Doho Café brings surf-inspired, beachfront eats to Doheny in Dana Point
Mike Lutz’ office view is what endless summer daydreams are made of: Beach crowds enjoying the sand, a glistening ocean and surfers gliding on picture-perfect waves.
On most days, the head chef at the newly opened Doho Café at Doheny State Beach also starts his day in the water catching waves, as he’s done at this same surf spot for 20 years.
“I can’t think of something I’d rather look at,” said Lutz of his workplace scenery. “I could be working somewhere else in a kitchen and not have that view.”
Local surfers, beach-going regulars and frequent visitors to the popular Dana Point beach have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Doho Café, which was tied up in permitting red tape throughout summer. Despite missing the busier months, the eatery at the state-controlled concession stand opened just in time to feed Ohana Festival crowds that flocked to the music festival on the beach.
Doho Café is the latest beach concession to undergo a makeover, bringing more upscale options than the sand snack shacks of yesteryear. It’s a trend in recent years that has transformed the Orange County coastline from Seal Beach to San Clemente, bringing trendier, healthier options to coastal clients who seek out quality food with a seaside view.
This concession has had several changes through the years as State Parks has tried to find just the right fit for the popular beach. Last year, it awarded the long-term contract to Guest Services Inc., a Virginia-based hospitality company that also does a lot of work for National Parks Service concessions. In California, Guest Services Inc. has operated the concession at Big Sur since the early 2000s.
Lutz, who lives in nearby Laguna Niguel, is eager to bring new cuisine to the beach crowds at his favorite stretch of coastline.
“This is more than just a snack shack,” he said. “The potential is just incredible. Doheny is a beautiful park.”
On the menu are options to lure locals, instead of relying on just seasonal tourist crowds, he said. “We want to elevate the food. We’ll do that progressively as we win the locals over.”
The menu is California cuisine with a surf-inspired twist.
The “Boneyard” breakfast burrito, named after the slow-rolling surf break just north of the concession, is stuffed with Applewood bacon, cage-free eggs, Monterey jack cheese, potatoes and house salsa. The “Killer Doho” burger is an homage to the big-wave surf break that once existed before the Dana Point Harbor was built, and there’s an Impossible Burger version for the non-meat-eating customers.
A kid’s menu has the typical beach fare, including chicken tenders, corn dog and hot dogs. Sides and snacks include fries and soft-serve ice cream, but also unique offerings such as Beachside Street Corn, or a vegetarian version made with roasted cauliflower.
Healthier options are on the menu, such as kale salad and an epic grain bowl, and being at the beach means plenty of seafood options, from poke bowls to fish tacos to the Harbor Clam Chowder.
“We’re working past some of the stereotypes of just being a burger shack,” Lutz said. “We want to represent what the culture is with our food and our vibe and atmosphere.”
While the eatery is in a soft opening, the slower months ahead will allow for fine tuning of the venue, eventually adding live music, brunch and happy hour, along with heaters and fire pits for the colder beach days ahead.
For Lutz, it’s a big change from where he first started in restaurants – in New York’s fine-dining scene.
When Lutz moved to California in 2001, he helped launch Vintage Grocers in Malibu, spending three years expanding the operation into West Lake and Pacific Palisades.
And, he got his first taste of the waves, just steps from his new work space.
“I literally stood up on my first wave, rode it in and that week bought my first surfboard and I’ve been surfing ever since,” he said. “I got bit by the surfing bug, I got hooked.”
Emily Skeeters, visiting from Indianapolis, watched her husband during a work team-building retreat catch his first wave at the Doheny beach. She brought along her computer, opening it up at the Doho Café tables to get work done with an ocean view.
“This is unlike anything we get in the Midwest. It provides a fun distraction, great view, beautiful things to look at. While your working, it makes it feel more tolerable. You’re not sitting in the office staring at a blank wall,” she said.
She was mulling over the menu to decide on lunch and which cocktail to order when her work meeting finished.
“I’m kind of on vacation, kind of working,” she said. “It’s everything you need in one spot.”