- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
When Stan Van Beurden discovered that the lease on a seaside restaurant was ready to expire, he saw an opportunity that was too good to pass up. It was the first place on Morro Bay’s harbor to come up for lease in ages.
“I bid on it thinking I could do a light re-model and open it back up in a month,” Van Beurden said. “What I got was a veritable Pandora’s Box.”
The 40-year-old building was in desperate disrepair. Inspectors gave Van Beurden a long list of code violations, which he and a general contractor worked to address for roughly a year. Anchor Park Café finally opened on Feb. 24 with a soft sampling of its unique and affordable Mexican dishes.
“I was the labor for the whole project,” Van Beurden said. “It’s like a brand-new building. [I] had to replace the sewer lines, even. It cost a lot of money.”
But the high cost of remodeling has an upside. Van Beurden said he was able to get a longer lease from the city, giving him more time to recoup his expenses. He added that the city worked with him throughout the remodel, and that he had little trouble getting the various permits and inspections that accompany such a project.
“The town gets a portion of whatever we make,” he said. “They want someone in this location that’s going to be stable and successful.”
The interior is bright and welcoming, with high glass windows that face Morro Rock, a grassy picnic area, and docks with moored and bobbing boats. The décor is sleek, modern, and clean.
In the time it took for the repairs to be made, Van Beurden hired a chef and designed a menu, but he had to start over when the chef grew tired of waiting and walked away from the project. He re-advertised the open position and interviewed candidates until he came across Nayeli Rod, a woman from the town of Todos Santos in Baja California. She designed a new menu that combines the spices of Mexico with the fresh ingredients of the Central Coast.
There are already plenty of restaurants along the harbor that specialize in clam chowder and fish and chips. In fact, Van Beurden and his brother Paul own two of them: The Hofbrau and The Flying Dutchman, respectively.
“My biggest conflict was how to open a restaurant that wouldn’t compete with my other business,” Van Beurden said. “There’s never been Mexican food on the waterfront, and this food is very unique.”
The plates at Anchor Park Café include exotic ingredients like nopales (a type of cactus), poblano (a thick, somewhat spicy chile), and tinga (a dish of chipotle-tomato-simmered chicken). The bacon-wrapped Baja dog includes jalapeño relish, and the ceviche consists of light and fluffy marinated fish with pico de gallo on a bed of chilled lettuce. The portions are light, but the food is affordable. Nothing on the regular menu costs more than $10.
“There’s limited seating,” Van Beurden said. “We had to choose between high-end and affordable and fast. We decided to cater to the locals. They’re the ones that keep you afloat in this business.”
For a fresh, affordable, and delicious experience with Baja cuisine, stop by Anchor Park Café on 945 Embarcadero Road in Morro Bay. For more information, or to order takeout, call 225-1200.
On March 12, SLO Botanical Garden will host a cooking class with STRIDE, a Cal Poly organization that aims to increase awareness of the importance of nutrition and exercise. Participants will harvest vegetables and use them to prepare a meal. The class costs $20 for one adult and child and $5 for additional family members. Call 541-1400, Ext. 304, for details.
Contributor Nick Powell compiled this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send ideas for consideration to email@example.com.