One of the most difficult, or maddening, parts of my job these days is reading and editing Brian Addison’s odes to the legion of restaurants in this town. Each eatery is described in glorious terms which I have to read while I’m forced to yank a two-day old ham sandwich out of my jacket pocket for simple sustenance because I don’t have the time or money to visit his recommendations on restaurants dishing out the region’s finest Levantine shawarmas or marlin tacos.
My sole solace is the fact that many of these excellent dining places will close, if not soon, at least eventually.
Things fall apart: Your favorite restaurant is doomed.
Nothing lasts forever, and that’s even more true when it comes to restaurants. An oft-cited Ohio State University study that shows 60 percent of new restaurants fail in their first year, and 80 percent close within five years—facts that are perennially ignored by new and optimistic cooks, chefs and culinary entrepreneurs.
They open new restaurants each year, some offering your ham-and-eggs basics, some ambitiously invent new fusion fare by recklessly spinning a globe and stopping it on two radically different countries resulting in Sino-Persian dishes or Mexi-Russo specialties.
The road to hell is littered with closed Long Beach restaurants. On Sunday evening, I asked members of the hyper-nostalgic Born and Raised in Long Beach Facebook group (its motto could be “Remember Zody’s?”) to give us the name of their favorite failed Long Beach restaurant. Twenty-four hours later I had 1,000 responses.
Some were of the fancy sort, probably most fondly recalled was Welch’s on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls. Welch’s was the height of style in the 1960s. A river ran through it, and it served up the normal steaks and lobsters, along with other swank food like abalone steak and jumbo frog legs.
There were hundreds of other places mentioned: The Chandelier and Puccini’s, both on Atlantic; Naples’ Hindquarter and Kelly’s. Charlie Brown’s and the Velvet Turtle in the middle of town; King Arthur’s and Golden Lantern in the Plaza; Downtown’s Phillip’s Chicken Pie and Russell’s; Second Street’s Leilani Hut, Northwoods Inn, the Shore House and Hamburger Henry’s; the Mexican food restaurants El Patio, Mexico City and El Castillo Real; the Westside’s Twin Wheels.
There were lots of memories of the various Hof’s Huts, especially the Marina location with the bar. Mike’s Munchies, which always brings a tear to the eyes of sandwichologists; Simon & Seafort’s, the Scotch capital of Southern California (there’s one in Alaska now). And many, many more — Francois’ Manhattan, Arnold’s Ranch House, Mr. C’s, LaRizza Pizza, Burgermaster…).
What became of them all? The reasons are as varied as the menu offerings of the roster of shuttered restaurants.
Gambling and cocaine closed at least a couple, but there are less amusing ways to do it. Poor bookkeeping leading to going upside down on finances; undercapitalization: Not having enough money to get the business airborne; overall lousiness: Lousy food, lousy workers, lousy customer service—when a customers leaves and say “I’m never coming back,” they generally never come back.
There’s the problem of too many offerings on the menu, leading to exorbitant waste. There are absentee owners who think the money’s going to come rolling in, which it won’t unless there’s a person with—and I hate this phrase, but here we go—skin in the game, willing to work 16-hour days to make this dream come true. (Ohio State to dreamers: “Give up!”)
There are those whose parents not only had the dream and worked like crazy to make it come true and succeeded. And then died. And Junior inherited the business but he was lazy or had an affinity for the ponies and blow and drove it into the ground. That’s happened, too.
Or maybe the old folks simply died and their heirs, greedy little brats, just had no energy or interest in keeping the place going.
Poor location is another reason, and we wish Neil and Phyllis Strawder, the owners of Bigmista’s, had talked to us before they opened their store on Los Coyotes Diagonal in East Long Beach. On the surface (and by “surface” we mean “personally”) it seemed like a good idea, if only because the location was just a few hundred yards from our house, and there’s nothing like living a few hundred yards from a world-class barbecue joint.
But that’s a location where restaurants go to die. Ferraro’s, a solid B-plus Italian restaurant died there, along with its predecessor, some sort of sports/sandwich/beer place. Soon the owners of the (closed) River’s End cafe in Seal Beach will be opening a restaurant there. Don’t pin your hopes and dreams on the place.
Restaurants don’t last forever on the east side (OK, except for the Eldo on Spring Street which, in fact, has lasted forever). My paltry handful of bills wasn’t enough to keep Bigmista’s going. It’s sister location, Morning Wood (a strange name for a sister) on Carson died first after just a couple of years, then this year Bigmista closed after three years — well within Ohio State’s dire and gloomy figures.
What’s the point? Of life? I have no idea, but in terms of places to eat, hold your favorite restaurant close. Treasure every moment with it. Shower it with money. Because one day it will die, and when that day comes, it will break your little heart.