Photos by Asia Morris.
The announcement came in November 2015 that the first food court made of shipping containers in Los Angeles County would be dropping in Bixby Knolls with a projected opening date of early 2016. That ambitious date ended up being today, when SteelCraft officially celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday morning.
Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, described SteelCraft as a “major coup for the boulevard” in an earlier interview. It was perhaps an understatement, as even with a year-long delay between the projected and official opening, the shipping container project had generated excitement and praise from not only the immediate community, but neighboring cities, as well.
Mayor Robert Garcia and Cohn toasted with pint glasses of beer at the official opening ceremony, surrounded by a robust crowd of media, city officials, community members and their families.
“These business owners are taking a chance on this project because they believe in it,” said Garcia. “We thank you for investing in Long Beach[...] We’re so proud of this corner, we’re so proud that this place not just speaks to great business, but speaks to our city. Containers, the port, trade. It’s a special moment.”
Developers Kimberly Gros and Martin Howard’s idea to repurpose the containers from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as counter-service locales for area craft food and drink vendors has created more than 60 jobs with all eight businesses now open.
A few that stand out include Tajima Ramen, a San Diego-based authentic Japanese ramen eatery, now the first ramen shop to open in Long Beach; Smog City Brewing, the award-winning Torrance-based brewery now serving their exceptional beers at SteelCraft; and Steelhead Coffee, the local family-owned and Cal Heights-based coffee shop that inaugurated SteelCraft as its first vendor back in December.
The other five vendors are Pig Pen Delicacy, a comfort food and burger joint specializing in pork offerings; Waffle Love, a Belgian liege waffle-making business that started out as a food truck in Provo, Utah and now boasts multiple locations; and Desano Pizza Bakery, a Neapolitan pizzeria from Nashville, Tennessee, using centuries-old craft practices and ingredients imported from Italy.
Lovesome Chocolates, an artisanal dark chocolate pop-up shop, greets guests as they enter through the Long Beach Boulevard entrances, as well as The Fresh Shave, serving what was described as a “healthy version” of the Hawaiian shaved ice. It is the second location the business has opened off of Kauai
“I just want to thank the vendors,” said Gros. “We came with this idea and we only had a model. [...]You’re going in as a female going into a business trying to persuade them to come into shipping containers. I mean, I didn’t know if anybody would join in. I knew if we could get Smog City that we could get people following. They took a chance on an idea, having no idea what it was going to look like.”
She also thanked local nonprofit design studio, City Fabrick, for playing a huge part in designing the space, as well as the signage. The studio has been working on variations of the design for the past three and a half years, said Brian Ulaszewski, executive director at City Fabrick, while Turpin Design Group outfitted the kitchens of each vendor.
“It was always about a celebration of craft food and trying to use that as a way of attracting people from different backgrounds, but all with some appreciation for food, and also beer, and coffee,” Ulaszewksi told the Post in a later interview. “It already seems to have been adopted by the community, which was really one of the primary goals of the whole project.”
Ulaszewski said that while using the containers is a novel idea being used more and more often, it’s still a fairly new concept when it comes to working with current building codes. Interpreting major details from the foundation of the space to how you cut openings into the containers, to how you enter and exit them, led to discussions and debates ultimately pushing Long Beach’s urban planning abilities forward, as the two entities successfully tackled the upcycling of the containers while adhering to current law and building code.
Gros said SteelCraft has been about three things from the start: community, craft and sustainability. She noted how the tables are set up to facilitate conversations among strangers and ideally budding friendships, how the SteelCraft team traveled far and wide to find the vendors serving up the best quality fare and how the containers promote sustainability and restoration.
"Kim had a winning attitude from the start,” said Mike Daniel, Gros’ consultant and regional director of the Orange County Inland Empire SBDC Network, in a statement. “With a little guidance, she hit the ground running and didn't stop. SteelCraft is a unique addition to the Bixby Knolls community and is sure to stimulate economic impact now and in years to come."
“You might be there for beer, you might be there for food, you might be there just to hang out or grab a coffee to meet some friends or meet a colleague or just go with your family,” said Ulaszewski. “I think you’re going to see a lot of different social interactions happening throughout the day and throughout the week. So we’re really excited to see that.”
For more information, including vendor hours, visit the SteelCraft website here.
SteelCraft is located at 3768 Long Beach Boulevard.