In 2014, Jimmy and Nicky Loizides (brother and sister owners of George’s Greek Café) presented the idea of “parklet dining” to the Belmont Shore Business Association (BSBA). Having visited the Long Beach Parklet pilot program on 4th street, they were inspired by the idea of a communal, inviting, al fresco dining space with a vibrant European feel. The Loizides thought outside dining would be a perfect fit in Belmont Shore.
Having done their research, drawn up the architectural plan, and prepared their presentation, they made their pitch to the BSBA.
It was dead on arrival.
Almost no one liked the idea for 2nd street. They feared it would pose too big a risk. Parking, safety, traffic… all the standard reasons you can think of to stick with the status quo. There was no real support or hope so the Loizides family didn’t press anymore.
Fast forward to 2020 and the unforeseen dining shutdowns. Before she could even reimagine the parklet idea herself, Nicky got a call from Dede Rossi, the Executive Director of BSBA.
“Within hours we got this thing up. I am so grateful for Dede, [councilmember] Suzie Price and the Mayor [Robert Garcia],” Nicky says, referring to their help during this Pandemic.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much the city has done for us during these times,” says her brother Jimmy, “I’ve often been critical of the city and how it treats businesses. But not this time. You have to be fair and in this instance they’ve done a great job.”
George’s Greek Café parklet was the first to go up on 2nd street, but just about every restaurant in Belmont Shore and across Long Beach has followed suit. If it’s not a parklet, it’s sidewalk dining, parking lot dining, or even “in the street” dining through the City’s temporary “Open Streets” initiative (only a few select streets are permitted for street dining).
And people are loving it. No matter where you live in Long Beach, you don’t have to drive far to see a patron enjoying local food under an umbrella.
But this new normal begs the question that many in this city are asking. Why doesn’t Long Beach already have more outdoor dining? What can we do to make outdoor dining a long-term staple of Long Beach?
Nico’s in Naples is about as “indoor” an experience as you will find in Long Beach. An old-fashioned horseshoe bar centers the main floor of the small restaurant. It’s surrounded by booths with white tablecloths, dim lighting, and mood music. There is a hidden back lounge and an intimate upstairs dining room that lets customers escape from the modern world.
Or at least there was all of that -
“I think right now that the future of the restaurant business is an open concept,” says Nico’s owner George Mlouk.
He is thinking of opening the front and side of his restaurant after this pandemic is over as a long-term business decision. In watching the clients who have supported him so loyally over the past two decades, he’s been noticing how much they enjoy the outdoor seating. They are enjoying the warm California weather even more than they loved the hushed darkened dining room.
“I don’t think that there is another option. This is just the beginning of how this business is changing…a lot of places are going to have to offer sidewalk dining, rooftop dining, or patios to survive.”
Mike Ellis, owner of Riley’s in Belmont Shore, has had a small patio for years. It’s part of what’s made his sports bar a town staple. Yet even Mike admits he’s surprised about how comfortable and beneficial the current parklet dining experience is. Ellis is one of many who are admitting their minds have changed since the idea was first proposed many years ago.
“The main thing I’ve learned about parklets is that they can be constructed in such a way that you don’t feel like you’re sitting in the street. I was a little leery when I saw a few being erected on 4th street a couple of years ago, but when I saw them from [our] sidewalk [this year] I was beyond impressed. They look like they belong there. I’m absolutely in favor of keeping them long term as long as public safety is taken into consideration.”
What Mike’s not surprised about is how popular they are. “It’s no secret that people like dining al fresco. Whether it’s a place overlooking the marina, like Schooner or Later (which has been wildly successful for years with almost no indoor seating), sitting on the rooftop deck at Ballast Point, or lounging on 2nd street doing some people watching, patios and outdoor dining areas always seem to be in high demand... Especially when the weather is nice.”
So the question remains…why aren’t there more opportunities to dine outside?
Mike Ellis’s guess is the simple fact that it takes money, and he seems to be right.
We usually hate to blame our forefathers for anything, but the biggest reason may be that Long Beach buildings just weren’t designed with the idea of outdoor dining in mind.
The city’s premiere rooftop dining is at Michael’s in Naples. General Manager (GM) Massimo Aronne agrees that cost and permitting both likely play a role in why there are not more such venues. He says when Michael’s renovated its rooftop, owner Michael swallowed the high costs and red tape as worth the investment. A stellar Al Fresco rooftop was always in the vision of Michael’s concept. Two key factors also played into his ability to make that vision come true. For one, the building already had a raw rooftop dining area built in (one of the few in the city). Secondly, Michael owned the building. The costs involved could be justified through the resultant increase in property value.
Arguably, one of the most popular restaurants in East Long Beach is the Boathouse on the Bay. Owner John Morris’s large “on the deck” patio has helped save his business during this pandemic. He has also benefited by the ubiquitous sidewalk permitting the city has granted, which allows him to put tables on the sidewalk overlooking Alamitos Bay. The gorgeous waterfront and sunset views from these new tables creates one of the most marvelous dining experiences in SoCal.
Morris is thrilled that his Pandemic-era guests are enjoying everything California has to offer. What upsets him, though, is that he submitted a plan to City Hall three years ago requesting to build extended patio seating in the very space where it is now allowed.
“I’m hoping that now, under the current climate and seeing how much some of the businesses are struggling, [the City] realizes that in order to increase the sales tax revenue they need to allow businesses to think outside of the box in order to survive and make a profit.”
So what is stopping his plan for the patio extension from being approved? According to Morris, just a lack of prioritization.
“As far as I know, [the plan] has never gotten past someone’s desk at City Hall. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve tried to push the button to move it ahead. It hasn’t even gotten to the Coastal Commission approval process.”
Morris and others we’ve talked to are financially willing and able to provide more waterfront dining if given approval. For now, they are excited to see how much people are enjoying the beautiful ocean views.