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Laguna Beach


Construction on Red Dragon Restaurant ramps up, the Chinese government reportedly owns Montage Laguna Beach, Gail Duncan sells The Art Hotel

By SUZIE HARRISON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

For four years, the owner of the property at 680 S. Coast Highway, a location that once housed the popular Mosun Sushi & Sake and Club M, has kept the place dormant.

Luckily for Laguna Beach, the new property owner, Enshan Zhao, has plans to open an upscale authentic Chinese restaurant called Red Dragon Restaurant in the once hopping place. 

While the site has been mainly vacant for seven years, Zhao started construction in January, according to local architect Jim Conrad.

Red Dragon Restaurant

“It’s under construction finally. It started about 60 days ago. We’re primarily just working on the demolition right now,” Conrad said. “We hope to open spring or summer of 2019.”

The cost of the property was more than $3 million. Plans are to include a two-story, 213 seat restaurant with approximately 8,000 square feet of restaurant space and 2,000 square feet of outdoor terrace space, according to the restaurant’s website.

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Red Dragon Restaurant will replace Mosun and Club M with a five-star authentic Chinese dining experience, specializing in Cantonese and dim sum

“It would have been easier to just to build a whole new building but we have to work with the existing building due to city regulations. We have some grandfathered parking that we’re hanging on to,” Conrad said. “The hardest part is really working around the old building.”

The project will feature a fine-dining restaurant with private rooms, a terrace, an indoor bar and lounge, a rooftop bar and lounge, exterior patio dining area, and a parking lot with160 surface spots, per their website.

“It’s not going to be like what was there at all. It’s really going to be a five-star restaurant, where chefs are coming in from Hong Kong. It will be a fine-dining Chinese restaurant,” Conrad said. “That level of finish for the restaurant takes time.”

He said once the building is pretty much completed, “It will need four months of finish to get it to that level that we’re shooting for.”

The new upscale Chinese restaurant will serve authentic Cantonese cuisine, a passion of the entrepreneurial owner, who is a self-described hardcore food enthusiast.

“I have a lot of Chinese clients and they all tell me there is no real Chinese food in Orange County. The sort of Chinese American food that the restaurants serve is very different than the authentic cuisine,” Conrad said.

Zhao, a Laguna Beach resident, is in the process of building a second home here.

Montage Laguna Beach

It was recently reported that the Chinese government now owns Montage Laguna Beach, among other real estate assets, after it seized control of Anbang Insurance Group. 

According to a statement by China’s Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC), Chinese officials arrested Anbang’s former chairman and general manager, Wu Xiaohui, on suspicion of economic crimes in June of last year. The commission has found that Xiaohui’s actions threatened the insurance giant’s solvency. He is expected to be prosecuted for financial crimes.

Besides the purchase of Montage Laguna Beach in 2016, Anbang also purchased Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point and Loews, Santa Monica, as well as 15 of 16 hotels owned by Strategic Hotels & Resorts. 

It has been reported that CIRC plans to run Anbang under the supervision of the regulatory authorities and its $315 billion in assets for at least one year to help stabilize the company and improve operation and management. 

Ownership of Montage Laguna Beach has changed three times in just two years, which is reportedly not uncommon for luxury resorts. 

Kacey Bruno, Vice President, Communications, Montage International said, “We have no comment.”

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The Chinese government has reportedly taken ownership of Montage Hotel & Spa, Laguna Beach among other luxury resorts and including over a dozen hotels

Opening in 2003, the 250-room Montage Laguna Beach was sold to Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc. for $360 million, equating to $1.4 million per room. Situated on a 50-foot seaside bluff, the 30-acre property includes 60 suites in addition to the ocean-facing rooms. 

In addition to Montage Laguna Beach, Montage Hotels & Resorts includes a collection of ultra-luxury hotels, resorts including Montage Beverly Hills, Montage Deer Valley, Montage Kapalua Bay, Montage Palmetto Bluff. 

Each resort’s architecture and decor is unique to its surroundings, as exemplified in the Montage Laguna Beach’s Craftsman-style design, reflective of the Laguna’s artistic heritage. This year the company plans to open its first international destination, Montage Los Cabos.

The Art Hotel

It has been a sweet 16 years for owner of The Art Hotel, Gail Duncan. The collection of memories and the relationships she’s built over that span have become as precious to her as the art by local artists that adorn all the rooms.

Now that the hotel has been sold, as of Tuesday, March 6, these invaluable experiences are even more valuable to her, as she also had to leave the place she’s called home for all these years.

“I just left the apartment on Monday (March 19),” Duncan said. “The beauty of it is everyone knows it was my baby. I just fell in love with it and with being of service to people.”

Only a couple of weeks ago, Duncan had to give a presentation to the City Council on the Housing and Human Services Committee that she chairs. 

“From the bottom of my heart that night, it was about at the end letting them know how much they meant to me,” Duncan said. “At the tail end, I really wrangled saying something personal in front of the Council, but I said to them The Art Hotel was sold today.”

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Gail Duncan owned The Art Hotel for 16 years

Most important to Duncan was to express her sincere gratitude for three particular City employees that changed her life.

“If it wasn’t for Gavin Curran, Maggie Lotolc, and Laura Parisi assisting me in the beginning and holding me up at certain points, I wouldn’t be standing here today, just being so thankful,” Duncan said. “I wanted those City employees to be called out. If I didn’t have those City employees shaping me from my foundation, helping me businesswise, I couldn’t have been as successful without their wisdom.” 

It was hard for Duncan to encapsulate and share just a few of the many wonderful experiences.

One of her greatest memories was during the height of the festival season in the summer of 2012. The water heater broke down in her sold-out hotel. She said it was such an amazing example of humanity and kindness. Instead of people getting upset it brought them closer together, and rather than complaints, she received hugs and flowers.

 “It was just an incredible example of human nature at its finest holding each other up. It was one of the most special situations that I had been through,” Duncan said. “I couldn’t believe how it was the reverse, with people caring so much, helping me get through it.”

The art community and local artists were central to Duncan – after all, she named the hotel, The Art Hotel.

“Twenty-eight rooms each with a different artist. They were kind enough to lend me five or six pieces. There is a little story about them at each of the desks in the room. It was about exposure of the artists. If someone was interested, I would be the bridge to the artist,” Duncan said. “They all trusted me with their pieces. I just had in my heart I am The Art Hotel, I’m going to honor them and give them 100 percent of the sale.”

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The Art Hotel lived up to its name

The hotel had two unveilings in 2016 by the muralist Randy Morgan, who recreated the pool area. Not only was the mayor there but to Gail’s sheer surprise someone from another hotel was there to support her too.

“The murals weren’t about downtown or what’s across the street. They told a story. We ended up having four Art Walks that year and brought the community to the hotel for the first time,” Duncan said. “Randy is the one that mentored different artists, brought them in and exposed them. It just really took The Art Hotel to the best level before I sold.”

Those examples capture the essence of great memories and the many people she grateful for.

Anyway, it was a great ride. I learned a lot. I feel very connected to Laguna Beach. We all end up being family in town in some way or another,” Duncan said. “I will end up going into community service and will work even harder on Housing and Human Services.”

New Ownership of The Art Hotel…the next chapter

The new owners of The Art Hotel Rick Mangu and his wife Vicki are no strangers to Laguna Beach. They’ve lived in various parts of Orange County most of their lives. Nor are they new to hotel ownership. But they are very excited about this particular venture.

In an interview last week Mangu explained that they’ve only owned the hotel for a week. “We took it over last Tuesday, March 6.We used to live in Southern California before, so we know the area well. My daughter was one of the first graduates of Sage Hill High School on Newport Coast. We have family that lives in Crystal Cove and friends here,” Mangu said, explaining that they had to leave the area to take care of his elderly parents. Family is extremely important to Mangu.

“I am very happy that we are back in Orange County, and I am very honored actually to be in Laguna Beach,” Mangu said. “It’s amazing, you know, you go all over the world and to end up back in Laguna Beach, I dream of those things.”

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The Art Hotel is in good hands

As for owning other hotels, Mangu said, “It’s a friends and family type of deal. We try to do it as a small group of family and friends invested. That way I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I have been there and done that and now I am back again.”

The new owners are working with a design firm to make improvements to the exterior and update it to 2018, Mangu explained.

“We’re thankful to Gail. She is a great lady. I am very happy with her; she has helped us out quite a bit,” Mangu said.

Duncan stayed on the property to help the new owners transition and will continue through the summer. She feels the same and appreciates kindness of the new owners. 

“I get to still be there through the transition period. I get to experience enjoying the guests for at least a day or two through the summer, through the transition, and then let them have their dreams,” Duncan said.

The community is so vibrant and healthy there’s a lot of different activities. I think Laguna, I just find it kind of peaceful,” Mangu said. “I am very happy to be here. You don’t get a second chance all the time.”

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

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