Many Orange County, Calif., residents visit Scottsdale in the winter for the city’s luxury golf resorts and balmy spas. Conversely, Scottsdale residents often escape the summer desert heat by heading to the beaches of Orange County.
So it’s only natural that crosspollination of restaurants has occurred, too.
A flock of Scottsdale restaurant chains has targeted Orange County for expansion, often choosing the area just south of Los Angeles for their first California locations.
At the same time, some Orange County restaurants favor the upscale desert community for their first out-ofstate forays. -
The latest to arrive from Scottsdale is Wildfish Seafood Grille, described as a casual, hip seafood house, which opened Monday in Newport Beach. It’s a new concept from the Scottsdale group that runs Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille restaurants in Texas and Arizona. A second Wildfish will open in 2006 at the Scottsdale Waterfront Project at Camelback and Scottsdale roads.
P.F Chang’s China Bistro was one of the first to blaze the trail. In 1994, its first restaurant outside Scottsdale opened in Newport Beach. Other Scottsdale restaurants followed, including Z’Tejas in 2001 in Costa Mesa and Thaifoon and Pei Wei in 2002 in Irvine.
Now, a new crop of desert denizens is putting down stakes in Orange County.
The Mastro family of Scottsdale opened its ritzy seafood restaurant Mastro’s Ocean Club at Crystal Cove Promenade in August. In December, Mastro’s Steakhouse will make its Orange County debut in Costa Mesa across from South Coast Plaza. There is also a Mastro’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills. Partner Mike Mastro has a home in Dana Point, a spokeswoman said.
Blue Coral Seafood & Wine, a joint venture between restaurant entrepreneur Paul Fleming and Outback Steakhouse, opens in the old Hard Rock Cafe space at Fashion Island early next year.
Scottsdale restaurant operators say they feel comfortable in Orange County. The upscale demographics are similar to home, Orange County is a one-hour plane ride away and the "O.C." restaurant market there is booming.
"We think there’s tremendous opportunity in California for what we do, and Newport Beach is the bull’s-eye — our first choice," said Guy Villavaso, who owns Wildfish along with partner Larry Foles.
Villavaso also watched college buddy Paul Fleming, the "P.F." in P.F. Chang’s, create several successful restaurant chains moving back and forth between Orange County and Scottsdale.
After moving on from P.F. Chang’s, Fleming created Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Newport Beach in 1998 with restaurant executive Bill Allen. The second Fleming’s opened in Scottsdale a year later.
Villavaso learned from his friend and has followed his example.
"We know a lot of (restaurant) folks, and we have shared (Fleming’s) success on the sidelines," Villavaso said. "Then the opportunity came up to do our own thing in Orange County."
Fleming is also a partner along with Villavaso and others in Z’Tejas, the Southwestern chain whose only California location is at South Coast Plaza.
For Randy Schoch, who brought Roy’s and Thaifoon to Orange County, where he grew up, familiarity with the region made it a natural place to expand. (Thaifoon at Irvine Spectrum Center has since changed its name to Ling & Louie’s.)
"Scottsdale is very similar to Orange County," Schoch said. "Many people go back and forth."
The migration also travels west to east. Several Scottsdale restaurateurs said that David Wilhelm is building a French 75 in their town. That will be the first restaurant outside California for Wilhelm’s Culinary Adventures of Newport Beach, which operates seven restaurants in Orange County.
Family-oriented Orange County chains have traveled to Arizona as well. BJ’s Restaurants of Huntington Beach opened restaurants in Chandler, Mesa and Tucson, and Claim Jumper of Irvine has outposts in Deer Valley, S cottsdale, Tucson and Tempe.
For a long time, Arizona restaurants tended to focus on San Diego when they headed west, said restaurant consultant Randy Hiatt, president of Fessel International in Costa Mesa. But San Diego is now a tougher market.
Some say it’s ironic that landlocked desert dwellers are bringing upscale seafood restaurants to Orange County.
"Guys from Arizona are bringing seafood to California," Schoch of Ling & Louie’s said, laughing. "It should be the other way around."
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