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City's Big vacancy

The concession stand at Corona del Mar State Beach has been unoccupied for much of the past six years, but officials are again trying to attract vendors.

January 07, 2012|By Mike Reicher
  • Zack's snack bar Manager Sharif Ali looks in at the vacant concession space at Big Corona on Tuesday.
Zack's snack bar Manager Sharif Ali looks in at the… (Scott Smeltzer,…)

CORONA DEL MAR — After she lugged six teenagers, folding chairs and a pink zebra-print bag full of blankets from San Dimas to Corona del Mar, all Julie Riccardo wanted was a cool iced tea.

"I'm thirsty, and there's nothing to drink," Riccardo, 53, lamented Friday next to the shuttered snack bar at Corona del Mar State Beach.

Its windows and counter caked with dust, the stand has sat vacant for years. In 2005, the city spent millions on a new building and other beach amenities, but officials have been unable to land a successful tenant.

A longtime burgers-and-fries operator was rebuffed, and dreams of a sit-down restaurant serving locals flopped. Now, with the latest round of concessionaire proposals submitted Thursday, people are hoping again the city will find a realistic restaurant.

"It was worth giving it a try, to see if something different could work there," said Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner, who represents the area. "But we have to just understand that that the big market there is not going to be locals; it's going to be tourists."

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The city operates the concessions and parking lot, and maintains facilities at the state-owned beach.

In 2008, city officials signed a contract with Fuji Grill, an Irvine-based Japanese quick-service restaurant with locations around Southern California. Realizing that people would still want traditional beach fare, Fuji Grill President John Lee designed a hybrid menu with $3 hot dogs and $10 grilled salmon combination plates.

The restaurant lasted there 16 months.

While Lee blames the city's hike in parking fees, high food costs and a troubled economy, he also admits that the concept wasn't spot-on.

"I tried to make it more of a destination place for Newport," said Lee, who installed 12 tables with blue umbrellas around the building, and built a wood enclosure for dining on a cool winter night.

When Rudy's Pub & Grill wanted to serve alcohol there in 2007, the City Council turned down its application.

For decades, Big Corona fare was simple: candy, burgers, fries, ice cream and the like. Newport Beach resident Gordon Kilmer operated two large snack bars that sold refreshments and rented or sold beach toys, before the city renovated the facilities.

"It's all the kind of food people complain about, but that's what they want," said Kilmer, who is now semi-retired and manages property in the city.

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