by Mary Colrik
I first discovered West Toast Café early last September when a friend was visiting from out of state during “local’s summer.” We were walking along the beach trail and decided to stop in for a coffee and avocado toast at the new place that had just opened in the original T-Street concession stand.
I was intrigued when I saw an all-organic menu with several offerings of foods that I enjoy, including different toast selections, acai bowls and freshly prepared smoothies. Shortly after we ordered our toast and coffee, the owner came out with some samples of smoothies and chatted with us a bit. He was wondering if we liked the toast and explained everything was organic and made to order, so he hoped we did not mind waiting for our food. My friend who is also a small business owner liked his approach, his concern for his customers and his work ethics.
This was my first introduction to Tulio Poller who owns West Toast Café with his wife, Eligija Stravinskaite, “Eli.” Throughout September, October and November I hosted several out of state guests and each time we headed down T-Street to West Toast Café, placing our orders for avocado toast, acai bowls, coffee and smoothies. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed sampling the menu items.
During this past winter when I met briefly with Eli over a cup of coffee, she informed me that they were hoping to get the lease renewed as they were initially only given a short-term lease by the City of San Clemente. Finally, in the spring they received the great news that the lease had been renewed for the next five years! Stravinskaite said she is thrilled and mentioned the city has been wonderful to them and their new endeavor on the beach.
So, how did Poller, who was born, raised and educated in Venezuela and Stravinskaite, who was born, raised and educated in Lithuania land in the Spanish Village-by-the-Sea, running a café next to one of the iconic surfer’s spot known as T-Street beach?
Stravinskaite first came to America as a student with Work and Travel USA, a European program for students. She immediately fell in love with America, so after graduating in 2008 from a Lithuanian University with a degree in Business Management and Economics, she relocated to Miami. Initially she worked in the restaurant business, taking on different roles, helping her gain experience with a long-term goal to eventually open a restaurant. She also started her own swimwear brand. She met Poller in 2013. He had arrived in Miami in 2003 with a degree in marketing and was running a telecommunications consulting company that he still operates today. They were working in the same neighborhood and after a bit they started dating, got married and began raising a family.
One year while the young family was vacationing in California and driving along the coast from Santa Barbara to San Diego, they wound their way to San Clemente, stopping to watch the sunset by the pier and falling in love with the “vibe of this beautiful surf town.” They vowed that they would move to San Clemente in five years. In 2020 they fulfilled their dream, packing up, leaving Miami and moving across the country to San Clemente. When they arrived, Eli started looking for a place to open a gelato shop, and while searching learned that the concession stand at T-Street beach was available. After a few months the city accepted their proposal and the couple decided to open a café featuring all organic healthy food items.
In the last year they have slowly expanded their menu to include breakfast burritos, and Venezuelan arepas, plus offering their already famous avocado toast, power toast and club sandwich. Customers have a choice of sourdough, multigrain or gluten free bread. Additionally, they have introduced an offering of three types of burgers, Classic Cheeseburger, El Mariachi Burger and a Skinny Burger served on butter lettuce wedges, all are made with premium wagyu beef. They offer a children’s menu including, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese quesadillas, gluten free waffles with fruit and a mini burger.
Poller and Stravinskaite enjoy “really good” coffee and that’s why they have partnered with a famous coffee shop in Miami, Panther coffee. The coffee beans are single origin and come from Brazil, Columbia, Peru and Nicaragua. They offer regular drip coffee plus lattes, cappuccinos, matcha and iced coffee.
Poller’s telecommunications business partner, Adrian Real recently moved to San Clemente with his family to join his partner and friends as the chef of the café. He is collaborating with the couple selecting the menu items and adding new specialties to the ever-expanding offerings. He is also from Venezuela and honed his cooking skills with family recipes and cooking experience from restaurants in Orlando.
One morning in late June I had the pleasure of sitting down with Eli and Adrian, while Tulio watched baby Sofia, the youngest of their four children who range in age from 10 months to 15 years old. While sipping an Americano Panther coffee, the first item I wanted to taste was the gluten free arepa, a food that I had never tried, I chose the avocado, shredded chicken and cheese arepa-scrumptious. Recently, West Toast Café was named one of Orange County’s best spots for arepas on the beach. Real also brought out a passion fruit mousse topped with sliced almonds and cacao nibs, one they serve with their Peruvian Ceviche trio and offered as a café special on Saturday and Sunday. I returned on a Saturday to try the ceviche trio, very flavorful, absolutely delicious.
The three owners have lots of plans for their cafe and have already implemented a couple of “extras.” Currently, they offer Surf Club Meals. Surfers or others can open a pre-pay account at the cafe. Before heading into the water, they can grab a coffee and a homemade nutritious energy bite, then after their session can order a breakfast burrito, power toast or smoothie. Sunday morning yoga is also offered on the beach ($25 per class) and includes a drink – coffee, juice or smoothie. Other plans include Sunset Experience events where they would offer a prix fixe menu featuring a specific cuisine such as Italian, Greek, Brazilian and more. They also plan to establish a Coffee Club for walkers along the beach trail-after a certain number of purchased coffees they would get one free cup of Joe. They are also working on having live music on Sundays with local musicians. Plus, they will soon be selling soft serve ice cream and gelato (Eli’s original dream).
If you find your way to this little cafe at T-Street, I recommend you come hungry; you will be well-fed. All three owners say that their focus and priority is high quality food, attention to detail and friendly customer service. Eli adds, “we serve fresh food made to order, we’re not a traditional snack shack and that’s why our food takes longer to prepare. But could you ask for a better place and view to wait for your food, West Toast Café is a happy place to gather with friends and family, enjoy great food and have an amazing time on the beach.” Indeed!