Bixby Knolls restaurants continue to (r)evolve: Hortencia’s closes but Tokyo Guild opens, with bagels and Texas BBQ coming soon

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Paul Harris
The former Hortencia’s Mexican & Seafood Restaurant at 3502 Atlantic Ave., will be converted into a Texas-barbeque eatery. Tokyo Guild, a sushi restaurant at 4262 Atlantic Ave. in Bixby Knolls, opened last month.

[Editor’s note: The original fourth-to-last paragraph in this article regarding Stateside Crafts at 4242 Atlantic Ave. was incorrect. The Signal Tribune quoted the statement from a BKBIA official who provided information throughout the article. The co-owner of Stateside Crafts, Patrick Homa, contacted the Signal Tribune and pointed out that the statement is false and added that the Signal Tribune did not verify the information with him. The aforementioned false statement has been removed. Stateside Crafts, 4242 Atlantic Ave., is not closing. Business hours are noon to 9pm, except Sundays, and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. They can be reached at (562) 352-8988]

Gentrification has hit Bixby Knolls hard with several new restaurants and breweries opening just within the past few years along Atlantic Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard between Wardlow Road and San Antonio Drive.

But some don’t stay for very long. Among the latest casualties are two Mexican-themed restaurants, O’Paloma and Hortencia’s Mexican & Seafood, both on Atlantic, which still sports four other such restaurants– Patricia’s Restaurant, La Casita Rivera, Albarito’s Mexican Fresh Food and Lola’s Mexican Cuisine.

O’Paloma had opened last year at the site of the relatively short-lived The 4262, named after its Atlantic Avenue address, which was also the site of the similarly short-lived ATUN Sushi. O’Paloma had been run by the owner of 10-year-old Baba Ghanouj– a nearby Lebanese restaurant.

Katie Phillips, project manager at the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), told the Signal Tribune that O’Paloma’s business had been slow because of the Mexican restaurants existing in the area.

Since then, Tokyo Guild, which general manager and chef Val Lee describes as a “Japanese tavern,” opened last month at that location.

Lee said that Takashi Sada, owner of the 17-year-old sushi restaurant Japonica in Redondo Beach, searched for a place in Bixby Knolls, perceiving it as an up-and-coming area. He invested through a friend after meeting with Blair Cohn, BKBIA’s executive director, to review options.

Lee said he hopes the restaurant site’s history as a somewhat “cursed location”, with low visibility and parking, will be alleviated with some improvements such as cutting back obscuring trees.

When it opened, this newest Bixby Knolls establishment started serving ramen and Japanese katsu sandwiches with sakes and beers from Japan, but quickly responded to customer feedback, Lee said.
“There’s so many people in the area doing ramen, so we started doing sushi two weeks ago,” he said. “We’ve gotten no more complaints since then.”

Phillips said that the BKBIA had suggested that the restaurant avoid selling ramen but when they did, “there was major community backlash.”

“We did advise them as to what sort of food they were going to serve,” she said. “We found out they were going to serve ramen and we advised them that wasn’t a good idea. We strongly advised them to take the Japonica restaurant model and serve more sushi.”

Other nearby, relatively new purveyors of the Japanese noodles include Ramen Hub & Poke at 3900 Atlantic Ave., HiroNori Craft Ramen at 610 E. Carson St. and Tajima Ramen in the SteelCraft complex at 3768 Long Beach Blvd., all joining veteran establishment Bamboo Teri House at 3391 Atlantic Ave.
Lee said that Tokyo Guild plans to upgrade its sushi fish and hire a sushi chef. It also intends to expand its sake selection and offer beer from local breweries, such as Ambitious Ales at 4019 Atlantic Ave.

He said friendly competition and businesses helping each other is good for the entire community and sees Bixby Knolls’s food-and-drink scene continuing to grow.

“In 10 years, it should be booming,” Lee said. “I told Blair, ‘If you keep pushing, the momentum ball will keep rolling.’”

Sada also recently opened a Tokyo Guild in Culver City, where the restaurant scene has burgeoned in the past decade.

“I hope it gets like that here,” Lee said.
At the other end of the street, Hortencia’s at 3502 Atlantic Ave. closed in June, having only been open for a year after replacing another Mexican restaurant– Baja Sonora, which is still open at another location in Long Beach.

Hortencia’s, too, has other locations– in Los Alamitos and Lake Arrowhead.

But its Atlantic Ave. site was sold to a group of six new owners who are currently in the process of transforming the space into a Texas barbeque restaurant called Derrick’s, spelled like an oil rig.

One of those owners spoke with the Signal Tribune this week, but asked not to be named for this story until the restaurant has secured all its operating licenses.

“I think we’re positioned well with our theme,” he said. “There are no other barbeque places in this area that are even close.”

The owner said he and his partners had been looking for a suitable site for their concept for six months and began their lease on Aug. 1. Since then, they have been working with everyone from an architect to the health department to make modifications and secure licenses and permits.

They also applied to convert the site’s existing beer-and-wine license to make it a full-liquor license but that takes six months, he said. The restaurant plans to open on Oct. 1.

The group has already completed some modifications, include taking out the rubber flooring in favor of concrete and redoing the site’s landscaping and irrigation. Additional changes include redesigning the bathrooms with concrete and tiling, and installing new walls and new kitchen equipment, including a smoker.

Outside, the restaurant will boast new awnings and a bar in the patio area, which the owner said is an increasingly common feature in Long Beach and Signal Hill restaurants. The patio will be screened for a back-porch appearance and the restaurant will have a wooden barn-door façade.

He noted that the lot has ample parking– 22 spaces.

The owner added that he has extensive food-service and restaurant experience and that his son recently traveled to Austin, Texas, to survey barbeque-restaurant practices, including how they prepare different meats and what woods they use.

“We’re doing our homework,” he said.

Derrick’s will offer lunch and dinner and test certain items to see how customers receive them, including a porterhouse steak in the evenings, the owner said.

Since they all live in the area, the owner and his partners noticed that Bixby Knolls restaurants had become busier, with waiting lines of customers.

“Lunch here has a real good crowd if you can meet their needs,” he said.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the food-and-drink industry nationally expects to see $863 billion in sales in 2019, with revenues 4% higher in June than a year ago.

In California, eating and drinking places are a $97-billion industry, with 76,200 establishments creating 1.8 million jobs, a number expected the grow by 9% in the next decade, the association estimates. Every dollar spent in the table-service segment contributes $2.03 to the state economy, it says.

The organization notes that the area represented by U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal, which includes all of Long Beach and extends into western Orange County, sustains 1,600 restaurants with 30,600 employees.

Locally in Bixby Knolls, Phillips said that bagel shop Cassidy’s Corner Café will open in September next door to the Willmore Wine Bar at 3848 Atlantic Ave.

Phillips also noted that Taboon Mediterranean restaurant at 539 E. Bixby Rd. has been redecorated with a new patio, upgraded air-conditioning and will soon have a beer-and-wine license.

Future area restaurants include a replacement for the former Hof’s Hut at 4251 Long Beach Blvd. and two adjacent sites currently being constructed on Atlantic Ave., one earmarked as an Asian-fusion restaurant and the other as yet undetermined, Phillips said.

“We sent out a survey asking what people want,” she said. “And people really, really want Italian, or solid healthy options, or a nice sit-down place.”