Pacific City will bring change, luxury to Surf City

South Coast Plaza has Bloomingdale’s. Fashion Island has Nieman Marcus.

So how will Orange County’s next luxury shopping center, Pacific City, compete with rivals?

“The Pacific Ocean is our anchor,” said Linda Berman, chief marketing officer for Pacific City developer DJM Capital Partners.

The $135 million lifestyle hub on Pacific Coast Highway provides expansive views of Huntington Beach’s open coastline. Close to 60 shops and restaurants are planned for the 191,000-square-foot mall, the centerpiece of a larger, 31-acre hotel and residential project emerging among the city’s eclectic mix of surf shacks and bohemian bars.

Taking cues from other revamped Orange County shopping centers, Pacific City’s backers are betting big on food and nightlife. Key attractions at the site will be a casual dining hall dubbed Lot 579, a cocktail lounge from Santa Monica and the first Orange County outpost for craft beer pub Simmzy’s.

One-third of the food and retail shops are expected to open by the end of the year. The open-air mall also will have a public outdoor lounge with sofas and coffee tables called Main Plaza, offering a front-and-center view of the beach at sunset.

“We are really trying to change the adjectives about Huntington Beach,” said DJM President Lindsay Parton. “Traditionally it hasn’t been an upscale destination.”


Huntington Beach’s lively Main Street is home to countless surf shops, dive bars and chains such as Starbucks, BJ’s Restaurants, Wahoo’s Fish Taco and Avila’s El Ranchito.

But two blocks away at Pacific City, developer DJM is going for a modern lifestyle center – one that is unified in theme from its chef-driven restaurants to its independent boutiques.

The center with a bungalow motif is part of a city that attracts 11 million visitors a year and has an annual median household income of $81,000. The eye-popping demographics, combined with the coastal setting, have made it easier for DJM to curate tenants for a built-from-scratch center with no track record.

“Orange County is not a cliche,” said Berman with DJM. “Orange County is a very unique, very eclectic. And the demographics are very attractive.”

The ocean-facing property lured Mike Simms, owner of the craft-beer-centric restaurant Simmzy’s.

Of his four Los Angeles-area pubs, Huntington Beach is the first to open in a new retail center, said Simms, whose father founded Mimi’s Cafe. Initially he thought it could be risky – until he set foot on the property, which had been vacant for years.

“You step out on the patio, and you see the pier, and the surfers. The ocean views are unbelievable,” said Simms, whose brother founded Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar.

Jennifer Delcham, who is bringing Ways & Means Oyster House to the center, said Pacific City offers residents a premium dining and shopping experience closer to home.

“It really feels like Pacific City is bringing a lot of luxury and upscale touches that (locals) are traveling down the coast for,” Delcham said.

Still, she says, Pacific City is not “better” than Main Street: “It’s just that it is different.”


Pacific City’s cachet will be its hipster food brands, which carry a large following in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

PopBar, a gelato-on-a-stick sensation from New York, is opening at Lot 579. Los Angeles hospitality guru Brent Bolthouse is bringing his rustic Bungalow, a popular cocktail and music lounge in Santa Monica. Old Crow Smokehouse is a fusion barbecue eatery coming from Chicago.

“Food is the new fashion,” said Parton with DJM. “It’s going to be a very unique waterfront experience. Best in class.”

Hospitality consultant Jeffrey McNeal said savvy developers like DJM know that next-generation shoppers, especially millennials, are looking for buzzworthy experiences when it comes to shopping.

“Malls are tough places to do business. No longer can you put (in) a Nordstrom or a Macy’s and expect that to drive traffic,” said McNeal, president of Fessel International in Arcadia.

With consumers able to buy everything online – from shoes to bed sheets to home computers and mobile devices – McNeal said DJM is smart to use restaurants as anchor tenants.

“Restaurants will continue to be a social experience that can’t be replaced by the Internet,” he said.


On the retail side, DJM is targeting chic indie stores such as bohemian clothing shop Irene’s Story (Mission Viejo and Irvine), men’s shop TankFarm (Seal Beach) and men’s and women’s boutique West of Camden (Corona del Mar).

Though niche concepts are preferred, DJM is not ignoring national and regional brands.

Pacific City will have upscale fitness club Equinox, H&M, Crazy Shirts and MAC Cosmetics. All four are expected to open in November.

Restaurants slated to open before the end of the year include Simmzy’s, Lemonade, Ola Mexican Cuisine, Backhouse Yakitori & Sushi, Ways & Means and Saint Marc.

While Pacific City is attracting food entrepreneurs outside of Orange County, homegrown brands are the heart of the project.

Ways & Means is relocating from its original location in Orange, which closed last year. The 3,600-square-foot restaurant plans to offer “approachable pricing” on small plates from $4 to $12, as well as fish, chicken and steak entrees from $12 to $40.

The restaurant also is opening a culinary store geared toward at-home chefs. Ways & Means At Home will sell chef-driven merchandise and offer carry-out picnic baskets for dining on the beach.

Other locally based concepts include Burnt Crumbs, Bear Flag Fish Co., American Dream, Hans’ Homemade Ice Cream, Ola Mexican Cuisine and Pie-Not.

Some are rookie concepts, like sandwich shop Burnt Crumbs and burger bar American Dream. While other mall developers might balk at leasing to untested brands, Berman said DJM likes entrepreneurs with a built-in fan base.

Burnt Crumbs, she notes, will be run by a food truck operator (The Burnt Truck) with a proven track record.

“We love the idea of somebody doing something (successful) before, and has the desire to incubate something new,” she said.


Many of the locally conceived eateries are opening at Lot 579, a food hall expected to open in 2016.

Lot 579, named after the lifeguard towers in front of the center, is part of a growing number of culinary hubs being developed under one roof.

The OC Mix at South Coast Collection in Costa Mesa, the Anaheim Packing House, 4th Street Market in Santa Ana and Union Market Tustin at The District are some of the food halls that have opened in the county in recent years.

When the Tustin food hall launched last year, it struggled because many of the restaurants didn’t open at once.

Berman said she is encouraging Lot 579 tenants to open at the same time.

“Some of these markets open way before they should, and the customer experience isn’t as good as it should be,” she said.

For Paul Cao of Burnt Crumbs, opening at Lot 579 marks a dream come true.

The chef is the co-founder of The Burnt Truck and the recently opened Burntzilla restaurant in Irvine. The latter is a hybrid restaurant that sells Burnt Truck-inspired sliders, mini versions of Dogzilla food truck’s signature Asian-fusion hot dogs.

The 36-year-old Cao has been developing the chef-driven sandwich shop for six years. Landing at Pacific City, he said, is icing on the cake.

“This is my passion project. I’ve been doing everything – the truck, Burntzilla – to get to this,” Cao said.

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