Grab your Quarters And Put On Your Flip Flops – The Boardwalk Beach Club Is About To Open - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Home And Business

Grab your Quarters And Put On Your Flip Flops – The Boardwalk Beach Club Is About To Open

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Posted: Friday, January 24, 2020 10:29 am

On the eve of the opening of his new Boardwalk Beach Club, David Spatafore talked to me about the ups and downs of doing business in Coronado. And who would know better?

Spatafore, the owner of Blue Bridge Hospitality, started building his food empire in Coronado with MooTime Creamery (originally known as MooTown). After that came a string of restaurants that many know and love, including Village Pizzeria, Leroy’s, Stake and Little Frenchie, among others. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Spatafore. In fact, he has both opened and closed restaurants in Coronado. And, that might be his greatest strength – to look at his restaurant objectively and to consider the options when it’s not doing as well as it needs to.

The soon-to-open Boardwalk Beach Club was born out of this sort of necessity. I visited the space last week where workers were coming and going in a flurry of activity, hammers were pounding, drills were riveting, the sun was shining and music was blasting.

To be honest, I hadn’t expected to be all that excited by a new restaurant in Coronado. A new name, a new menu – but just how different could another restaurant be? I was truly taken aback.

Spatafore’s concept for the Beach Club is that it should be a place where families have fun – “You go out to dinner with your family here in Coronado. Say, Chez Loma or Little Frenchie or some other place. You eat and then, after dinner, what do you do? You just go back home,” he says.

I consider suggesting that we diners don’t go directly back home. Not before stopping by MooTime for a little ice cream anyway. But he continues: “We wanted a place where families can come in, have dinner and hang out - have some drinks, have some fun.”

He shows me the nature of the fun he is talking about by walking me through the space.

First off, some 20 televisions hang above the bar. Spatafore said: “It’s not a sports bar, but if you’re staying at the Del and you want to watch the Iowa game, you can come here and do it.”

As we walk back, he points out that, even though the restaurant fronts Orange Avenue, there is an ocean view from part of it. “That used to drive me crazy,” Spatafore says. “We have one of the few ocean views on Orange Avenue and you couldn’t see it.” But, go the other direction, and I see a small stage. “That’s where we can have some themed trivia, maybe some interactive events.” He adds, though, that he is not looking to have a “scholarly competition” with the trivia. “Something fun. Like, I would like 80’s trivia. Or something like that.”

It is when we get to the next space, though, that I suddenly really get what he’s talking about in terms of fun. It’s a separate room filled with arcade games. “This is 1,600 square feet of space – that represents thousands of dollars in rent every month and with Maretalia, we just didn’t use it efficiently,” said Spatafore.

So, diners will be able to have dinner, have a drink, watch a game and the kids, and/or the parents, can head over to the arcade room and have some fun of their own. Spatafore is not looking to mimic Chuckee Cheese. Though he says they are considering some sorts of group packages, the idea is for it to be a fun interactive family place, not particularly a kids’ birthday zone. And for now, bring quarters as there will not be refillable cards.

Spatafore says that this space is the largest of all of his restaurant spaces at 6,500 square feet. At Maretalia, “We just weren’t bringing in the volume that that sort of space needs. Maretalia was great, but it was a high-end dinner place … It was a great space for daytime, but it just didn’t get used during the day. With a space that large, we needed volume and people just didn’t come in during the day much.”

So, Spatafore saw the problem with Maretalia, but how did he figure out how to address it? “I looked out at Orange Avenue and I saw the people walking around in shorts and t-shirts, wearing flip flops and I just thought, ‘We need a casual beach bar – the kind of place that everyone would expect to find in Hawaii, or Mexico, or California, or the Caribbean.’”

And that is how the concept was born. “We needed to dumb it down, by which I mean make it more casual, like the kind of place I could go to wearing what I wear. Look at me,” he said, “I’m wearing a t-shirt, I have holes in my jeans … that’s what Coronado is like. It’s casual. It’s a beach town.”

The food will be far more casual, too. Spatafore says that this place will have lower price point, casual food like burgers, plate lunches, fish tacos. “We want to be more price conscious for the consumer. You don’t always have to shoot for the moon in food quality … for the fish tacos, we’ll use Pacific cod – it’s a price point fish.”

And there will be plenty of fun drinks including tikki drinks and a special menu of “boat drinks.” “It’s a complete departure from what we’ve done at Leroy’s and Stake.”

I want to know how Spatafore learned to roll with the punches in the food industry. I asked him about his very first business. He laughs out loud: “I was working for a cheese company. It was a good job … but I always knew I wanted to do something of my own … so I used to read the classifieds in the Union Tribune and see what businesses were for sale. One day, I saw a pizza place for sale in Del Mar for $25,000. I called my cousin Leroy, and I said, ‘Look. It’s the price of a Ford Taurus – that’s how sophisticated my business analysis was – I’ll buy it and you run it.” He laughs and adds, “We ran it right into the ground. We just didn’t understand. It was in a terrible location. We lost $50,000 in six months from not understanding how quickly things can go wrong. But I learned a lot. And we were lucky enough to sell it.”

Surprisingly to me, he quickly turned around and quit his job to open MooTime with Leroy. But as he had pointed out, he learned a lot from his first experience. And he took that learning and rolled it up into a new business. It is similar to the process that he says he went through with both Maretalia and the former West Pac Noodles (which is now Little Frenchie): “We said, here’s Cinderella’s foot. What’s the right shoe for it?”

It worked with Little Frenchie – it’s so popular that it can be a bit tough to find a table on the odd night that you decide to wander in. And to say the same about MooTime’s popularity would be an understatement. On any given summer evening, there is a line stretching down Orange Avenue to get ice cream.

After MooTime came Village Pizzeria. Once again, I am surprised by the choice given his earlier experience with pizza. But he says, “Yeah, but we love pizza. And we learned a lot about how to do it.” After that, came the others.

Given his background both opening and rethinking eating establishments in Coronado, Spatafore knows the ropes. He has seen a lot, been through a lot, and has a point of view on doing business in Coronado. One thing he says is that volume is critical: “MooTime lives on volume.”

He adds that, over time, the margins have gotten thinner and thinner in the restaurant business. With the cost of real estate going up (recently quite dramatically) and the cost of labor going up (2020 saw a new increase in minimum wage), Spatafore says, “There is a middle class of restaurant groups – small, local groups like Blue Bridge or Brigantine – that is really getting crushed because we are over the threshold where we are held to the corporate requirements (unlike the mom and pop places), but we don’t have the volume of the bigger corporate food groups where we can kind of smooth out the profits because we have places from here to Des Moines … The price of an ice cream cone or a hamburger just hasn’t kept up with the costs. So, we have a shrinking margin.”

Spatafore adds that he is worried about what Coronado will become. “At this point, the only people making money in Coronado are the landlords.” He says this to make a point. “The preservation of our community is important … I agree that a lot of the commercial properties got run down and there is going to be investment. But that’s not an excuse to give a corporate beach town look to Coronado. I’m concerned about it. I don’t think landlords have negative intentions, but I worry about what the market will lead to. Is it what we want? Can you imagine if all of Orange Avenue looked like a mall? That’s not what I want. Do we want to be Waikiki? Or do we want to be Kona? That is our dilemma. We need to maintain character. I’m not one for government interference, but I would hope the local market would control how it goes.”

Spatafore adds that second homes that serve only as vacation homes have had a negative impact on business as well: “It’s good for the city and it’s good for property taxes, but it can be hard for businesses. We love it when they are here, but it means we have less local clientele overall. The good still far outweighs the bad. But the rising tide will have to raise all ships for me to stop worrying.”

Spatafore’s concerns are deeply rooted - Coronado is where most of his businesses are and also most of his family. This is where he grew up, met his wife, raised his family. It’s this that prompts him to give so much back to the community. At the most recent school board meeting, one board member commented, as Blue Bridge was presenting the schools with a check, that she can’t think of a school fundraiser that didn’t have a donation from Blue Bridge – be it pizza or ice cream or a gift certificate for an auction. Spatafore says that the reason he gives is this: “This is my town … It’s a small town and I’m lucky to be able to live here and have a business here. I give all I can to whatever I can.”

This ties to Spatafore’s philosophy of running a successful business in Coronado: “You’ve got to be in it. All in. Altogether. And you have to care. You can’t do it just to make money.”

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