Via at OC Register. Back in the day, the Young brothers were the keepers of Salt Creek Beach.

If you wanted to enjoy the sand or surf, you had to first pay the brothers  – in the 1930s the price was a quarter and eventually they were getting a buck from beachgoers, though sometimes, a case of beer would be enough to gain entry.

The duo, who ran the Young’s Beach Camp for decades, are long gone, but their legacy will live on with plans to turn the food concession into an eatery that will pay homage to the Dana Point beach’s history.

Plans were approved by county leaders recently for a new vendor to take over the beach concession, formally Zack’s Salt Creek, at the bottom of the steep hill that leads into the tucked-away beach.

The change follows a trend of savvy operators revamping beach concessions to take advantage of their prime location on or steps from the sand – the Pacific Ocean and nightly sunsets in the background – with innovative and higher-quality food offerings that become a draw for both locals and tourists.

State Parks took the lead by teaming with restaurateur Alicia Cox, who has reinvented several Huntington Beach concessions, transforming the old structures into hip venues offering a mix of food styles, cocktails and entertainment, including concerts right on the sand.

And Salt Creek won’t be the first beach concession makeover for its new investors, 10th Hole Associates, which took over the food stand at Aliso Beach and opened The Lost Pier Café in 2018. That name is an ode to long-timers who remember there was once a pier at the south Laguna Beach shore before a storm knocked it down.

The team is also behind The Ranch, a luxury resort just inland from Aliso Beach.

The new 10-year lease for Young’s Beach Shack, which has two five-year options to extend, allows for beer and wine on the patio – also a new trend for beach concessions that were in previous years prohibited from selling booze at the beach. It will also offer equipment rentals, such as  surfboards, boogie boards and umbrellas.

The 1,000-square-foot concession at Salt Creek Beach, a county-owned beach, was constructed in the 1970s and renovated and expanded in 1989.

In addition to remodeling the interior and exterior of the building, the new operators plan to recreate the beach camp’s former rustic feel with weathered-looking shiplap and paddleboard relics from back in the day.

During the day, beachgoers in the event lawn space about a quarter mile north of the concession will be able to order from a QR code, with someone zipping down a dirt slope pathway to deliver their meal.

The contract also includes using that stretch of grass and the beach in front, up to the high-tide line, to host weddings and other gatherings such as larger beach parties or corporate events.

Kurt Bjorkman, general manager for The Ranch, envisions a pristine place where people can have their dream beach wedding – but not with the hefty price tag they’d pay at one of the luxury beach resorts.

Rent to be paid for the concession operation is $90,000, plus 6% of any gross receipts after $1.5 million annually.

A portion of the revenues from the concessions contract will go back into the county tidelands fund, used to upgrade other coastal properties in the county’s jurisdiction.

Mark Christy, one of the investors and a Laguna Beach native, said he never went to the concessions at Aliso Beach or Salt Creek growing up, despite spending countless days at those beaches.

“For a long time, these kinds of places were where you had to eat because you had no choice,” he said. “There was always a place, but it was always bare minimum. It wasn’t really enticing.”

Instead, the group wants to make a place people seek out, a food experience that goes with a morning coffee stroll, a long beach day or a sunset meal on the sand. They’ve seen success at The Lost Pier Café, where the clientele is 60% to 70% locals, Christy said.

The most important thing is getting it right with the locals – the early-morning surfers, the junior guards and their parents and the regulars who call the beach home, Bjorkman said.

“We didn’t want to pretend to be something, we want it to work and be really honest with what we can do,” he said.

RJ Bear, the group’s director of food and beverage, said that comes down to consistency, with people knowing the eatery will be open rain or shine.

“It speaks to the locals that we’re here, we’re here to stay whether it’s nice out or not, whether the tourists are here or not,” he said. “They sustain us in the off-season when the tourists aren’t here. Our backbone are the locals.”

Bjorkman’s own two teenage sons surf at the beach, so getting the menu right for youngsters like them is important as well, he said.

Chef Kyle St. John will handle that part, finding the right balance between enticing, yet affordable, bites.

The menu will have a coastal emphasis, with seafood from Dana Point’s single-line, rod-and-reel anglers to support local business, he said. He envisions breakfast with fresh coffee, pastries and breakfast burritos; and for lunch salads and hearty grab-and-go items such as burgers and fried chicken sandwiches. Like the Lost Pier Café, they’ll have a kids menu with chicken fingers and quesadillas for youngsters.

Salt Creek, known for its rich surf scene and as home to the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, is one of the first beaches St. John ever went to as a kid and is still where he surfs regularly, he said.

“It’s super special,” he said. “To do something special for the community – the locals and the people coming here to visit – you want to do something for those people, highlight the community and put a good vibe out for people.”