathe” inside Om Laguna Beach

An “unbusiness-like” approach to business

So while Kahn’s business now may not exactly resemble her original plan, she couldn’t be happier with its path. “What’s funny about my approach to business is that it’s not very business-like,” she says good-naturedly. “I had no idea what to expect, only what I wanted and what my vision was. I trusted the intention and I never questioned the challenge. I learn as I do.”

A full-time mom and full-time teacher

Learning by doing seems to work quite well for Kahn. “Being a mother and teacher, they’re both who I am. My work has always had to accommodate me being a full-time mom. It makes sense to realign my goals when my kids go to college,” she says, which isn’t too far off. 

Taking Om outside of the studio

While Kahn loves her studio and what it represents, once her youngest son leaves for college she envisions a practice beyond the studio. “It’s kind of fantastic. My business has grown to not need four walls. I didn’t plan it this way, but I really like it. I’d love to find ten more teachers to teach (in the studio) while I am out traveling, teaching, Skyping one on one with my clients,” she says enthusiastically. 

From “Om at Home” to “Om Anywhere.”


Ann E Wareham: A woman for all seasons – or the wizard behind the curtain? Both.

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

See Ann E Wareham arrive at the theatre on the opening night of Our Great Tchaikovsky looking stunning in a black lace dress, her blonde hair shining, her expressive blue eyes beautifully accentuated with liner and mascara, and watch her deliver a heartfelt thank-you from the stage to Playhouse supporters in the sold-out audience, who in true Laguna style have kept this dream of a theatre going.

Listen to the applause of the crowd, who know a heroine of the arts when they see one. Hear the confidence in Ann’s voice as she welcomes the audience.

Think to yourself how poised Ann looks onstage, and how inaccessible and impossible to emulate she must seem to people who aspire to a position such as hers – artistic director, Laguna Playhouse – just as, when she was a teenager, her future mentor and boss Gordon Davidson had appeared to her at the Mark Taper Forum.

Ann Wareham behind the scenes

But recall Ann just two days earlier being very accessible indeed: warm, and friendly, and funny. Behind the scenes, she chats easily as as we sit on a faded couch in the dressing room that has provided respite for many famous actors and will soon host the talented Hershey Felder. 

Still, on being invited to go up to her office, I half-expect to see signed portraits of a sophisticated Ann photographed with the rich and famous along, perhaps, with a spread of shiny theatre programs artistically arranged on a table. Flowers. Maybe a tableau of awards. 

But no, that’s not what I see at all. Ann Wareham is as unpretentious an achiever as you could wish to meet, and appropriately, she has an unpretentious (but very productive-looking) office.

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Ann E Wareham, artistic director of Laguna Playhouse

“I keep an open door,” she tells me, “and when I want to have private meetings, I’ll say, follow me to my office, and guests will find themselves on our very tiny balcony overlooking Broadway.”

When she says open door policy, Ann is not being metaphorical. Inside her upstairs office, crammed with desks and chairs and filing cabinets, I find her smiling assistant Sarah along with Ann’s five-pound Yorkie, Sailor, and much larger black lab mix named Murphy, and during the short time I’m there, several staffers wander in and out with messages or issues that need Ann’s attention.

And then there’s that open-roof thing in the next-door office, though that’s not a choice, it’s the result of recent rains.

The wall above her desk is a-flutter with yellow Post-it notes adorned with the names of productions. “That’s how I figure out the seasonal schedules,” she tells me. 

However chaotic that incidental Post-It poster art may appear, those sticky notes represent thoughtful and packed days, weeks, months, years of conversations with actors, directors and producers. They’ve led to terrific season line-ups. 

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Inadvertent poster art: Wareham plans for new seasons with an unconventional, but very successful approach

Plus of course Wareham spends a great deal of time watching plays and musicals and shows of all kinds, figuring out what productions will most please the Laguna community. “We have a great team, working together, which makes my job so much easier,” she emphasizes.

She loves every moment on the road – well, almost every moment.

“Once in a while, if I’m tired or just not intrigued by a show, I’m tempted to leave at intermission, but I never do, because that’s so disrespectful to the actors,” she says. “Plus I’m recognizable…But no, I wouldn’t anyway, I have too much admiration for all the work that goes into a production.”

Her job often entails a commute to LA, where she used to live.

“I’m probably the only person you’ll meet who will tell you she felt nostalgic seeing the scene on the 405 in La La Land,” she says. “Well, I miss LA sometimes, but not enough to live there. I love Laguna Beach. I feel like a local now after six and a half years in this job.” 

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Ann Wareham is most at home at the theatre: here she enjoys the set for Our Great Tchaikovsky, currently playing

LA is where Wareham grew up, and where she first experienced the magic of the theatre. As a 16-year-old, she worked as an usher at the Music Center, watching in awe as her future mentor Gordon Davidson worked onstage. (Sadly, Davidson passed away last year in October.)

“Gordon’s energy and passion impressed me so much,” she says. “I wanted to be him. It still amazes me that 10 years after first seeing him, I had become his assistant. Gordon was my boss for 27 years, my mentor and guiding light. There will never be another like him.”

Energy and passion are also evident in Wareham’s packed schedule and lively presence. She practically lives at the Playhouse (and so do her dogs).

Her “sacred space” is Monday evenings, she says, or early mornings. “I like to be in my garden, or play or watch tennis, that’s my other great love.”

Wareham likes to mingle with the audience after opening night, trying to pick up the odd comment, spontaneous and uncensored, that might give her a sense the audience’s true feelings. So far she hasn’t donned a disguise to do so, though she’s been tempted.

Ann has many favorite productions: some of the finest are soon to arrive on stage

She’s excited that the Laguna Playhouse is thriving, with tremendous community support and great productions – a favorite of hers was the recent Billy & Ray production, of course the currently running Our Great Tchaikovsky with Hershey Felder, and Ann’s thrilled that up soon will be the world premiere of King of the Road: the Roger Miller story, directed by the accomplished Andrew Barnicle. 

Deaf theatre is one of her greatest passions, particularly the work of LA’s Deaf West Theatre, which recently received three Tony nominations for their production of Spring Awakening.

“I would love to bring a deaf musical to Laguna,” Wareham says. “Watching those productions can be a life-changing experience.”

I’d guess it won’t be long before Lagunans are privileged to experience such a show. Indeed, Ann E Wareham’s creative mind and exquisite taste have brought Laguna some of the finest productions in the Playhouse’s long history.


Planes, pickup trucks and a pickle jar: A history that led Dr. Jorge Rubal to CEO at the Community Clinic

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photography by Mary Hurlbut

A few moments in Dr. Jorge Rubal’s company is enough to know he has a wonderful bedside manner. His smile is infectious. His style is professional but laid-back. Dr. Rubal treats the whole patient, and considers their whole circumstance. 

While his caring nature is certainly inborn, his ability to communicate his deep compassion was no doubt fine-tuned as a result of his early experiences with the neediest of patients. During his pre-med years, still undecided on a career, Cuban-born Dr. Rubal was offered a rare opportunity. 

Rubal’s first language is Spanish. That asset, combined with his then-burgeoning interest in medicine, made him a natural choice for a volunteer medical translating position in the remote locales of Mexico. 

“I was told if I could afford a seat on a Cessna, I could accompany doctors on their volunteer medical missions to Sinaloa, Mexico,” Rubal says. 

And so that’s what he did. For three years. That experience solidified his commitment to medicine, and to serving the underserved.

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Dr. Jorge Rubal, director of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic

With LIGA International, known as the Flying Doctors of Mercy, Rubal traveled to Mexico two days a month. In the 48 hours they spent on the ground, their medical staff served as many as 500 patients. When their plane touched down, patients were already waiting. 

“We’d land on dirt fields,” Rubal says. “The pick-up trucks were lined up on the landing strip, waiting for us.” 

Doctors provided primary, pediatric, psychiatric and surgical care for people who otherwise had no access to medical care. Some doctors performed surgeries 24 hours a day. Others caught snatches of sleep on the roof of the surgical center in makeshift tents, or in homes offered up by locals.  

Not only did his experiences with LIGA solidify Rubal’s commitment to medicine, it sparked his interest in marrying both the art and science of medicine, and to serving the under-privileged. 

From flying doctor to family medicine: Meeting Dr. Bent

After graduating from University of California, Riverside, Dr. Rubal obtained a joint MD/MBA degree from UCI, specializing in family medicine. During his years at UCI, Rubal met Dr. Thomas Bent, then director of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic. They worked together in the early 2000s, and kept in touch. 

“I’d always wanted to work with Dr. Bent,” Rubal says. “I remained interested in the patient population and who we serve.” In 2013, that goal became a reality. And, in September of last year, Dr. Rubal took over as CEO and Medical Director of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic.

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Dr. Rubal’s consulting room is as welcoming as the man himself

The clinic began forty-six years ago as an entirely free provider. Its mission was to care for artists and local workers. “They would pass around a pickle jar, asking people to contribute whatever they could,” Rubal says. In the 1980s it changed to a nonprofit, seeing patients on a sliding scale basis.  

“Back in the 80s,” he says, “it was the only clinic in Orange County servicing HIV patients.” In fact, many patients went on to become healthy, employed and insured, but still chose the clinic for their healthcare needs. Now their office accepts most insurance, and helps patients on a sliding scale.

But Dr. Rubal laments the changes the Affordable Care Act have brought upon them. “With every patient we treat, we lose money,” he says. “Imagine. You call a plumber to fix your pipes and every time he comes out, he loses money.” 

This has been Dr. Rubal’s biggest frustration. Through grants, fundraisers, and community support, the clinic has been able to close the financial gap each year. But it’s one of the last true community clinics. “If we didn’t have the full support from the community,” he says, “we couldn’t sustain our work.” 

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The Rubal family, L- R: Lauren, Blake (2), Jorge and Christian Rubal (5)

While in the first year of their medical internship at Harbor, UCLA Medical Center, Rubal met his wife, Dr. Lauren Rubal, now an OB/GYN who specializes in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. The couple has two boys, Christian (5) and Blake (2), and they hope for more.  

Dr. Rubal is proud of his Cuban heritage. Although born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, he didn’t begin speaking English until age six. “With so much family, so many cousins, we never watched TV.  From sunrise to sundown, we were running around the neighborhood. No one spoke English.” 

He still loves Cuban music, and has traveled to Cuba three times, hoping to go back again with his grandfather before he passes away.

In his spare time (at 5 a.m.!), Dr. Rubal is a cross-fit fanatic. He’s always been an athlete, playing baseball throughout high school and into college.  

He practices what he preaches to patients: stay healthy and stay active. 

There’s no question that Dr. Rubal has those bases covered.


Madison Sinclair and Wyatt Shipp: Why they’re Patriot’s Day Parade Junior Citizens of the Year

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade is Saturday March 4. More than a hundred residents (at least!) are expected to participate in the 51st annual event. A slice of Americana if ever there was one, the parade features marching bands, floats and enthusiastic marchers from a myriad of civic groups.  

The Patriot’s Day Parade honors many

The Patriot’s Day Parade also features a host of honorees ranging from the Parade’s Grand Marshalls (this year, gold medalists Aria and Makenzie Fischer), an Honored Patriot of the Year (Robert W. Sternfels USAAF), Citizen of the Year (Doug Miller), Artist of the Year (John Barber) and two Junior Citizens of the Year (Madison Sinclair and Wyatt Shipp). Clearly, much could be written about every honoree whose stories are as compelling and different as the recipients themselves.

Junior Citizens of the Year are proven leaders

The stories of the Junior Citizens of the Year, Madison Sinclair and Wyatt Shipp, are quite different from each other’s. However, they have some obvious similarities. Both are 12th graders at Laguna Beach High School and both were selected by the LBHS faculty and staff “on the basis of their achievements in leadership, scholarship, athletics and service” according to the parade’s website.

In other words, both students have managed to fit more into their high school years than seems humanly possible.

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Madison Sinclair and Wyatt Shipp, Patriot’s Day Parade Junior Citizens of the Year

Energy drinks are a necessity for Madison Sinclair

“I live on energy drinks,” explains Sinclair good-naturedly. This fact seems like an understatement when she runs through her schedule. Currently taking six Advanced Placement classes while editor-in-chief of the school paper, “Brush and Palette,” and acting as Secretary General of the school’s Model United Nations (MUN) one can certainly understand why Sinclair might need a caffeine boost.  

As our conversation continues, it seems unbelievable that a double latte could be close to enough to get her through her day. 

So many activities but a special love of horses

In addition to her scholastic, editorial and MUN duties, Sinclair is on the varsity track team, she is a Juntos liaison (Juntos is a program that tutors children in order to help their English language skills), she is in this year’s LBHS production of “Cinderella,” she coaches and referees AYSO soccer as well as coaching basketball at the Boys and Girls Club, and she volunteers at UCI Medical Center. And, because “horses are (her) favorite thing – ever,” she barrel races outside of school and teaches riding to younger children. 

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Cowboy boots are a must for Madison Sinclair’s favorite activity

A desire to try everything

So, why does Sinclair choose to come home from school around 9:30 p.m., frequently stay up until 3 a.m. only to be at school at 7:30 a.m. the following morning and do it all over again?  

“I really wanted to try everything,” she says simply. “A lot of the things I tried for fun I really liked doing.” Take track, for example, “It has been one of my favorite high school things,” she says enthusiastically. She joined track her sophomore year after playing soccer and basketball. 

“I could make my own workout schedule,” she explains. With a schedule like hers one can see how this would be attractive. She also says her coach, Lance Peterson, “is the nicest man I have ever met.”

Making a difference is one of Madison Sinclair’s career goals

“MUN,” she says, “is what I want to do with my life. I have a strong interest in global awareness.” Her goal in college is to major in International Relations or Political Science and minor in Spanish. “Senor Garvey, my tenth grade Spanish teacher, is one of the most dedicated teachers. He cared so much he made me love Spanish.” 

She hopes to meld the two interests and make a difference in the world.

“Being on my feet and talking to people I want to help, that’s my dream job,” she says emphatically.

Leaving her family will be tough

Like most high school seniors, Sinclair is waiting to hear if she got accepted into her dream school, (for her, it’s either Duke of Vanderbilt). It seems unfathomable to me that she, with her 1,200 hours of community service and her 4.6 GPA would hear anything but yes, but just in case, she can relax a little knowing she has already received a scholarship to USC. 

The thought of leaving her parents with whom Sinclair says she is “super tight” is a daunting one. Nevertheless, she says she’s ready to give it a try. And that is a word Madison Sinclair is well-versed in. She has literally tried just about everything. “I put my whole heart into everything. Nothing is for the resume,” she says sincerely. 

Nothing can keep Wyatt Shipp down

Wyatt Shipp also knows a lot about putting his heart into everything. He also knows a lot about overcoming obstacles. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age three, Shipp has worked tirelessly with the help of his parents to not just manage his disorder but to achieve success by anyone’s standard. 

Working to help others and give them hope

His experience has prompted him to spend countless hours helping children cope with their own disorder as well as working to help find cures. Shipp works with Talk About Curing Autism in various capacities, volunteering at each of the group’s events. Shipp also formed a club, the Spectrum Superheroes, that works with kids on the autism spectrum and helps them learn to skateboard, for example.  

“We were thrust into unchartered territory,” he says about his diagnosis 15 years ago. “Back then autism was a relatively new field…I’ve been able to give hope to other families just like others were there for me,” he explains.

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Wyatt Shipp, LBHS senior, and frequent Park Avenue Player lead

One door closes but another, more meaningful one, opens

“The Hidden Voice” is a powerful Youtube video Shipp created to tell his inspiring story. It also highlights two of Shipp’s other passions: acting and making videos. He is hoping to study film production and acting at UCLA, Arizona State, Northwestern or Chapman. 

This love of performing, in typical fashion for Shipp, was born out of adversity. As a freshman, Shipp had planned on playing baseball for the Breakers. “I thought I was going to be a centerfielder,” he says somewhat ruefully. 

When he didn’t make the team, a sad but determined Shipp found something else to put his time into: LBHS’ Park Avenue Players. This endeavor turned out to be a much greater calling than baseball ever was.

A leader on the stage

Shipp says he has auditioned for every single show in the last four years. “I usually get a lead role. This puts me in a leadership role. You have to take on this role-model persona. I’ve tried to do that since I’ve been in the program. I’ve tried to stay true to myself.”

A nomination to American Legion Boys State

Between his community service work and his commitment to the Park Avenue Players, Shipp is president of the Film Club, was a Link Crew leader, (Link Crew is a group that helps freshman acclimate to high school) and was nominated for the very prestigious American Legion Boys State. He has managed all of these activities while maintaining a 3.94 GPA.

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Wyatt Shipp behind the camera with his aspirational Oscar

Overcoming hurdles, both literally and figuratively

There is one more activity that fills up Shipp’s already full plate: running hurdles on the track team. Shipp credits his coach, Mark Harris, and the entire track community for “allowing (me) to discover my passion for running hurdles.” He is one of the team captain’s this year and last year he got second place in League. However, for Shipp this sport carries significance beyond the track. 

“I’ve overcome hurdles myself,” he says. “I like to use the hurdles as a metaphor for life. You just have to make it to the end of the race.” For anyone who has been told “no” Shipp’s determination to find so many “yeses” should be quite inspiring.

Two remarkable LBHS seniors get ready for what’s to come

For Wyatt Shipp and Madison Sinclair, the future stretches out brightly. However, one thing that will soon be in their rear view mirror is their high school years. The close-knit community is something Shipp says he will miss. 

“Laguna is such a small community. It’s so easy to connect with people,” he says.

The Laguna Beach Patriot’s Day Parade exemplifies Shipp’s sentiments. And Shipp and Sinclair exemplify the best of Laguna’s citizens, junior or otherwise.


Sound Spectrum: 50 years of music in Laguna

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Jim Otto opened Sound Spectrum in Laguna Beach 50 years ago this year. While it’s remarkable for any storefront business to last 50 years, it’s even more remarkable when that business is a record store. It’s hard to think of an industry that has undergone more changes than the music business, and these changes have not been kind to storefront businesses that sell music. Otto’s theory for his store’s longevity? “The format changes, but we don’t.”

A real record store

When you walk into Sound Spectrum and you’re of a certain age (basically any age that grew up pre-digital music) there’s an almost overwhelming sense of familiarity to it. It’s a real record store. There are vintage concert posters on the wall, incense, t-shirts and other somewhat random memorabilia for sale. The centerpiece of it all, of course, is the music. 

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Laguna’s Sound Spectrum owner, Jim Otto

With real records

And just to show how things go full circle, Sound Spectrum is brimming with vinyl albums, some old and some brand new. Otto explains that when he and his partners (long since gone) built the store it took them awhile to get it finished. “We were typical 60’s people, not the most efficient, but we managed to get it done.” 

The wooden racks are the same original racks they built back in the day. Then those racks housed vinyl albums, later CDs and now they’re back to displaying predominantly vinyl albums again. “Seven or eight years ago records started coming back,” Otto explains. Of course there are used classics, but record companies are releasing new vinyl as well, and Otto carries it all.

Crediting a long list of dedicated employees

Sound Spectrum was started because, Otto says, he loved music and “I really love dealing with people.” He credits much of its success to his employees, many of whom he told me about in great detail. Clearly, working at Sound Spectrum is like being part of a family. He speaks glowingly of two current staffers, manager Wave and Greg White, whom Otto calls a “musicologist.” 

Wave has been at Sound Spectrum for 15 years; White eight to ten, Otto isn’t exactly sure. Not only does the store have staying power, but its employees do too. 

A fountain of youth

Wave says that when he came to Laguna in 1972 ,“The Sound Spectrum became my ‘musical home.’” He explains that his “job description” is “harmony, love, friendship and fun.” The record store, for him, is a “fountain of youth” and he has a special shout out regarding the return of records, “And thanks to the kids who brought vinyl back!”

Changing while staying the same

White views the store as “a beautiful 60’s-themed environment which preserves and extends the legacy of the past for the new generation of music lovers.”  And while the store definitely is the epitome of a flashback, there is music from every decade, past and present. As Otto explains it, “The customers, both old and new, they like things not to change, but you do have to change.”

Jim Otto with Sound Spectrum manager, Wave, and “musicologist,” Greg White

A former employee makes it big

Another former employee from years back, Robert Santanelli, “showed up from New Jersey. He wanted to be a music writer and write bios,” explains Otto. “So he came here, following the hippie trail, so to speak. He went on after about one to two years.”

According to Otto, Santanelli moved on to work at The Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, he wrote a book about Springsteen, and is now the executive director of the Grammy Museum at LA Live.  “He came to the store recently. He told Greg, ‘I wish I had my old job back.’”

A master of the electric stereo

There have been lots of celebrity sightings over the years. And Otto knows his musicians. When asked if he himself is a musician, Otto replies in his deadpan manner, “I play the electric stereo. I have a really wide repertoire.”

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The “stacks of racks” inside Sound Spectrum

The college of musical knowledge

Otto’s eclectic musical appreciation is something he takes pride in and it pervades the store. “The element of being here opens up people’s third ear,” he says, riffing on the idea of the third eye. “People who come work here usually have developed a singular interest in music, but as they work here and play different music and talk to different people their musical tastes change. This is the college of musical knowledge, with mounds of sounds, and stacks of wax,” says Otto, as only someone who off-handedly uses the expression “far out” can.

The comeback of vinyl records

The fact that these “stacks of wax” (that are now vinyl) have made a comeback clearly pleases Otto as much as it does Wave. He thinks they came back because people like the way records sound and they value the information on the liner notes. However, for him the best part about records is that you get the whole story. 

“A true album is like a book. There is a beginning, middle and end. You wouldn’t skip to the best chapter in a book and just read that. You have to get what you need to get from the whole record. You have to go in order. It opens your ears to the other parts of the album.” 

This kind of experience, argues Otto, can’t be created by listening to a digital byte. 

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Jim Otto taking in the view outside Sound Spectrum

Sound Spectrum brings generations together

Just like downloading a song can’t replace the experience of going into a record store and flipping through records to find the one you want. Otto tells me one of his favorite things is when a grandfather comes in with his grandchild. The grandfather has “all these cool memories” and the grandchild is absorbing this knowledge. 

As if on cue, when I went to meet Otto at Sound Spectrum on a recent rainy morning, a father and son walked in together. No sooner had they walked in Otto began talking to them and a conversation ensued with music as the cross-generational conduit.  

Music can bring us all together

Music, according to Otto, can do more than just bring families together; it can bring everyone together. “The times we’re in now, people can’t agree on anything. One thing they can agree on is the music they like. We might not be able to agree on big issues, but music is something we can all agree on,” says Otto.

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The “new” business card for Sound Spectrum, circa 1967

50 years and still hanging on

Another thing we can all agree on is how lucky Laguna is that Sound Spectrum is still thriving. When Otto decided 50 years ago that a record shop was what the town needed, he couldn’t have realized just how much. He may not have been the most efficient businessman when he started, but what he built he built to last -- right down to the racks. Clearly things have changed in the 50 years Sound Spectrum has been around. Otto says the traffic is worse (of course) and he laments that the expense of living here makes it harder for Laguna to hold on to some of the things that make it…Laguna. “People are hanging on for dear life,” he says.  

Fortunately for us, Sound Spectrum is holding tight.


Betsy Jenkins: an advocate for learning continues to make Laguna a friendlier, flourishing arts haven

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Betsy Jenkins has a special sensitivity to the care and needs of people around her. I first met her many moons ago while I was walking in our same neighborhood with my new baby in a Snugglie. Betsy came right up to me and said, “I can see how much you love your baby. I see you walking with him every day.” I beamed, as I felt her kind nature wash over me. 

Since that day, I have witnessed Betsy continue spreading her kind and generous ways in almost every facet of life in Laguna. She is involved with many philanthropies and arts programs including being on the board of the Laguna Beach Art Museum, Laguna Beach Live!, Laguna Playhouse, and the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Association. Her husband, Gary, is on the board of the Friendship Shelter.

“Our focus is to think globally and act locally,” says Betsy. “We support organizations trying to make Laguna a richer, more diverse, more exciting place to live.”

Education is for everyone

Betsy was originally a high school teacher, and continued on in academia not only by being an involved parent in the PTA while her two sons, Kyle and Christopher, were in the Laguna Beach schools, but also by serving on the Laguna Beach High School’s Scholarship Committee, followed by a 12-year tenure with the Board of Education. She just retired as president of the School Board two years ago.

Even with her participation in many arts organizations, as she reflects on her life’s passion, her commitment has continually zeroed in on education.

“I’m still passionate about education,” she says. “Now it’s adult education!”

Betsy Jenkins

It is her passion, and it’s also a gift to future generations that Betsy has devoted so much of her time and talents to education. 

“It’s such a cornerstone of our democracy,” she says, as we veered off topic and into the current political scenario of public education. She’s clear-sighted on the need for equal educational opportunities. Her bright blue eyes light up, “We need free, public, quality education for every kid – ESL, special needs, gifted. All kids!”

The place to be, for many reasons

Betsy and Gary met when she was a young high school teacher in Fullerton, and Gary was a young doctor practicing in Orange, on staff at CHOC. They had both signed on for a Sierra Club ski trip to Sequoia. 

“It was instant. We knew,” laughs Betsy. “Although it took him a year to propose!”

Betsy grew up in Pasadena, and Gary – “he’s from a tiny little rodeo town in Idaho,” she says. Together, they visited a friend in Laguna and knew that Laguna Beach was the place for them.

“We were at some fundraiser,” said Betsy. “There were local musicians – including Beth and Steve Wood – and we knew, this was not only the place, but the people we want to live with and grow old with.”

For Betsy, that is still the special cherry atop Laguna’s sundae, “There have always been vibrant and fascinating people here.”

Travel, culture, and lifelong learning

At first, Betsy thought that after 12 years on the School Board she’d be a little bereft – unsure where her feet and mind would take her. But then, of course, she had all those other organizations vying for her time. It’s the Laguna conundrum: so many charities, so little time. With more time on her hands, “retirement” has kept Betsy Jenkins very busy.

The Sister Cities Association has steered her in a southerly direction as she helped out San Jose del Cabo especially after the devastating hurricane. Laguna stepped in to send a ton of supplies. 

“We actually sent a whole house kit,” Betsy said. She’s headed there again soon and will report back on the progress they’ve made since that dark time.

The Sister Cities’ intention is to foster learning about other cultures. In France, the Laguna Beach group met with the Menton mayor, and made many friends. “Twinning” they call it, Betsy tells me.

I happened to run into Betsy and Gary at LAX this past October as they were heading off on a trip with the Laguna Art Museum. “We loved Spain!” she now says emphatically. 

The Art Museum is near and dear to Betsy’s heart as they promote learning both abroad and at home. “There’s a large focus on education: family art days, teaching kids to experiment with creativity, and art appreciation.”

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Betsy and Gary’s home is filled with works of art – most from local artists and most acquired at charity fundraisers, a win-win situation

Then there’s Laguna Beach Live!, which is something that Betsy gives her time and heart to. “It’s quality music at affordable prices,” she says. “We do bluegrass, jazz, classical…” And, of course, it’s educational. “We had 60 people seated here at the house. The president of the Orange County Philharmonic was talking about Bach. There was a cellist. So cool!”

A flourishing community

Betsy Jenkins has walked the talk every step of the way, putting in countless volunteer hours to further learning. She has enriched Laguna with her generous soul, giving back to the community particularly by promoting culture and education. She’s one of those quiet heroes working often behind the scenes, making us all the better for it.

She and Gary were deservedly honored at the Patriot’s Day Parade in 2012 as Citizens of the Year. In every way, they both embody the best of Laguna.

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When the Jenkins’ have a little time off as good-deed-doers, they are often out enjoying nature. Betsy is a big fan of walking the hills, while Gary takes the hills on his bike. Their neighborhood, like a microcosm of greater Laguna, feels like family. “Our neighborhood gets together at the park. We all help parent,” says Betsy. “This community embraces our kids.”

Even as an empty nester, Betsy still helps parents. 

She’s a little surprised with what retirement looks like. “Now we’re out so much!” she smiles. “We get out and have great conversations, watch a play at the Playhouse, enjoy music – all these arts flourish in Laguna.”

Thanks to people like Betsy Jenkins, the arts will continue to flourish and the people of Laguna Beach will grow closer in community.



Effervescent, English, and wildly energetic: Our food writer, Laura Buckle, is in love with Laguna

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Once upon a time, and thankfully for a short time only, Stu News Laguna’s effervescent, fun-loving columnist Laura Buckle earned her living by cleaning the toilets at the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture in Cheshire, England. She was just 16 years old at the time, attending drama college. 

Not surprisingly, “That was the worst job of my life!” British-born Laura tells me as we drink our coffee at Moulin on Forest Ave. “But I still had fun those days!”

Mesmerized by her passionate utterances, I see capital letters and exclamation points dancing in front of my eyes. (That’s what being an editor does to you.)

Indeed, if people were punctuation, Laura would be an exclamation point – bolded, brightly colored, and italicized, what’s more. Listeners can’t help but smile.

As Laura herself says, “I’m a super-happy person.” 

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Laura makes sure to support local businesses: here she is styled by Jill Watson at The Shop, with hat by nbrhd Laguna

After working hard all week scrubbing and sweeping, she and her two best friends would jump on a train and head to the clubs in Manchester, where she learned to love dance music along with acting. Laura had been involved in theatre since the age of five.

At the age of 11, she won Best Actress Under 21 while playing the role of a mother – of all things – at the Potteries Theatre Company.

Then, at 17, she toured Sicily playing the role of Jocasta in Oedipus Seneca. Before and after her marriage, she taught drama, also while pregnant in her (very) early twenties.

Later she worked at a rehab center for ex-offenders, putting her degree in psychology (which she earned while taking care of two small children; she has a degree in performing arts also) to good use.

Laura has a work ethic that has to be experienced to be believed. 

“My family was full of love but short on money,” she says. “I started work in a kebab shop when I was 12. I’ve done all kinds of jobs since then.”

Right now she holds down five – or is it six? – jobs, not including mothering two great kids, Jesse (14), known in Laura’s food reports as “the bottomless pit” for his voracious appetite, and young Lula, nearly 11, an aspiring, already accomplished singer and actor with a few sophisticated taste buds, developed while devouring aioli for breakfast with her mother when the family lived in Ibiza, Spain, for a while.

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Laura is in love with Laguna Beach, and the feeling is mutual

So, the five jobs? Well, Stu News food writer, of course, for a start.

“I love to tell stories,” Laura says. ”And that’s what Stu and Shaena wanted in a food writer, so it’s not just about the restaurants or my opinions, it’s about the people who work there and what my guests think about the food also.”

Her grandmother and mother are both excellent cooks, Laura says, which didn’t always please her. “I would say to my mum, why can’t we have chicken nuggets for dinner? Why must we have ratatouille? When I had friends over, they hadn’t even heard of half the dishes she cooked. They weren’t fancy but they were different.”

Laura is also extremely thrilled about her role on KX 93.5 FM radio. 

“I was literally just unpacking my boxes here three years ago when I heard a northern English accent on the radio,” she tells me. “Almost right away I contacted Jason Feddy, which led to a DJ spot from 11 to midnight on Saturday nights. Now my show SMASHED, dance music, airs every Friday evening from 7 to 9 p.m. Even more exciting, I’m going to have a new show targeted at the after-school crowd.”

Every Wednesday from 3.30 – 5 p.m., Laura will be playing a variety of music including rock, pop, dance, hip hop and global sounds as well as broadcasting school announcements. As well as games competitions and lots of fun, Laura will be giving students the opportunity to join her on air with their very own 10 minute takeover, a chance for them to share their chosen music with other KX listeners.

“I love radio, it’s great, I love to DJ, and I love to eat!” she says. “That’s why I’d never do TV. I have the figure for radio, I put on eight pounds after I became a food writer,” – though truth be told, Laura’s hiking, swimming, yoga, and Pilates workouts keep the thirty-something blonde quite svelte.

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Laura spins dance music on Fridays, and soon will be DJ’ing an afterschool program on Wednesdays from 3:30 – 5 p.m.

Number three job (though the numerical order doesn’t imply that she prefers one over the other): Being an event DJ, spinning tunes at local happenings. 

Number four: Laura is putting together drama workshops for the young adults who live at Glennwood, a residential home for those with development disabilities. “Acting is a great outlet to express emotions that you are struggling with,” she says. “I think it’s going to be fun.”

And her number five job, another example of Laura’s initiative and ebullience, is as director and founder of an events company, Laguna Beach Luxury Events, which she runs with her business partner Stephanie Quarles. (www.lbluxuryevents.com).

Laura is quick to point out that “luxury” means different things to different people. The company is happy to plan any event, from a picnic to a large corporate gathering in an upscale restaurant, she says.

“The important thing is that we benefit local businesses and workers,” Laura emphasizes. She’s a terrific supporter of all things Laguna.

You’ll notice that Laura while works a lot of jobs, not all of them are paid – or they don’t pay much. She can’t help herself: it seems she was born to volunteer her energy and generosity. Ask James Pribram, founder of Eco Warriors, how much she’s helped with local beach cleanups. Ask the Glennwood folks. Ask Patrick DiGiacomo of The Kitchen in the Canyon, a place she adores not just for breakfast but because of their outreach to the homeless population. Ask her kids…

But what we most love about Laura at Stu News, of course, is her ability to turn meals into adventures and bring restaurateurs and “the help” to life every week on our Front Page II food column as she tells of our latest local dining sensations.

“When I first heard of Laguna, I associated it with that TV show,” she says. “I thought I’d never want to live here. But when I visited, I knew it was my soul place. Now I have a deep love affair with Laguna.”

Which is pretty much how Laguna feels about Laura.

Though there is one more thing Laguna could do to show its affection, “Someone, open a great Indian restaurant!” Laura urges, in full exclamation mode. “Please!!” 

I couldn’t agree more.

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