Home Skillet: Side Street Cafe
Born and raised from the small-town vibe of Cleveland, Ohio, Diane Beach brought a unique approach to the Costa Mesa restaurant industry.
“Who you know, how much money you make, what car you drive—all that nonsense isn’t important to me,” Beach explained.
When Diane was a kid, her family moved out to the California Valley in the 60’s. As she neared high school, they moved again—this time farther south—to Costa Mesa. As the years went on, Diane started waitressing at Charlie’s Chili—the beginning of her restaurant experience. She also had a contracting license, which allowed her to pick up supplementary work setting tile.
At the time, Diane was a single parent. She knew she needed something beyond serving and contracting to support her family. She went back to school to study restaurant management with a dream of starting her own.
“I wanted to do it right,” said Beach. “I went back to school to learn the logistics of starting a restaurant. I didn’t want to fail. I couldn’t afford to fail.”
Diane started her restaurant in 1992 off 18th and Newport Boulevard, just outside downtown Costa Mesa. The menu was derived from her aunt Calista’s home cooking, and the restaurant’s décor was likewise inspired by her aunt’s living room.
“Aunt Calista was the best cook I’ve ever met,” Beach said about her aunt. “I wanted my restaurant to recreate the feeling of eating at her house.”
Thousand Words: Each wall tells a story
The name was so effortlessly fitting. The restaurant is located on an adjacent road to Newport Boulevard. Upon Diane situating the name and sign, a customer offered to paint the front window to further add to the old-school, diner feel.
The night before her grand opening, the restaurant still had no name, no signage, blank walls and menus that had not yet been copied. Beach enlisted the help of friends and family to furiously handwrite menus, hang family pictures on the walls, and prep for service in the morning.
“I opened my restaurant in such a corporate area,” said Beach. “I wanted an ‘up yours’ to that mentality. It worked, people loved it!”
When Charlie’s Chili heard that Diane was opening her own restaurant—they gave her two weeks’ notice. She didn’t let that put a damper on her entrepreneurial spirit, however. During her last few shifts at Charlie’s, she conducted a contest amongst the regulars to come up with the name for her new restaurant.
“Dr. Bud came up with ‘Side Street Cafe,’” Diane chuckled.
Finishing Touch: Handwritten menus? Yes, please!
Everything came together. Diane’s kids worked the restaurant and customers loved the at-home feel. The menu was a huge success, and business grew naturally.
“I didn’t spend a dime on advertising,” said Beach. “My version of advertising is going door-to-door giving away free samples of our menu and telling people where to get more. I didn’t want people looking for discounts. I am old school—I wanted my restaurant run the way business used to be.”
Diane was eventually able to support her family off the restaurant. She quit her contracting work and put all of her energy into Side Street. She loved that she was able to spend more time with her daughters now that they all worked together.
“I opted to have my children work the floor instead of hiring a staff,” said Beach. “My kids care. They want to be involved.”
Feels Like Home: Relax in the dining room, and order what fits your fancy
With 25 years of success under her belt, it begs the question, “Now what?” Would Side Street Cafe ever expand beyond its flagship location?
“If I ever did open another restaurant, it would be something completely different,” said Beach. “We already have the mid-west comfort food thing dialed with Side Street.
“I would only do it for a creative challenge. I am not motivated by money. I already have everything I need. I have my kids, my house, and my truck. I want to enjoy my grandkids, travel, and do all the things that old people are supposed to do.”
Side Street Cafe is a perfect, Costa Mesa location for a weekend brunch with family or friends. From the taste of a home-cooked meal, to the time-warp wall décor, to the southern hospitality of Diane and her kin – Side Street is an easy choice. Stop by and try a “Cheapskate Special” and tell them I Heart Costa Mesa sent you. ♥
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