There was once a rich history of soul food in Long Beach, largely thanks to our black residents who brought in the culture of Creole, Cajun, and other Southern cuisines straight to our backyards. That has, since the 1990s, been slowly dissipating as soul food staples began closing up shop, one of the most recent casualties being North Long Beach’s LBJ’s restaurant, which shuttered after nearly a quarter of a century of serving up some of the city’s best fried catfish.
Thankfully, folks are no longer solely relegated to the (rather great) Soul Food Renaissance at 6617 Cherry Ave., or the (also great) Crazy Creole Cafe at 900 Long Beach Blvd., to get their soul fulfilled with the sweetness of peach cobbler, corn bread, and greens.
More soul food is coming to the city thanks to Anaheim-based southern charmer Georgia’s opening up a second location at the massive sprawl of retail known as the Long Beach Exchange or LBX for short. (It joins an impressive list of upcoming tenants, from Portola and Kroft to The 908 and Quarters.)
First opening in 2014 at the Anaheim Packing District—the shopping district that was the invention of Shaheen Sadeghi, the developer who plans on making his own mark in North Long Beach with Canvas—Georgia’s has proved to be the most successful of all the District’s restaurants. We’re talking some $2 million in sales every year.
But getting to that point wasn’t easy: Owner Gretchen Shoemaker long held a catering business that served the best that soul food has to offer, from black eyed peas to mustard greens to fried pork chops slathered in gravy—all dishes based upon her own mother and grandmother’s recipes being passed on from daughter to daughter.
Part of her passion was inextricably linked to her husband, George, who would get her going each and every morning by putting on some “Let’s Stay Together” and, between dredging thighs of chicken in flour and buttermilk, would take her for a spin on the kitchen’s makeshift dance floor.
When George passed, Gretchen was left uninspired and empty—but her daughter and her husband, Nika Shoemaker-Machado and Marlon Machado, had other tricks up their sleeves come two decades later: They wanted to reinvigorate Gretchen and collaborate on a restaurant that would honor all the food that helped form her family and their memories.
In the words of Gretchen herself: “Anyone can cook soul food—they just gotta do it with love.”
Long Beach Exchange is at 4069 N. Lakewood Blvd.
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