Father-and-son-owned barbecue restaurant, Shady Grove Foods, will close at the end of the year after more than a year of setbacks, including a turbulent time navigating the city’s permitting process.
The popular barbecue pop-up grew into a bustling eatery when owners David and Dennis Robicheau moved it into the former Restauration space on Fourth Street in May of 2022.
After 12 years of cooking together, the pair was eager to get their brick-and-mortar open to the public — the difficulty of which they underestimated, thinking little work was needed to get the space ready for food service.
“I thought maybe three months [was needed],” David Robicheau said. “There was a few things we had to do and really a weekend’s amount of work.”
Instead, it took 10 months and thousands of dollars of investment every month. When the space finally did open last spring, an extended period of rain during the winter months hit the business hard, driving away business.
“We had the worst winter that a patio restaurant could ever have this is last year,” David Robicheau said. “Just talk about dumb luck I guess. So a few things that really set us back.”
Another setback was the fact that an integral part of the operation depended on using a smoker to cook the barbecued meats served at the restaurant.
Shady Grove is known for its family recipes and New American fare — smoked baby back ribs, Santa Maria tri-tip, Cajun meatloaf and more — all of which require the use of a smoker. But Shady Grove’s smoker was never permitted by the city.
David Robicheau said he tried to get the smoker approved, explaining that he went to the Health Department’s office in person to submit what he thought was the correct application.
“I think they expected a bigger build-out than what we were proposing,” David Robicheau said.
Shortly after the restaurant opened, the department received a complaint about smoke billowing from the restaurant. When inspectors showed up, they saw a fire pit grill that was not included in the business plan that was approved for the space, according to the Health Department.
The business was told to stop using the smoker and asked to re-submit a new plan that included the grill. When a new plan was submitted, the department responded with corrections but never heard back from the restaurant, Environmental Health Supervisor Mozhgan Mofidi said. Inspectors visited the restaurant two more times in response to complaints about the unpermitted outdoor smoker.
The Health Department did not end up approving any smoker for the restaurant, which ultimately limited the restaurant’s ability to serve enough customers.
“We know that most our City is run by small, mom-and-pop operations, and we don’t want to see any businesses close,” Health Department spokesperson Jennifer Rice Epstein said in an email. “That said, we expect all food operators to keep their health permit payments and other licensing up to date and to operate according to their approved plans.”
Many restaurant operators in the city have been critical of the long and sometimes arduous process of getting a business up and running. It isn’t uncommon for restaurants to announce an anticipated opening date only to halt everything due to a delay in approvals and sign-offs from various departments.
Across the street from Shady Grove, family-owned Mexican restaurant El Sauz was ready to open a second Long Beach location in early November, but their doors are still closed pending permit approvals, according to the owners.
For the city’s part, the struggle lies within coordinating multiple departments — Community Development, Financial Management and the Health Department.
Even receiving a physical health permit approval notice can take time. After an inspector visits the business and signs off an approval, it must be put in the system so a bill can be sent to the operator. The payment is made and processed before the health permit approval notice is then mailed to the business to display. It can take weeks.
“It does take time to go through the process,” Mofidi said.
Similarly, the combined cost of various permits and rent on the space can leave small businesses in a financial hole before even opening their doors. For example, a “plan check” (a process that comes before permitting can happen) for a restaurant that seats up to 60 customers with in-house food prep can cost $1,768. When a restaurant wants to undergo a minor remodel or resubmit a plan with new equipment like a smoker, it can cost up to 50 percent of the original plan check price.
But David Robicheau doesn’t blame the city for what happened.
“I have no ill will towards the city of Long Beach at all,” David Robicheau said. “Yeah, a lot of unfortunate things happen, but a lot of times it just is.”
Since announcing their closure, David Robicheau has spoken with city officials about the situation. He says those conversations have been positive.
Before moving into their Fourth Street location, David Robicheau and his son operated as a popular pop-up at places like Ten Mile Brewing and Brouwerji West in San Pedro.
Despite its struggles, Shady Grove Foods cemented its footprint in Long Beach as a beloved barbeque destination.
Often taking inspiration from Southern California’s diverse cuisine, the Robicheau family recipes are influenced by Cajun, Mexican and Thai cuisine paired with Southern hospitality. Their fried chicken dinner comes with chorizo rice and tri-tip slices are served with house-made pico de gallo.
“From everything that’s happened, the positive is that my son and I are still talking to each other,” David Robicheau said. “This is, this has been stressful for both of us and some days weren’t so good between us, but all in all I think we’re closer than we ever were.”
While the restaurant will close on Jan. 1, they will continue to do pop-ups, likely returning to Brouwerji West. They hope to open a brick-and-mortar again somewhere in the city in the future.
“For the people we’ve cooked for at events, for weddings and graduations and birthday parties, they reminisce about how we cook for them and made their day easier,” David Robicheau said. “I can’t thank people enough, and honestly it’s humbled us.”
Shady Grove Foods will keep its doors open and continue serving customers through the end of December. Follow Instagram for updates on where to find them next.
Shady Grove Foods is at 2708 E. Fourth Street.