Chef Maurice Yim, shortly after celebrating a year into business with his PowWow Pizza space, has had to step into the new year with a broken heart, announcing that the fusion pizza joint will close immediately.
“This hits me pretty hard,” Yim said, listing a litany of concerns that “ultimately affected my decision; the usual suspects: high rent, rising cost of goods and labor. Being the new kid on the block in an area saturated with pizza, big upcoming equipment maintenance and replacement costs, operating on a dental floss budget. The suddenness of it all really tears me apart.”
The lure of PowWow Pizza goes beyond the fact that it was a hidden pie gem that was slowly but surely building an army of followers—Eater LA called it one of the region’s essential pizzerias and the Post said it was one of the city’s most underrated restaurants, with roasted duck pizza, longanisa pizza as well as other out-of-this-worldly creations, PowWow’s pies were unlike any other.
Yim had always been clear on what his shop was: “PowWow Pizza is a space to bring people together, a menu not limited by tradition and a constantly evolving story of culture and community.”
But this doesn’t mean he ignored tradition, if anything, he upheld it while re-interpreting it. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of his creations were his direct, yet subtle ways of honoring his Cambodian heritage.
Many Cambodians, after escaping genocide and making roots in Long Beach, decided to go full-on American in terms of food, beginning to open donut shops across the region. My friend Dorothy’s father, now passed, opened one in Garden Grove. Many opened here in Long Beach.
Yim, in one of the most wonderful-but-subtle odes to his heritage, put to-go pizzas in pink boxes, honoring the famed pink donut box that is now a food icon in SoCal.
Like many of the children he grew up with, Yim was the child of refugees—and food was not only a way to move past the horrific past his parents faced, but also connect to the place to which they had moved. Soon, bowls of Cambodian noodles like the ones found at Phnom Penh Noodle Shack, where Yim himself worked, and meats scented with lemongrass and seasoned with fish sauce became Long Beach staples.
These traditions were reflected in offerings like his Angkor pizza, where chunks of lemongrass-ginger beef were used as a topping to make a distinct pie.
The closure represents not just a loss for Bixby Knolls, but the city as a whole.
Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.