Marine Street Cafe’s owner Skylar Tourigny (right) and manager Cliff Guy (left) at the front counter. Photo by Esther Kang
Marine Street Café may be one of the few establishments in the country to make sense of such an unlikely combo: gourmet food and bare feet.
“This is the only place you could walk in with no shirt, no shoes, or in a wetsuit,” owner Skylar Tourigny said. Laughing, she added: “And yes, people take advantage of that.”
Sweeping up sand off the floor several times a day may strike others as extraneous and dull, but for Tourigny, it serves as something of a confirmation that her café is staying true to its vision since opening in August.
“That’s what it’s about,” Tourigny said. “It’s for the neighborhood.”
Just up the street from The Strand and iconic “Orange Court” where beach volleyball players have convened for games and tournaments since the 1950s, Marine Street Café has become a popular spot for those like Barbra Fontana, a beach volleyball Olympian and local resident who had come in for breakfast with her friends that morning, Tourigny said.
Signed vintage photos of pro volleyball players and framed snapshots of significant moments in “Orange Court” history pepper the pastel beige walls in the three-storied café. Unadulterated sunlight shines through the large window on the upper deck, where one can best appreciate the view of the Manhattan Beach shore. The bottom level has more black matte tables and chairs; and at ground level is the register, a modest wine shelf and a handwritten chalkboard menu, which has six long columns of beverage selections from boutique wines and beers to exotic teas and organic coffees.
Nestled among residences on the corner of Highland and Marine avenues, Marine Street Café strives to fill a missing niche in the neighborhood: a local family-friendly restaurant with organic gourmet eats.
The heavily residential location has been a notoriously troubling spot for previous businesses, the most recent of which was Oceana Bistro, an upscale seafood restaurant that shut its doors this past spring.
However, Tourigny said she is not intimidated by the fate of her café’s predecessors; after all, it takes a local to know one.
A Manhattan Beach resident since 1998, she moved from Boston into an apartment on The Strand with her husband Peter, a professional beach volleyball player. Today, they still reside on the beachside, just three blocks away from the café.
“I understand the people here,” Tourigny said. And, she added, as the mother of a student at Grand View Elementary School, “Everyone who has a child and lives in the sand section goes to Grand View.” She readily welcomes the parents who bring their children to the café for breakfast before walking to school every morning.
The café’s kids’ meal section boasts six familiar items like grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but with a healthy, gourmet twist, substituting sliced bread with toasted brioche, for example. Plus, each order comes with a side of fresh fruits.
The regular menu is of a similar fashion, featuring signature dishes like Peaches and Cheese Panini and hearty breakfast items like Ricotta Pancakes. The most ordered item on the menu, Tourigny said, is probably the “Fonoi” burger.
Made with organic grass-fed beef and freshly baked bread delivered daily, the signature burger was recently featured in the Beach Reporter as one of “Teri’s Favorites,” she added.
“Because we live by the beach and it’s an affluent town, people are very conscious about health and healthy foods because they can afford to be,” Tourigny said. She added: “But we didn’t do it just to get the customers; it’s how I eat and live my life.”
Every week, Tourigny visits the Manhattan Beach Farmers Market on 13th Street and Morningside Drive where she, like a true local, is a familiar face to many. “They all know me because I’ve been going for years,” she said, and picks up ingredients like tomatoes and lettuce for both her family and customers.
With healthy gourmet foods and a laidback environment for volleyball enthusiasts and families alike, Marine Street Café hopes to offer the neighborhood something it’s been missing.
“Our goal here is to have people keep coming back because of the food and service,” Tourigny explained. “A place where people don’t feel intimidated to come in with sand.”