Anne Marie Panoringan
Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for eight years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.
Jan Gaffney founded her salad, sandwich and juice spot inside George’s Surf Shop in 1972. A mainstay in the Huntington Beach neighborhood, Jan’s Health Bar serves beach city locals with its fresh, simple menu. Thirty-eight years later, Gaffney sought out a buyer that would treat the restaurant with the respect it earned; she found such a buyer in former employee Poppy Holguin.
Being employed at the health bar was actually Holguin’s first job as a teenager. Gaffney was a role model for her: “She was an independent, successful female business owner at a time when that was even more rare,” Holguin said.
In the years since Holguin took over, the brand graduated from one to five locations. (Number six is scheduled for next year.) She also updated selections while maintaining the same integrity Jan’s exuded, keeping over half the menu intact. In fact, a recent text from Gaffney to Holguin regarding the menu ranks as one of her favorite memories. “It was after having lunch together at Jan’s HB (and Gaffney wrote): ‘Sandwich was just the same. What you have done with the store is amazing and delightful. Thank you so much.’ I will be saving that message forever!” Holguin said with a smile.
When asked about the longevity of Jan’s Health Bar, Holguin described how abstract factors like values, culture and the ability to evolve while maintaining integrity drive long-term success. “As a business owner in any industry, it’s easy to get ‘shiny light syndrome’ and try to be everything to everyone. Jan’s has always stayed true to its core values,” Holguin said. Honoring the culture that is Jan’s is what diners appreciate. “As much as customers like our food, it’s their experience that’s rooted in our culture that keeps them coming back,” she explained.
Holguin made the decision to take over because she saw the potential in Jan’s. “There was always something about the authenticity and consistency of Jan’s that very much resembled my personality and work ethic,” Holguin said. It was also important to her to set an example for her daughters, Bella and Giselle (ages 15 and 12, respectively), by practicing what she preaches: pursuing what you’re passionate about and attacking it with boundless energy and heart. She always tells her children to not allow fear to dictate or limit their success. “A little bit of discomfort goes a long way in terms of personal and professional development. Show up every day ready to contribute the willingness to learn,” she said. Holguin takes pride in having her girls watch her grow the business.
First-timers to Jan’s Health Bar may want to try some of its classics like the tuna avocado salad or banana date shake; the salads are so plentiful, I’ve had enough for a second meal. If you’re steering toward greens, Holguin recommends the crunchy kale wrap. Jan’s Chunky Monkey and Hippie smoothies, a go-to drink for Holguin, are also popular selections. Newer options include a Cali Chop Bowl, Athena Salad and Tsunami Bowl.
Serving the breadth of Orange County was always a part of Holguin’s larger picture for Jan’s. “When I first thought about scaling, it was my vision to have stores from Laguna Beach to Long Beach,” she said. Holguin operates outposts in Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa and Irvine in addition to the flagship Huntington Beach spot off Main Street (which became a dedicated brick-and-mortar in the 1990s).
Having an affinity for all the communities Jan’s Health Bar has opened in, Long Beach was a logical next step, as that’s where she attended school at Cal State Long Beach. Between its unique neighborhoods and college community, Long Beach was ideal from a business standpoint; she isn’t ruling out the possibility of expanding further into L.A. County either. Jan’s Long Beach will be located at the intersection of 2nd Street and Pacific Coast Highway, across from the 2nd and PCH complex.
Would the Huntington Beach native ever consider franchising? The short answer is no, despite having had plenty of offers and opportunities. “Jan’s works because of our authenticity, sincerity and passion surrounding our brand. There’s certainly potential to bring Jan’s to other cities by honoring what we have and growing in an intentional way, but you can’t duplicate the nostalgia or history,” Holguin said.
She would like other communities to experience what Huntington Beach was blessed with for the past 50 years. However, the climate is tough for small, family-owned businesses. “They are the fabric of our cities – of our society as a whole. I want to make sure we maintain that intentionality and charm,” she said.
As the owner of multiple outlets, factors such as supply chain shortages, managing rising costs and insufficient staffing have impacted how Holguin ran Jan’s since the start of the pandemic. Inconsistencies not only affect business from a consumer perspective but internally as well, making it more difficult for her team to perform at its best. “It made me realize that I need to heighten our employee love and appreciation. As a restaurant owner, being able to shift and transition is essential, but that ability became even more essential during the pandemic,” Holguin said.
To celebrate 50 years in business, Jan’s Health Bar is planning an event in June at all the locations. Holguin is also working on an internal event to celebrate her small but mighty staff. “A large part of my team has been with me for this entire journey, and it’s because of their commitment, enthusiasm and work ethic that Jan’s is where it is today,” she said.
Options for Celebrating Mother’s Day
If you haven’t decided on where to take Mom (or Grandma or sister-in-law) on her special day, now’s the time. I strongly suggest calling ahead for reservations; if a restaurant is fully booked, check to see if it will have tables set aside for walk-ins. Here’s a quick list for your consideration.
Come As You Are
Locals frequent spots like these because they can rely on them year-round.
Known for its prime cuts of beef, Old Brea Chop House also has a Sunday brunch menu beginning at 10 a.m. featuring vegetable frittata, lobster salad in orange vinaigrette plus a surf and turf Benedict. Visit in the evening for specials including porcini crusted filet, Ora King salmon and Valrhona chocolate trifle.
Serving some of the best mai tais around, Billy’s at the Beach in Newport indulges with a lingering brunch every weekend until 4 p.m. Banana nut pancakes topped with coconut meringue mingle alongside black sesame crusted ahi. Bigger appetites can check out a half rack of slow-roasted baby back ribs or the center-cut filet mignon with eggs.
The Blind Pig offers residents in the Rancho Santa Margarita and Yorba Linda areas a comprehensive cocktail program to pair with their meals. If champagne is more Mom’s style, then order the bottomless mimosas at brunch. Eclectic daytime eats mean Spam loco moco, deviled eggs and pancakes topped with boysenberry compote.
Laguna locals know to head to Sapphire for omelettes with smoked salmon and blue crab, crispy chicken sandwiches and buttermilk biscuits with sage-garlic sausage gravy made from scratch. To drink, you can’t go wrong with the Patio Pounder. Remember to grab a token on your way out if you found a spot inside the dedicated parking lot to cover the cost.
Get Dressed Up
Iron that outfit and treat Mom to ocean views from these resorts.
Celebrating with a three-course brunch, Mayor’s Table Pacific Pub and Kitchen inside Newport Beach’s Lido House balances savory with sweet options such as grilled lamb with baby beets, quiche and stone fruit compote atop freshly baked Dutch Baby. Bonus: A separate painting experience this Sunday morning with Timree Gold is also available.
For a comprehensive buffet spread in Huntington Beach, Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort is ready with floral bouquets for Mom, live entertainment and a half-dozen stations of unlimited eats to choose from. There’s even a table dedicated to little ones that includes all their favorites. Head to the raw bar for shellfish galore or carving station for duck and porchetta.
The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel woos guests with sushi, a caviar bar plus an ice cream sundae station for holiday brunch. A recent addition to the menu is a table dedicated to Indian cuisine, thanks to recently hired chef Sanjay Rawat; expect entrees like tandoori shrimp and Masala leg of lamb served with Brussels sprouts.
For a more curated dining experience, consider one of the following.
The Plancha Room inside Descanso’s modern taqueria is a Mexican take on a Japanese teppanyaki meal. Choosing brunch or dinner in this dedicated space is an interactive service where one’s meal is cooked in front of you using a flat top grill. Huevos rancheros, carnitas machaca and chilaquiles de pollo double as entertainment while you wait.
If Mom is on a plant-based diet (or loves her mezcal), thank her for all she does at Gracias Madre in Newport. The vegetarian and tequila focused brand delivers meatless fare with style; the jackfruit carnitas still surprise me. Nightly dinner, weekend brunch and weekday lunch are available. Be sure to take advantage of its spacious patio.
Tiffany and Co. inside South Coast Plaza now has a branch of Petrossian restaurant. The caviar brand quietly opened in late March, with chef Carlos Cabrera incorporating the coveted ingredient into every dish. Its potato mille-feuille is a modest, yet memorable bite. Unless you’re there for a glass of bubbly, this menu is explicitly for caviar lovers.
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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