When we think of beatniks and the places they lived, Newport Beach is most certainly not on the list. However, there was a “scene” here in Orange County, starting in the late 1950s in Laguna, and one of the main players was a nice Jewish boy named Sidney Soffer. Sid, born in LA in 1932 to Max and Goldie (née Goldenberg) Soffer, was an only child who was raised by his mother and aunts after his parents divorced. He drifted down to OC in his twenties, where he helped build Café Frankenstein, a tiny place featuring beat poets and jazz music. He managed the place for a few years before purchasing the Blue Beet, a Newport Beach institution since 1912. He changed the name to Sid’s Blue Beet and quickly turned it into a local hot spot. A young Steve Martin performed there, as well as future Monkee Peter Tork. Primarily a restaurateur (he also owned Sid’s Steakhouse), he was frequently at war with city officials; he appealed a dispute with the city of Costa Mesa over some classic cars in his yard all the way to the state Supreme Court. A maverick by anyone’s standards, he was a vocal regular at Costa Mesa and Newport Beach city council meetings. To this day, the three-minute-maximum speaking time at Costa Mesa proceedings is rumored to have been enacted because of him. With a “my way or the highway” attitude, he was known to kick out customers who asked for salt, pepper or ketchup with their meal. Soffer left California for Las Vegas in 1995 to avoid being arrested for building-code violations, and he died there of cancer in 2007. Though known as a troublemaker, Soffer loved talking to people and hearing their stories, remembers his daughter, Shima Soffer Behrend. When he moved to Vegas, the Blue Beet was bought by father/son investors Steve and Scott Lewis, who proudly posted a notice at the door that read, “Sid Ain’t Here … Don’t Ask.” He is remembered today as a hard working big-hearted eccentric who could cook with the best of them. Not a bad legacy at all.
Dalia Taft, archivist of the Orange County Jewish Historical Society, highlights images from the archives every month. For more information, please visit www.jewishoc.org/history. You can also contact Dalia at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (949) 435-3400. The Orange County Jewish Historical Society is a program of the Merage Jewish Community Center and is fully funded by the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County.