The Huntington Beach House, which opened earlier this year, serves an array of burgers, salads, skewers, flatbreads, sandwiches, as well as brunch items like pancakes, sausage skewers, acai bowls, and chorizo tacos. The restaurant also features atmospheric elements like firepits, sandboxes, and a 120-foot counter overlooking the boardwalk.
Sahara’s Sandbar, which is named after Whitney’s daughter, sports a ’70s bohemian vibe, with pops of color, mid-century modern fixtures, and servers decked out in retro apparel and rollerskates. The menu includes artisanal pizza, craft beer, and shaved ice.
California Fork & Spoon serves an eclectic mix of dishes, such as al pastor tacos, fried crab, and clam chowder, while a sculpture of the California State bear greets guests at the entrance. In addition to snacks and drinks, the fourth concept, SandBox, incorporates a retail component, with beach must-haves like boogie boards, coolers, and bluetooth available through an oversized vending machine.
“When you get on your bike, which most people do, and go down the coast, you have different offerings every mile or so that give you a different experience,” Whitney says.
These Huntington Beach concepts are joining Prjkt’s existing portfolio, which comprises SeaLegs at the Beach, SeaSalt Burger, Beach City Provisions, and Pacific Kitchen.
Prior to becoming a restaurant owner, Whitney worked in marketing and consulting, with past clients including Station Casinos hotels and resorts in Las Vegas. In fact, she did not create her first restaurant, SeaLegs Wine Bar, until she was pregnant with her daughter. Although the original concept has since closed, it set the groundwork for future restaurants.
Prjkt Restaurant Group’s name comes from Whitney’s admiration for the band MGMT. She liked how they shrunk the acronym for management, and she decided to do the same with the word, project, given how her career has been made of so many different projects.
From the outset, Whitney’s goal was to take recreational beach options to the next level. Building differentiated concepts—rather than reproducing the same one—was vital in pursuing that goal.
“If we created all similar concepts, it wouldn’t really give the end user an experience that we were looking for,” Whitney says. “I like to create concepts that fit the location. If the location doesn’t serve the brand, then my favorite thing to do is to look strategically at what is at the location and then build a concept that benefits the location and the people around it.”
Besides variety, today’s discerning consumers are seeking more elevated dining options—even at places as casual as the beach, Whitney says. Consumers are also interested in pairing meals with experiences, such as line dancing, which SeaLegs at the Beach regularly hosts, in addition to live music and stand-up comedy nights.
“All of these [restaurants] have different ideas and concepts that are unique, that are different from anything that’s ever been there before,” Whitney says. “They’ve been very successful because people were exactly looking for that. They just weren’t looking for your standard ‘go get a hot dog on the beach.’”
Even with the 10-year California State Park System agreement, Whitney is not easing off the gas pedal with Prjkt Restaurant Group’s growth. Her future plans include forging new strategic partnerships in different regions to continue building fresh concepts across California. She is also focused on establishing a consulting company that will help others in conceptualizing, designing, and marketing new restaurants.
Although Prjkt’s concepts are on the beach and therefore al fresco, they still faced setbacks in the face of COVID-19 and had to eat certain expenses. For example, Prjkt had planned expansive outdoor Christmas dinners on the beach, complete with symphony string quartet performances. Days after announcing and securing the event, the beachside restaurants were shut down by the government.
Nevertheless, Prjkt had an edge over other concepts; its locations were accustomed to dealing with the unexpected.
“When you’re on the beach and you do what we do, pivoting is part of everyday work,” Whitney says. “So when it came to having to pivot for COVID, we were prepared and ready for that.”
Even as the pandemic winds down, adaptability and preparedness will continue to guide Prjkt and its expansion strategy. The partnership with California State Park Systems is just another step in the journey of revolutionizing oceanfront experiences.
“I’m very proud to be a female business owner and that we’re spearheading this,” Whitney says. “The impact will be to change the way that concessions are looked at in the California State Park System by amplifying, when you come to visit a state park, the experience you take away with when you go home.”