Corona del Mar Today: Grill at Big Corona closes in bad economy

November 20, 2010|By Amy Senk
  • The Fuji Grill closed its Big Corona location on the beach. A note thanking the community is shown on the front door, above.
The Fuji Grill closed its Big Corona location on the beach.… (Daily Pilot )

The Fuji Grill at Big Corona Beach closed earlier this month — the victim of the bad economy and the city's increase in parking fees at the beach.

"The parking really hit me," said owner John Lee. "The parking system should transition to usage-based billing system by using parking meter or some type of paid-by-hour system. This issue's been requested (by the) city ever since we opened to the public. The road block was the parking fee. It's a shame. I learned a good lesson. I am sure I can't win all."

Lee, who owns several other Fuji Grill restaurants, was awarded the beach concessions contract in February 2008. He said he had a 10-year contract and was to pay 15% gross sales.

During the summer seasons, he said, business was fine. But in the winter, or on rainy days, business was "really bad."

Parking and the parking fee increase was a major problem, he said.


During winter months, customers had 16 spaces available to them in the beach lot, although customers had to buy at least $15 of food to get two free hours.

But in the summer season, the validation and parking system was unavailable, and nothing resulted from his discussions asking the city to consider creating a validation system for his customers, or adding metered parking to the lot.

Then, in February this year, the City Council increased parking fees at the lot from $8 to $10 weekday/weekend rate, to $15 with a $25 peak rate for the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays.

"I don't think the city realized the parking increase would hit me," he said. "I told the city I can't continue business any longer."

City officials, he said, were understanding when he closed on Nov. 8 and returned his key to City Hall. They also appreciated that he made more than $300,000 in improvements to the restaurant, including adding a bathroom, which will make the space more appealing to the next business that takes over the space.

"He decided that his model just wasn't working there," City Manager Dave Kiff said in an e-mail. "We amicably settled, and he vacated as of early November. He invested a lot in tenant improvements, some of which we will keep."

The City Council will formally approve the termination of lease it the Nov. 23 meeting, he said.

Meanwhile, the Fuji Grill sign is gone from the top of the ramp leading to the beach and from the top of the building by the volleyball courts.

A sign in the window directs customers to other locations and thanks its customers.

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