At the heart of the Cal State Long Beach campus, tucked between the student union and the University Bookstore, sits a beloved eatery and concert venue that’s been an integral part of the campus community since its opening in 1973.

The Nugget Grill & Pub has served countless students, faculty and staff over the last five decades—with the exception of the last three years.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit back in March 2020, The Nugget’s doors have stayed closed, with nearly a full graduating class of students earning their degrees without once stopping in for a burger or a beer.

But finally, that wait is over. After hosting a soft opening on Dec. 5, which has included limited hours and a reduced menu, The Nugget is set to fully reopen this Thursday, welcoming students back to campus for the start of the spring semester.

Patrons enjoy the limited menu of The Nugget Grill & Pub at Cal State Long Beach during its soft opening. After being closed for nearly three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the eatery held a soft opening Dec. 5, 2022, and is slated to fully reopen Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. Photo by Tyler Hendrickson

“We are very excited,” said Associated Students, Inc. Executive Director Miles Nevin. “COVID was so traumatic in so many ways, and one of those ways is it forced us as a university to close a lot of our business operations, and now as we repopulate, we’re slowly bringing those back.

“Food service is obviously a critical need for the campus, for students and for other constituents,” Nevin added, “and bringing The Nugget back is really important because it’s an anchor restaurant on the south side of campus.”

Many in the campus community—from students to staff to CSULB alumni—have wondered what has taken so long in getting the location back up and running. According to Rosa Hernandez, an associate executive director with Forty-Niner Shops—a commercial nonprofit auxiliary that provides food services at CSULB—there have been a number of different obstacles along the way.

“With The Nugget being closed for almost three years, we definitely had our set of challenges,” she said. “We saw everything from facility issues, equipment and critical operational issues—all things that are vital to open a food service facility safely, and in compliance with the Health Department, building marshal and other regulatory requirements.

“One of the biggest challenges we have faced in general, and continue to face throughout our dining locations, is staffing, and hiring kitchen and back-of-the-house staff,” Hernandez added. “It felt that as one obstacle was addressed, another would come up. Our teams have been working really hard to open, and doing everything they can to ensure our restaurants are up and running for our students.”

With the abrupt shift to remote learning, Forty-Niner Shops laid off its staff of over 600 full- and part-time food service and hospitality workers in 2020, with no clear timeline as to when students could safely return to campus. Once in-person instruction resumed, there was a hope that things could quickly return to normal, but getting such a large, complicated ecosystem back up and running proved to be quite a challenge.

As those previous employees went out and found employment elsewhere, Forty-Niner Shops essentially had to start from scratch in re-assembling its workforce.

“There’s literally three people that are part of this team that were here pre-COVID, and only one of those people worked at The Nugget,” said Margie Ramirez, operations manager for Forty-Niner Shops.

According to Ramirez, the struggle in finding experienced kitchen staff was one of the primary challenges for getting The Nugget reopened—but it was far from the only one. Once staff could return to the building, there were several repairs needed for the equipment that had sat dormant for nearly three years. Forty-Niner Shops also had to do a thorough walk-through and inspection of the facility—not just within The Nugget’s walls, but within the entire cafeteria building attached to The Nugget, which housed the now-vacant storefronts for Panda Express, Starbucks and other vendors in the University Dining Plaza.

This led to the discovery of clogs, leaks, broken tiles and other minor issues that needed addressing before customers could be welcomed back. Ramirez said that in total, the staff went through four inspections of the building, both internally and with the assistance of on-campus maintenance crews and the Health Department.

But each of those challenges have now been addressed, and The Nugget is set to reopen with a full menu this Thursday, Jan. 19. Nevin said that around 400 students have been hired on to meet staffing needs, putting Forty-Niner shops “pretty much back to status quo” for student employment.

The Nugget’s hours are currently set for 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, with an early closing time of 3 p.m. on Fridays.

During the last month, as students and faculty have casually wandered into the restaurant during the soft opening, Ramirez says there’s been a lot of excitement about The Nugget’s return, and she’s looking forward to a busy day on Thursday as one of the campus’s lone watering holes finally opens its doors—and its taps—once again.

“They’re very grateful, and super happy to see us,” said Ramirez. “I mean, the stories, the memories—they just start reminiscing. And then they’re asking questions about, ‘What are the new beers?’ and, ‘When are the draft beers coming?’”

“Stay tuned for the first day of spring semester,” she said.