Downtown Walkabout — Checking out Morro Bay’s New Businesses

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

July 1, 2022

After years of relative stability, Morro Bay’s Downtown business district has seen big changes of late, bringing a slew of new businesses, owned and operated by a younger group of sole proprietors.

There is no doubt that at least some of this change has been caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the tremendous strain it put on small businesses, not just in Morro Bay but across the nation.

In the Downtown core, the city lost several long-time businesses — Kitty’s Kitchen, Sabetta’s Pizza, the Aloha Shirt Shop, Linna G’s, Grandma’s Yogurt, Founder’s Bank, and the Rio Salon among them.

And while the business community mourned the loss of those businesses, an abundance of new and mostly young entrepreneurs from as far away as Australia have opened new stores offering a variety of items — from house plants and jewelry, to vintage clothing, artworks and unique gift items. There are even a few new eateries with the promise of at least two more on the way, expected to open sometime soon.

Estero Bay News recently took a “walk-about” around Downtown, meeting the new business folks and finding out about their backgrounds and the items they sell.

Here’s a look at your new neighbors in the business community.

Ugly Mug Ceramics – 875 Main St.

The name Ugly Mug Ceramics belies the cute little art store that specialized in handcrafted ceramic mugs, bowls, cups and art pieces, with a small studio space in the back.

Owned by Aimee Brantley and Shell Voorhees, Brantley told Estero Bay News that they opened in the old circle Inn Building. She migrated here from Fresno about 4-years ago, though her grandma has had a vacation home here since she was young. “This has always felt like home to me,” she said. “I left Fresno and never looked back.”

The store is filled with the ceramic pieces created by the two owners and they also carry ceramic works by other artists, she said, from here and from the Central Valley. 

They opened the store in October 2020, she continued, in the midst of the pandemic. They’d had a studio space off Quintana Road, a home base for a vendor business they had going at street fairs and special events.

The goal is to use the studio space at the store to hold ceramics classes, which were hard to do under the pandemic’s restrictions on gatherings. But they’ll be getting back to that soon, she said.

“We’re an art gallery and an art studio,” Brantley said. “We fit both descriptions.”

Check out their Facebook Page at: The Ugly Mug Ceramics, or their Instagram account @theuglycmugceramics. Call 805-225-5088.

Grandma’s Mercantile on Main – 863 Main St. 

For three years, Ellan “Sugar” Cliff worked for Beverly Durrer at Grandma’s Yogurt and Waffle Shop at the corner of Main and MBB. But last April, Durrer closed down the yogurt shop to take care of her husband, local bluesman Lenny Blue, who is battling Parkinson’s.

But as they say, when one door closes another door opens, and such was the case for Sugar. The previous owner of Main Street Mercantile wanted to sell her business and retire.

Grandma Sugar, as she likes to be called, said her family came to Morro Bay from Memphis Tenn., some 20-years ago. Her brother already lived here (she has four sisters too). 

“We wanted to get our grandson out of the big city,” she said. He now attends Morro Bay High which she said he loves. Her brother had suggested they all go in on a home together, which sounded pretty good to them. They brought their mother over from the Central Valley too.

Grandma Sugar said when she was at the yogurt shop she was always being asked by visitors where they can get things like a tube of toothpaste or a toothbrush, and she realized there was something missing from Downtown.

“There’s nothing like that downtown, no general merchandise stores, not even a drug store anymore,” she said. “They couldn’t get aspirin or even a bottle of water.” 

So she decided she’d open a real “mercantile,” the old fashioned term for a general store carrying essentials like toiletries as well as some cool handmade gift items. 

They bought the mercantile store including the stock both in-store and in storage. These items she’s selling at a discount, she said. “We’ll keep the vintage gift items, kid’s clothes — gently used. 

“If you forgot it, odds are I got it,” she laughed at her unofficial motto.

She wants her own unique store; and she said they’ll change the merchandise all the time. 

“’Grandma’ had a little bit of everything,” she said. “That’s what I want to be — an old grandma selling grandma stuff.” She said Grandma Beverly, who is helping her out in the store, said it was “A Now & Then shop,” a distinction that Sugar loved and even put on her business cards.

She’s been an institutional cook, including at schools, all her life and the Mercantile is a welcomed change. “This is the first job in a long time where I don’t have to cook for anybody,” she said. “I think I’m going to like this job.”

Out of the Dark – 334 Morro Bay Blvd.

Entering Mark Baysote’s small, custom, lamp store, Out of the Dark, you get a feeling that you’ve wandered into the playground of a creative mind. 

Baysote is a recently retired union electrician, who put in 30 years harnessing Ben Franklin’s discovery, down in Malibu, Calif.

“I love the people up here,” Baysote said while sitting on a public bench in front of the store. He’d just gotten his business license from the City and was busy trying to get the store fully opened before 4th of July. 

“Down there there’s so much of a pretentious environment. We were there 30 years.”

They plan to also open Dawn’s Closet, a small clothing boutique that will have clothing and shoes in the back of the store. “It’s not going to be a thrift store,” he said. “It will be very nice clothing and shoes.”

The front of the store, the lamp gallery, is where his magic shines. He specializes in repurposing a variety of items — nail kegs, lab equipment, a Buddha statue, and even gumball machines — turning them into unique and interesting lamps and one-of-a-kind art pieces. Seems like a natural fit for an electrician.

“I will do lamp repairs too,” he explained. “I’m ‘semi-retired’ but this is a full time job. Retail is a whole different animal.”

He buys unique lamps wherever he finds them, and has a collection of lampshades, too, hanging from the ceiling. 

The store is just a block away from the Art Effects Gallery, a specialty art gallery and lamp shade store and he’s already spoken to the owner of that long-time business, Kathleen McCarthy, on how they might compliment each other’s stores.

After all, she does wonderfully creative shades and he can make anything into a lamp. And both specialize in recycled and repurposed items.

Morro Made – 490 Morro Bay Blvd.

Nestled in a fishbowl like storefront with large picture windows on two sides at the corner of Napa Street and the Boulevard, Morro Made is a collection of the works of about 35 artists and makers, offering paintings, jewelry, pottery, furniture, and whole lot more.

Ruth Moynihan is the owner of Morro Made. She’s a transplant from New Hampshire, who moved out west 20-years ago, settling in Tahoe for the skiing. 

Some 15-years ago, she said, her family moved to SLO County, staying five years in SLO and most recently, living on a farm property in Los Osos Valley, she explained. 

She’s been married 19 years, she said, and they have two young sons ages 8 and 6. The store is a reflection of her.

“My aim is to try and have a good variety of items, things not available in Morro Bay.” 

She likes unique and unusual things. “I’m definitely drawn to the eclectic,” Moynihan said. “Part of this is experimental, to see what people respond to and what they want to buy.”

Opened just since the start of May, she said the first month has been pretty good, which she credits to the wide variety of items she carries. She will also take on consignments, if it’s something she feels will sell in her store. 

She asks people to email her photos of their products, so she can “make sure they fit” what she’s trying to do with her store. “Some things just don’t fit in.” She tries to pick and choose the items she puts on sale, not just collect gobs of things, like one might do at a thrift store. “I try to curate the things I take in,” she said. “It feels eclectic but it’s curated with intention.”

Her reception in the community has been warm. “People have been very generous with compliments,” she said. “People say they get a calming feeling when they come in.”

Morro Made is open daily except closed Wednesdays. Hours are Thurs. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Set and Setting – 360 Morro Bay Blvd.

Walking into Set and Setting, a holistic, healing and spiritual store, owner Erin Meisse welcomes her customers into the soothing, calming environs of her store.

“We sell shamanistic pieces,” she said. They help people realize their spirituality and help their self-development, she explained. She has a number of special herbal oils and other natural products. 

She opened last November offering gatherings that worked on breathing, sound healing and holding workshops on tarot card readings, and astrological readings, which she has others come in to do.

“I have a variety of facilitators that come in,” she said. “We help people develop rituals and ceremonial practices to help them be grounded. It’s a full-service for self-development.”

She also practices what she calls a “new type of capitalism,” in that many of the items she sells don’t have price tags on them. A variety of items displayed on a large table just inside the door, “It’s pay what you feel” the thing is worth. “We’ll try that and see what happens.” She’s building up a clientele made up mostly of local residents and features artworks by many local artists. It’s a new way to do business and perhaps a bit experimental in Morro Bay. “We’re trying to change the world as little bit,” Meisse said.

Goin’ Coastal – 315 Morro Bay Blvd.

While the little clothing boutique, Goin’ Coastal, isn’t exactly a new business, it does have a new location. The store moved to Morro Bay several years ago setting up shop near the corner of MBB and Main Street, after leaving a space in Los Osos in 2019. 

Sole proprietor, Julie Phillips, seems relaxed in her new location, the spot that housed The Aloha Shirt Shop for 22 years. Aloha Shirt Shop moved its business to, naturally, Hawaii, and sells mainly online.

She moved her business to the new space in April.

“Business has been good,” she said, while smiling and chatting with customers that just walked in. 

Goin’ Coastal is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (5:30 on Mondays). Check them out on Facebook, @Goincoastalmb.

Tiger Monkey Tattoo – 468 Morro Bay Blvd.

Asked where the unusual name for their shop comes from, Amie Wilkinson said her husband, “was born in the Year of the Tiger, and I’m the year of the Monkey,” she explained, referring to their respective birth years in the Chinese Zodiac.

It’s she and husband Brian Wilkinson’s first endeavor together, she said, and the name “summed up who we are.”

The shop is a chance for Brian to practice his art, he’s been slinging ink for over 18 years, most recently at a shop in South County. He’s also worked at shops in SLO and Pismo Beach but their new shop is more than a place to get inked. 

“We’re not just a tattoo shop,” Amie said. “We have other artists here too.” Among the items are original artworks and custom jewelry, making Tiger Monkey an art gallery and art hub. “We wanted to give people a reason to pop in, other than tattooing,” she said. 

With the brilliant décor, which includes artfully painted murals, she explained they were going for a “different vibe” with the interior. “We want to be visually exciting,” Amie said, “with art and tattooing — we feel they are one and the same. This isn’t an old sailor or an old biker tattoo shop.”

They also subscribe to the old barter system of commerce. “We like to see what other people bring to the table,” Amie said. “It [sales] doesn’t have to be monetary.”

Gilligan’s Sandwich Shop – 480 Morro Bay Blvd.

Los Osos native son, Andy Zepeda, and wife Shannon were in a quandry over what to call their new sandwich shop. They kicked around various “bay” or “ocean” themed names like Surfside and Bayside but decided to try something different. “We wanted something catchy,” Shannon explained. “Something to remember.” Of course everyone associates the name “Gilligan” with the campy, comedy, TV show, “Gilligan’s Island,” which was fine by them. “Everyone who comes in comments on the name,” she said.

But using such an iconic name for a sandwich shop led them to worry a bit about copyrights, so their mascot, a pelican with Joe Cool sunglasses and a captain’s cap, was created to “cut out the confusion.”

Since they opened the first week of May, customers have said they need to decorate their walls more. One customer’s neighbor has a cat named Gilligan, Andy said. Sure enough the next time he came in, he brought a framed photo of the kitty cat, which hangs on the wall at Gilligan’s. They welcome other such donated items for their walls. 

Andy said they did a “soft opening” first, to iron out issues and train a crew. Just last week they sent out mailers announcing their grand opening. Andy said business has been great and people are happy there’s a place to pick up a sandwich, mostly to go, as they have but a few tables inside the shop.

They specialize in hot, cold and grilled sandwiches, Shannon said, as well as homemade soups and salads. Andy added that they make everything themselves. As for the décor, Andy said they originally wanted to put faux brick on the walls to get the feeling of an old New York deli, but when it was delivered, it wasn’t what they’d imagined, so the faux brickwork was out. “That changed the whole plan,” he said. 

Their customers are already becoming like friends, which shouldn’t be too hard for Andy, who graduated from Morro Bay High in 1986.

Their sandwiches are reasonably priced. A club sandwich goes for $13, hot roast beef and pastramis is $15 and a Reuben will set you back $15. A build-your-own sub sandwich is $13. 

Gilligan’s Sandwich Shop is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for (limited seating) dine in and takeout. Call 805-225-1320 to order.

Chowa Bowl – 898 Main St. Suite D

Chowa Bowl’s owner, Katie Bosken brings a refreshing energy to her new little takeout restaurant located facing Harbor Street across from the Siren. She opened in January.

Bosken’s adventurous spirit shines though a broad smile and quick wit. She said she and her boyfriend were in The Siren one day trying to figure out what would be next on what sounds like a high seas, adventurous life, when she noticed the little sushi shop that had been there was moving out.

She’s always cooked but learned the craft while cooking on a 65-foot yacht sailing around Thailand. She said she was traveling the world having quite a time but one day, she ran out of money. She was traveling with some other women and missed the last ferryboat out of Thailand. Some guy came up to them dressed in ratty jeans and asked if they wanted a ride on his boat. They thought, ‘yeah this guy’s got a yacht,’ she laughed. Sure enough he took them to a 65-foot catamaran. “I ended up with him for three weeks, she said. The elderly gentleman turned out to be a retired professional kite boarder, she said. “It was my first time on a yacht.”

The ocean has played a large part in her life. When she eventually went home, she said, she got jobs on yachts in Alaska and the Caribbean. She was a commercial fisherman fishing salmon in Alaska where she met her beau. She also crewed on a crab boat, which was very hard work. 

When the season was over, she asked her captain what was next and he suggested she go to San Diego and fish shrimp. “They say, ‘There’s no rest for the wicked,’” she laughed.

She said they went to Ventura where she walked the docks and got a job on a purse seiner fishing for shrimp. They landed 110-tons in two days, she said, which brought everyone a windfall and led to her eventually starting Chowa Bowl and specializes in the traditional Thai bows, basically bowls of rice with various toppings, like shrimp or beef. 

Her menu isn’t big. “I keep it small to make sure everything is fresh and good,” Bosken said. She’s only using tenderloins of beef. “Our beef now is filet mignon,” she said. 

She calls it “fine-fast” cooking, with the goal of creating fine food quickly. She added that there are no plates at Chowa Bowl. They have all bowls all day and while chopsticks are not required, she smiled and said they do have them.

She’s working with some Cal Poly students on a new home delivery app that’s designed for the farm-to-table crowd, working with various organic farmers in the area. Hers is the first restaurant they’ve signed up, she said and she’s getting her vegetables through them. “They are such cool kids,” she said. “And they’ve got a great concept. They are trying to break into the restaurant market.” Her biggest sellers are Poke Bowls and Shoyu Ramen.

She really wanted to use smaller and local farms for her ingredients, and “That’s what they do.” Her philosophy is to “buy seasonal and local things from this area, and support your local community.”

Chowa Bowl is open Thursdays-Mondays and closed Tuesdays-Wednesdays. Hours are noon-7:30 p.m. Check out their website at Chowabowl.com. Call 805-776-5060 to order ahead. There is some outdoor seating available.

The Sunny Spot – 600 Morro Bay Blvd. Suite C

Less than a block off Morro Bay Boulevard and across the street from Distassio’s, The Sunny Spot, is an art, skin products, jewelry and plant shop, and someplace you should check out to find great gifts or just a new plant to liven up your house. 

Sunny Spot is a cooperative of sorts, and the owners — Naomi Holmes and Kelly Edward — are two charming and creative women.

Holmes, 34, hails from Australia and has been in and around jewelry making forever, as it’s her family’s business back home. She makes semi-fine jewelry, Holmes explained, and has been making jewelry full time for four years now, she said.

The two had a store in an office complex on Quintana Road but mostly had home-based businesses. 

Edward, 28, hails from Southern California and has been in SLO for eight years. She has been selling houseplants online for years, buying them from various nurseries. She also makes a line of all natural and organic skin care products sold at the store. 

Holmes has a small jewelry studio inside the store where she creates her jewelry using sterling silver and gold, with semi-precious gemstones. 

Sunny Spot is a co-op store of sorts, and actually home to three businesses — A Potted Plant, Lazy Goods Jewelry, and Manifest Essentials natural skincare products, owned by Edwards and Holmes.

The pair work the store themselves along with store dog, Whiskey, a Queensland heeler.

The Sunny Spot is open Wednesdays-Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. And while they are a little off the beaten path, the little shop with a variety of plants and crafts is worth seeking out.

Electric Valley Vintage – 755 Napa Ave. 

Traveling nurses by profession, Ashley Cooper and husband, Jarrod Brown, who originally come from Florida, tired of the constant travel and wanted to settle down somewhere. 

They opened Electric Valley Vintage Clothing & Goods shop in the former Summer’s Salon on Napa Avenue. Cooper said they specialize in vintage clothing from the 1940s through the 2000s. She explained that today’s young adults, like Cal Poly students, “consider the 2000s as vintage.”

This is their first entrepreneurial adventure together. “We traveled a lot,” Cooper said. Morro Bay, “Is our favorite place that we’ve landed. We’ve been on the East Coast the West Coast; we’ve been everywhere.”

“We loved the desert valley and were thinking of Las Vegas and the neon signs.” Those bright lights always made them feel warm and they wanted to incorporate some of that in the name of the shop. “I want to get a big neon sign,” she laughed.

They buy from collectors and estate sales, she said of where their inventory comes from. They take donations but will sift through it and pick out the things that would go with their shop’s theme. 

Among the things they sell are old concert T-shirts and other collectibles, like framed Big Brother & the Holding Company and Rolling Stones’ Some Girls album covers. They curate the items in the store and are particular about what they sell, in keeping with their vintage theme.

Though they’ve been selling online for some time, Cooper said this is their first brick and mortar store. The couple has been married for 2 years.

Electric Valley is open daily but closed Wednesdays. Hours are Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays, noon-5 p.m. See electricvalleyvintage.com.

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