– by Lydia Breen
ENCINITAS: He used to wear designer suits and Ferragamo shoes. Now he wears sandals and shorts.
Greg Lukasiewicz and his wife, Laurel Manganelli owned a 12,000 square-foot fine dining restaurant in Pasadena, CA. with a nightclub, a wine bar and two private dining rooms. Fed up with life in the fast lane, they traded their million dollar restaurant for an outdoor café with a million dollar view.
They’re having the time of their life, working side-by-side with family and friends in Northern San Diego County, developing local seafood-based fare to a rabidly loyal and growing customer base. He has even found time for his newest passion: spear fishing.
The couple took charge of the concession at San Elijo State Beach Campground, off Coastal Highway 101 in Cardiff, CA., a business that was held for years by Laurel’s family. Today, Laurel runs the store where campers come to buy charcoal, s’mores fixings and beach hats. Daughters Halie, 11, and Devon, 13, sell shaved ice, a job Laurel had at the same store when she was their age.
Greg runs the café, where patrons sit at picnic tables and look out over the cliff at surfers and sun bathers.
“Life is beyond perfect,” says Greg. “It’s more than I ever could have imagined. I can cook at the grill and look out at the ocean — I can see all the way down the coast to La Jolla. It’s far beyond anything I expected.”
Life flows at a relatively relaxed pace. It’s a welcome change from the grueling schedule the couple kept seven days a week for fourteen years. “I think I was the first to say I couldn’t go on anymore, “ says Laurel. “ I felt like our kids were growing up without us. It was as if we were working for our investors. As a couple, we always said family comes first.”
The choice was more difficult for Greg who has owned four restaurants. “I was a little hesitant at first to leave Los Angeles because my family lives in Pasadena. I had a following there, and the investors wanted me to keep developing more restaurants. But I wasn’t home enough. Now I’m learning to scale down. I don’t take for granted the magic life has to offer. ”
The couple bought a modest house in Oceanside next to Laurel’s mother. Greg took a year off. He helped Laurel set up the campground store and he spent lots of time with his kids. Eventually, he wandered into the café kitchen at the campground, where the most exotic item on the menu was nachos and cheese.
He began to experiment with the kind of food he himself loved to eat: gourmet tacos, which are an after-hours favorite for the culinary cognoscenti of Los Angeles. Slowly and quietly he let his business concept grow.
Last summer Bull Taco was born. The name is an homage to Restaurant Bulli in Spain, founded by world-class chef Ferran Adrià, dubbed the “Salvador Dali of chefs” by Gourmet Magazine.
Bull Taco specializes in local fresh seafood and organic produce. Grilled fish, oyster and duck tacos with salsa, onions, cilantro and lime are priced at $1.75 – $2.50. Lobster, crab, abalone and tacos cost $5-$10.
Early mornings on the deck you can grab a breakfast burrito, juice and espresso. For the less adventurous, nachos and cheese, bean burritos and smoothies are a safe bet any time of day.
The butterflied catfish plate with ponzu sauce is a mouth-watering tip of the hat to chefs Wolfgang Puck and Shiro. It serves two at $15. Hamburgers are available off-menu, but only when organic heirloom tomatoes are in season–because, according to Greg, “the only way to eat a hamburger is with a slice of heirloom tomato.”
Bull Taco Café – San Elijo State Campground 2050 S. Coast Highway 101 (at Chesterfield Drive), Cardiff by the Sea.
Open Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Cash only. Non-campers must park outside on the street. Dogs on a leash are welcome. Bikers and others can call ahead for a pick-up. Tele: (760) 436-6601.