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Fair Game

By TOM JOHNSON

Visit Laguna Beach looks to recognize those who make tourist stays near perfect

TJ headshot AugVisit Laguna Beach is seeking community nominations for their first-ever Service Excellence Awards.

Now, before we go there, let’s get something else on the table. Yes, Ashley Johnson, President & CEO of Visit Laguna Beach, is my daughter. Is that why I’m promoting this? Is she getting preferential treatment? Some people in our community will probably come out and say that. But truly, nothing could be further from the truth.

Visit Laguna Beach goes through the same processes to get something published in Stu News as every other business and resident in Laguna Beach does. In fact, just to err on the right side of things, I probably make it even more difficult for her, just to make sure. But, if it’s worthy, we’ll run with it…and the 2022 Service Excellence Awards are certainly an example of this.

The awards look to recognize front or back of the house employees in the local tourism industry under the following categories: Housekeeping, Guest Relations, Front of the House, Back of the House and Emerging Hospitality Leader of the Year.

You know, the jobs that get things done throughout the year with little or no fanfare, but are ultimately a critical factor in making someone’s stay at a local resort perfect.

There is no limit to the number of nominations you may submit, but they’re looking to recognize exemplary employees who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Visit Laguna Beach wants to celebrate the people who have worked tirelessly, assisting visitors to our community and continuing to make Laguna Beach a special and memorable place to work, play and stay.

Submit nominations by Thursday, Aug. 25.

Recipients will be honored at the Visit Laguna Beach Annual Marketing Outlook Breakfast on Monday, Sept. 19, at The Ranch at Laguna Beach.

For questions or more information, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Craig Strong is an extraordinary chef. He’s just announced he’s leaving his current kitchen at Larsen at Hotel Laguna and, the rumor is, moving to Big Canyon Country Club.

At Big Canyon that certainly changes the call for just having a “hot dog at the turn.” 

Strong, prior to Hotel Laguna, was the chef/owner of Ocean at Main in Laguna Beach, the executive chef at Studio at the Montage Resort and with The Langham Huntington in Pasadena.

“Craig Strong, whom I consider more a friend than a colleague, has been an integral part of not only the relaunch of the Hotel Laguna’s food and beverage program, but also the Laguna Beach Company’s other culinary outlets,” said Laguna Beach Company founder Mo Honarkar. “Using his incredible talents, and a true passion for Laguna Beach, Craig helped put together an award-winning program and team that will continue his legacy of providing guests an ever-changing menu filled with quality California coastal cuisine. We are grateful for all he has done and look forward to seeing the next chapter of his career. Big Canyon Country Club is lucky to have him.” 

Calls to Big Canyon Country Club for comment went unreturned.

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Speaking of restaurants, a legendary name in the restaurant business and the patriarch of his family, Salvador Avila, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and founder of Avila’s El Ranchito Restaurants has died at the age of 99.

A man who emigrated to the United States from Mexico seeking a better life for his family, with an entrepreneur’s spirit and a strong work ethic, opened his first restaurant in Huntington Park in 1966. That empire, shared with his sons, daughters and grandchildren as operators, grew to its current level of 13 restaurants.

According to a family statement, “fortunately, his faith in God and the value of family unity solidify the Avila family and ensures that his legacy will continue to be carried on from generation to generation.”

He was a wonderful gentleman who I was fortunate to enjoy a Christmas dinner with a number of years ago.

Grandson Michael oversees the Laguna Beach El Ranchito operation.

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Residents’ input is wanted for the Promenade’s permanent design “to ensure its vitality for the community and beyond.”

You may go here to take the community survey or find hard copies at the Susi Q front desk or at the Public Works and Cashier counters in City Hall.

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The City Council recently issued a proclamation recognizing the 90th Anniversary of the Festival of Arts. The Festival will host a 90th Birthday Bash in partnership with the City of Laguna Beach on Saturday, Aug. 13 at 12 p.m.

The Bash will be open to the public and admission is FREE to the Fine Art Show all day long.

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Other City notes: The City has purchased the Library property from the County of Orange and, in turn, executed a lease agreement with the County for continued library services.

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Next Thursday, Aug. 11, the Chamber of Commerce will join in a celebration of Oak Restaurant’s five-year anniversary from 5:30-7:30 p.m., including a ribbon-cutting.

Owners John and Tia Porrello, along with new Chef Nick Shipps, freshened up the restaurant and revamped the menu. According to the Porrellos, “Shipp has brought in an enticing, well-blended mix of flavors, aromas and tastes. His menu offers a discriminating palate with innovative twists to contemporary American cuisine.” 

“We are very honored to be participating in Oak Restaurant’s 5-year anniversary celebration,” said Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, who recently stepped down as Interim President/CEO of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. “Oak is one of our sponsors and will also be showing their fantastic take on food at the Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival on October 13.”

Oak is located at 1100 S. Coast Highway. RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..