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The Surfside in Carpinteria will be awarded to an essay contest winner.

March 04, 2000|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On April 15, the Surfside Cafe in Carpinteria will come under new ownership for the cost of $100, a few choice words and maybe a postage stamp. The event may sound familiar to those who saw "Spitfire Grill." However, this is not Hollywood fiction: It could be you who will be handed the keys.

Surfside Cafe partners Larry Broughton and John Alonge bought the once-struggling bagel shop in June and transformed the simple Linden Avenue joint into a restaurant that enjoys a growing clientele.

The two say they have had a blast inventing their vision of a beach-side restaurant, but it's time to concentrate on their hotel-restaurant consulting business. Besides, Broughton, 37, and his wife Suzanne, who manages the cafe, want to start a family.

"John and I decided it didn't make a lot of sense for us to come back in here and operate the cafe on a day-to-day basis, given our other obligations," Broughton said. "With everything else going on, we decided to back out."

Broughton and Alonge, who also own a coffee shop in Isla Vista, reasoned that it could take up to a year to sell the restaurant by traditional methods. And because Surfside Cafe is in its infancy, recouping their investment was not likely. Broughton had an idea that just might attract a lot of attention, and Alonge signed on to it.

Here is where you come in, and anybody else around the globe with a desire to own a restaurant.

Surfside Cafe will be awarded to the winner of an essay contest. In 400 words or less, contestants are asked to explain why "I've always had this idea about owning my own restaurant in a California beach town . . . "

That is the launching pad. From there, maybe your essay takes a humorous tack. Or earnest. A real tear-jerker? Who knows what will command a winning entry. Broughton and Alonge don't; it's out of their hands.

All entries will be received by a lawyer. He will shepherd copies to four independent judges: a retired local teacher, a political consultant, a public relations agent and a representative from Clean Water Action, a nonprofit group that will reap a charitable 10% of the entry pool fees. Each judge will read and assign each entry a point award, 0-25. The writer of the essay with the highest cumulative score will become the new proprietor of Surfside Cafe.

Will it be a stay-at-home mom fulfilling a life's dream of preparing her recipes for the public? Or a retired senior who walks off No. 18 at Fillmore's Elkins Ranch golf course, dons a Hawaiian shirt and starts selling his wife's meatloaf? Or a surfer in Australia who is looking for a change in scenery?

The current owners know what they'd like to see for the Surfside Cafe.

"We thought a great scenario is some young entrepreneur with a fire in their belly," Broughton said. "Maybe a culinary school graduate or somebody interested in the food and beverage business could get lucky with a $100 entry and really have a forum for demonstrating their talents."

The partners agree that the future owner should be able to clearly articulate a vision of where he or she wants to take the restaurant.

The winner will take over the lease of the 2,000-square-foot space and receive everything under its newly exposed arched ceiling. All the equipment, down to the fax machine and dish detergent, is included.

Broughton and Alonge--formerly of San Francisco, where they had top jobs at a consulting company--seem to be leaving behind a business that is humming. The original lease was renegotiated to include three five-year options, which become effective in May, Broughton said. The deal includes the Broughtons and Alonge sticking around for a couple of weeks for intensive training.

"One of the things we have been really concerned with is we want to engender success," said Alonge, 47. "The essay is structured in such a way that the judges are looking for the profile of a person who would really succeed in this venture."

You don't need A+ credit and 10 years restaurant experience. You only need to be 18 years old. However, business acumen is surely a requisite. Rent is $1,700 and you will need to put down one month's worth. Other assorted deposits and transfer fees include a $500 to $700 beer and wine license, if you choose to keep it. All told, Alonge said, the entrance costs, on the high side, could reach $3,000.

The partners, who said they are removed from the contest to ensure fairness, don't know how many entries are coming in.

Broughton said the Web site explaining contest rules--you can submit an entry by mail or online--is getting thousands of hits. Inquiries are coming in from as far as Japan and Saudi Arabia.

"All we're looking for is someone to come in here and put their best foot forward," Broughton said. "It's still a business. It's tough. You have to put in the hours."

DETAILS

Entry specifics for the Surfside Cafe essay contest giveaway in Carpinteria are available online at http://www.surfsidecafecontest.com. Quick bite: each entry is $100 and multiple entries are allowed, either by mail or online submissions. The deadline to enter is April 1. The winner will be announced April 15. Information is also available at 564-8151.

Rodney Bosch writes about the restaurant scene in Ventura County and outlying points. He can be reached at 653-7572, fax 653-7576 or by e-mail at: rodney.bosch@latimes.com.

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