The Heart Behind Zinc Café
When strolling through Laguna Beach’s coastal nourishments, loyal may very well be the word locals use to describe themselves. And, there may be no better example than Zinc Café’s tasty eats, modern decor, health-conscious practices, and spot-on view of Lagunian living.
If you’re imagining 20-somethings hastily replenishing their rosé while their counterparts smugly sip French wine on the patio, think again.
Zinc is captivating and soulful with an almost retreat-like vibe that invites the consciousness to relax just a little bit longer.
It began about 30 years ago when John Secretan (then a 27-year-old landscape architecture student at Berkeley) become fascinated with the Bay Area food scene. He was greatly inspired by the organic farm-to-table styles that mimicked European dining concepts -- a style far beyond anything attempted by Orange County’s food culture at the time. “Orange County was still fast food and chain restaurants,” Secretan says. “Nobody knew what a roasted pepper was, nobody knew what goat cheese was, nobody knew what a cappuccino was.”
A huge fan of the acclaimed Berkeley restaurateur superstar, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, the Tustin-raised Secretan sought out to mirror the Berkeley dining concept when creating his flagship café in Laguna Beach, called Zinc. A café and market just a shell’s throw off Coast Highway on Ocean Avenue, it has since branched out to two additional locations in Corona Del Mar and Los Angeles, all dedicated to vegetarian-only chow.
When asked about his tight grip on the all-things veggie menu, Secretan’s answer came from home. Despite vegetarian cuisine being easily prepared, and despite vegetarianism’s popularity as a nutrient-rich approach, the real reason for Zinc’s foundation of vegetables is actually rooted on three generations of habitual family vegetarian practices. He (as well as his parents) can attest to never eating a lick of meat... ever. “We really don’t even know how to cook meat!” he laughs.
In a single day, at roughly 2am, a fog of flavor begins to surround the café. At this ungodly hour, seven days a week, a pair of bakers load the oven with muffin makings and other soon-to-be decadent delights to accommodate for the morning rush of regulars, mostly the suited on their way to the office, followed by local moms fresh from curbing their heirs at grade school.
As the day progresses, more Laguna townies gather as if meeting at a town hall meeting… only all referendums are left at the door and substituted for local gossip, business dialogue, and tourism updates.
For provisions, patrons enjoy Zinc’s own spin on the classic beloved breakfast bubbly by adding raspberry puree, Giffard Crème De Penche (fancy peach liqueur), and a fizzy note of fresh lime juice. For those not vibing the early-buzz scene, turmeric, matcha, lavender, and rose latte’s adorn the menu. For an even healthier boost, try packing nourishments such as ginger, spinach, and flaxseed oil into a hearty juice.
For eats, Zinc presents a Californian take on the Americana breakfast and lunch favorites: asparagus, mushroom, and goat cheese omelets. Zinc waffles feature oats, nuts, tropical fruit, ricotta, candied ginger, and/or ginger syrup. And if that’s not enough, hold yourself over with an orange ginger or sour cherry scone. Lunch’s pizza list, sandwich options, salad selections, and even ‘late breakfast’ choices seem endless enough to virtually guarantee your appetite a real good time.
Still contemplating a visit? A quick glance at their website might sway that demanding veggie palate with a hot soup, quiche, and dessert picks of the day (or simply swing by and pick up a snack from the Zinc Market).
Locals describe their local café as caring, nurturing, thoughtful, and artistic, which is proved in the fact that Zinc donates all their uneaten food to the needy on the daily -- proof yet again of their beating heart.
Zinc Market is open Monday-Sunday from 7-6pm with the café open from 7-4pm for breakfast and lunch, with a specialty dinner menu offered only during the summer.
Born and raised on the salty shores of California’s coast, Manny Frausto is a staff writer at Laguna Beach Living and has been seen cooking up articles journalistically for the LA and OC Register, OC Home Magazine, and more. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by: Meilani Cottrell.