Meet the Mastermind Behind Some of Your Favorite Orange County Restaurants
Written By: Ryan Whitehead
Photographed By: Andrea Domjan Alicia Whitney
Expert: Alicia Whitney
Credentials: CEO and Founder of Prjkt Restaurant Group
Award-Winning Cuisine: Whitney has racked up the Golden Foodie Award for Best California Cuisine three years in a row, securing their spot in the Foodie hall of fame.
Huntington Beach local restaurateur Alicia Whitney has always had a culinary vision for her hometown. With seven establishments spread throughout Huntington Beach, it’s safe to say Whitney’s vision has become reality, as each of her establishments has redefined the culinary scene in the city. From upscale California cuisine to Santa Maria-style BBQ, Whitney’s similarly named restaurants attract clientele either enjoying a time at the beach, making a fun day out of a Sunday brunch, or a nice night out on the town.
Q: How did you get into the restaurant business? Who or what inspired you?
Alicia Whitney: My uncle owned Hurricane’s Bar and Grill, which he has owned since the ‘90s, and I started working for him in my early 20s, which catapulted my career in the business. Working events for him eventually led to me working for a nightclub and events for celebrities, and finally to working in Las Vegas and the casino world. While I was in Vegas, I worked at a venue that I helped transform into a country western bar. It was at that point when I decided to dedicate my life to make venues. I love to create—concept through inception and completion and at a restaurant you can create that mini-event feel everyday.
Q: Give us a preview of some of your restaurants. What can we expect?
AW: I have seven restaurants. SeaLegs is a nautical-themed wine bar that is very much an old meets new concept. If you took a 1955 Armani’s yacht and combined it with the Hamptons, San Francisco, Napa, and Huntington Beach, that’s what it would look like. This wine bar concept stands out from others as it plays on travel, living in the moment, and femininity. We were able to bring the SeaLegs brand into LAX as well, as a modified version of the Huntington Beach location.
SeaSalt is a concept that I put in years of research, creativity, and thinking outside the box. I decided to create a concept that was the opposite of SeaLegs, so I dived into what Huntington Beach was missing, and that answer was a great steak and BBQ. Our search took us up north to Santa Maria, where they grill dry-rubbed Tri-tip over red oak wood. We moved two pitmasters from Santa Maria so the food and flavor are authentic. I envisioned this concept as if we were the hottest restaurant in Santa Maria in 1956 that was urban and obscure. I imagined if we were in the butcher’s house and that he was crazy. We completed the dining room with obscure pictures of broads drinking and the skinny butcher holding up links of sausages, along with incorporating hip-hop genre into our theme with our trademark line “smoke meat everyday.”
Our four beach locations are plays on Sealegs and SeaSalt. We combined Sea Legs and a beach club scene for SeaLegs at the Beach filled with swings, lounge chairs, and cabanas and made it like an outdoor party arena. Seaside Beach Burger was taken out of our SeaSalt concept by bringing the burger we make at SeaSalt and brought it to the beach, in which our meat is seasoned with our dry rub blends. Beach City Provisions is a combined store and sandwich shop located the RV park in Bolsa Chica and caters to those who are staying in the RV park. During the night, we have burger and tri-tip nights to bring the RV folks out together and make their experience fun while they stay here. Pacific Kitchen is the green and black colored shack, which you can’t miss. It’s located at a surf spot called old man’s point located between Newport and Huntington and this location aims more at the surfing lifestyle by serving one of the best breakfast burritos in Orange County.
Q: What are your favorite dishes from your restaurants?
AW: I have many favorites from all restaurants, and they’re all delicious. The stinky fries at SeaLegs, a plate of fresh-cut fries with a three-cheese truffle fondue topped with parmesan shavings is one of my favorites along with our halibut dish sauteed in butter put over rice and BBQ carrots, topped with carrot pesto sauce. The chorizo hash is a top favorite at brunch. It’s fingerling potatoes with a corn medley mixed in a skillet with a fried egg on top, your ultimate hangover dish. To round it out, our wagyu meatball put into a black skillet, topped with our housemade marinara and melted burrata cheese. SeaSalt has many delicious items as well— from our tri-tip to our secret recipe linguica sausage. Many of our starters are my favorites like the tri-tip nachos, covered in a dehydrated red bell pepper manchego cheese sauce and tri-tip enchiladas topped with our homemade red sauce.
Q: That all sounds delicious! Have you won any awards?
AW: When you’re in the grind and working hard, you don’t think about the awards. You can be just working, then all of a sudden you’re showered with something, and it comes unexpectedly. The most significant award had to be when SeaLegs first opened, I was just trying to get the business going, and out of nowhere I was nominated for best California cuisine in Orange County at the Golden Foodie Awards, which I eventually won. SeaLegs had only been open for two months at the time. I also won Entrepreneur of the Year award in Orange County as well as Businesswoman of the Year. I remember being invited to this luncheon with senators, representatives, and all these people who had flown in from Sacramento. I started to wonder why I was here, but then I received 24 plaques from all these representatives with their personal signatures on them. I have four Golden Foodie Awards for SeaLegs as of now. Every award, big or small, means something to me. It’s like the fuel in my tank—it keeps me going and pushing harder for success.
Q: How are you involved in the community? What kind of events do you put on? What causes do they go towards?
AW: I currently sit on the board of Visit HB and the Chamber of Commerce. I have started an organization that works in correlation with the Chamber of Commerce to bring together age 40 and younger entrepreneurs and breed an environment where they can come and start a business. I started this as a legacy project that I wanted to leave behind, as I started my first business at the age of 31. I occasionally open my restaurants to host community events and I’m always ready to donate, sponsor, and do whatever to help anyone in the community. For this coming Earth Day, we have a massive event planned, in which we’re gonna partner up with Corona and the state parks and conduct a massive beach cleanup.
Q: Where can we find you when you are not working?
AW: Whenever I’m not working, you can always find me at home with my daughter and husband. I occasionally travel up to Lake Tahoe, and always try to spend as much quality time with my family as possible. Family to me is the most important thing I could be doing right now.
Drink Cocktails, Be Happy: SeaSalt’s happy hour is Tuesday through Friday 5-6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 4-6 p.m. Snag $5 Santa Maria Fries or $10 Grilled Wings plus get $2 off all wines and cocktails.
Alicia Whitney’s Restaurants:
SeaLegs Wine Bar
SeaSalt Woodfire Grill
SeaLegs Franchise Company
SeaSalt Woodfire Grill
21214 Beach Blvd
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Alicia Whitney Brings the Fun to Restaurants in Orange County