Luciana’s Ristorante celebrated 25 years this month, a family affair still run today by Lucy’s son
Vol.1, Issue 39, October 31-November 6, 2008
By Nathan Wright
The sign outside his Dana Point restaurant says Luciana’s Ristorante, and if you ask Jorge Luhan II about the namesake he’ll smile, pause, and say simply, “That’s a long story.”
Luciana’s Ristorante celebrated its 25th anniversary October 18, a milestone event for a family who decades ago worked boldly to establish themselves as Orange County restaurateurs. The longtime Dana Point restaurant has a rich family history that lives on to this day through Luhan, who began as a dishwasher and ended up the proprietor after he graduated college.
Luhan was only 14 years old when his mother, Luciana—an Italian immigrant—and father, Jorge Sr.—a prominent plastic surgeon of Argentinean descent—opened the Dana Point Italian food restaurant on Del Prado. Well, that’s not exactly true, according to Luhan. “My mother, she was the visionary,” he says.
So much so that she once purchased a 500-year-old farmhouse in the hills of Tuscany, Italy, without telling her husband. Luhan still laughs at his father’s reaction and fondly remembers friends comparing his parents’ relationship to that of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on the classic television program I Love Lucy. It wasn’t much of a stretch.
Luciana also goes by Lucy, and her husband, like Ricky on the show, is Latin. Luciana was famous for her ambitious, crazy plans, and Jorge did his part with spirited, perplexed reactions when his wife decided to share them with him.
Calling Luciana’s plans crazy does not do them justice. In 1976 she opened What’s Cooking? Bistro in Newport Beach, introducing the community to homemade pastas and sauces. The bistro was staffed by the family. “When all the customers left we’d pull all the tables together and we’d have dinner,” remembers Luhan. “It started as a simple deli with only seven tables.”
Luhan’s father worked at his practice during the day but was a regular at night, often helping to wait tables. “It was a running joke around Newport, the doctor who waits tables,” says Luhan.
In 1982 Luhan returned one summer from prep school to find his mother had moved seven chefs into the family home, another one of his mother’s ideas. She then opened Luciana’s Ristorante in Dana Point and What’s Cooking? Express in Costa Mesa. Luciana’s replaced a French restaurant called La Cuisine on Del Prado, and Luhan said the building was the home of numerous failed restaurants before his mother opened up shop.
“Her two sisters owned a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Dana Point, and she liked the location,” says Luhan. “There weren’t any of the hotels yet, and not a lot of people here.”
In the 25 years since, the location has become much more attractive. The Ritz Carlton opened a few years later, and Luhan said hungry celebrities began arriving at the door. “We made people feel like they were at home,” he says. “We treated them with family. We didn’t treat them like numbers, waiting to be served.”
As the years rolled by the family’s focus changed. Luciana sold her restaurant in Costa Mesa to two of her employees—who met, and later married, while working there—and bought her Tuscany farmhouse. She began spending more and more time living in Italy, overseeing the olive oil business from her Tuscany olive orchard. When her son graduated from college she gave him responsibility for the family’s restaurants and moved to Italy permanently. Her husband later joined her after retiring from medicine in the United States.
In the years since Luhan has continued on the family legacy. In 2001 a fire closed Luciana’s, but it was repaired and reopened. In 2003 the family lost the lease for What’s Cooking? Bistro in Newport Beach, ending after 27 years of service.
Luhan has since focused his attention completely to Dana Point. He lives in the Lantern District and has a three-minute walk to work. He’s an avid bicyclist and triathlete, and is very active in the community. With 25 years behind him, he’s looking at the 25 ahead when his restaurant will help anchor the north end of the Town Center project. “It can’t happen soon enough,” he says.
Luciana’s Ristorante Raises $65,000 for Augie’s Quest
When Luciana’s Ristorante threw its 25th anniversary celebration they decided to do so in the spirit of charity. The restaurant raised $65,000 for Augie’s Quest, the
Muscular Dystrophy Association’s research initiative. Augie Nieto, one of the most famous names in the fitness industry for decades, started the association after he was diagnosed with ALS in 2005. Since then he’s raised $17 million. Luciana’s added $65,000 to that number, including a $30,000 donation by an anonymous donor.