Editor’s Note: Forget about caucuses and primaries and sweater vests. It’s more fun to talk about a rising star chef putting BBQ on the map just south of the Orange Curtain. We check in with SmallBiz Trendcast‘s Maria Valdez Haubrich, who recently visited Beachwood BBQ, where chef/owners Gabe and Lena Gordon serve up “uncomfortable” American comfort food to appreciative locals.
When Gabe Gordon and his wife, Lena, decided to open a restaurant in Seal Beach, CA, the residents were less than excited about yet another restaurant. They had seen so many come and go, and they didn’t like change on their very laid-back Main Street, which has a “local hangout” vibe.
Five years later, Beachwood BBQ has not only won over the locals with its high-quality comfort food and craft beers, the business has also thrived well enough to warrant opening a second (bigger) location in nearby downtown Long Beach. As a big fan of Gabe’s concept (and a frequent patron), I talked to him about his startup experience.
MVH: Tell us about your startup for Beachwood. What made you decide to open your own restaurant?
GG: Because of my fine-dining background we wanted to open a little ten-table, high-end restaurant. When we started talking to people in Seal Beach, no one seemed very enthusiastic about it. We had already secured the space and I didn’t want to lose my opportunity to have a little restaurant on the beach.
I’ve always been fascinated by American cuisine—much of my cooking was taking American comfort food and making it uncomfortable. I often used smoking techniques. When you take the pretentiousness out of my cooking, BBQ seemed a natural fit. We then test marketed the idea of a BBQ joint that focused on quality ingredients and products, and the residents of Seal Beach were much more excited.
The craft beer focus initially came from my own desire to serve good wine at my previous restaurants, so why it be different with beer? If you are going to serve BBQ, you have to have beer; and if you are going to serve beer, it should be the best craft beer on the market. It is unacceptable to serve a product that even its producers find it so unappealing they don’t advertise the taste, they focus on the packaging, i.e., a vortex bottle or cans that turn blue when cold.
I always knew that I wanted to open my own place and everything aligned perfectly for me to be able to do so.
MVH: You’ve ridden the wave of economic hard times and have come out still successful. Why do you think that is?
GG: I think it’s important to be self-reflective, always looking at what you can do to improve your food, your service and your costs. I knew that our success was going to be based not on making a quick buck, but on creating a place that folks wanted to frequent, so we always looked at our business as a long-term investment. If you keep your prices right, you make your dollars on the longevity of repeat business.
MVH: In the five years you’ve been in business, what kind of changes have you seen on the restaurant industry? In the beer industry?
GG: Everyone is opening a beer-based restaurant. They are seeing the positive trend in craft beer sales and are now creating menus and tap lists that complement each other.
Craft beer is growing, macro domestic brands are losing market share. It reflects well on our food and beverage scene that people are rejecting low-quality food and drink and voting with their dollars to support local small businesses.
MVH: You recently opened a second location for Beachwood. What are your future plans for the business?
GG: We are working diligently to produce quality craft beer and continue serving our signature BBQ items. We plan on continuing to grow the business in order to have a production brewery.