Richard Foss

2019 Dining in review – Restaurants go round ‘n round

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by Richard Foss

Many year-end roundups start with a statement about it being the “Year Of Something-or-other,” sometimes with good reason. I thought for a while about what that trend might be. The year of service charges? The year of grocery store restaurants? The year of stalled remodels?

It was all of those things. Service charges are a recent phenomenon that have multiplied despite unanimous unpopularity. Most are allegedly to cover employee healthcare and service. Some restaurateurs who use imported products and wines are considering adding a “Trump tariff surcharge.”

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Restaurants are being hit by increases for almost everything, and in an industry that has a high failure rate they must balance making rent with annoying clientele.

The evolution of full-service dining operations inside supermarkets has been more popular with diners. The major openings of the year, Gelson’s and Mother’s Markets in Manhattan Beach, and Lazy Acres in Hermosa Beach, are different in ways that reflect their clientele. Gelson’s sushi and wine bar serves tapas and artisanal products, while Mother’s has a largely vegetarian menu with many healthy options. The smaller Natural World Market on Artesia has a café and bakery that goes further into vegan and gluten-free territory.

This has been a great year for vegetarians. Not only did two new vegan restaurants open in the area, but other restaurants are expanding their meatless offerings. Meatless dining has gone mainstream, and the South Bay is ahead of the curve.              

There were slightly fewer openings than in 2018, but not for lack of effort – at least five delayed projects had announced they would be serving by the beginning of October and another three planned to be open by December 1. All are paying rent, some hired staff, and none of their investors can be happy about this.

The year saw titanic change in downtown Manhattan Beach, particularly on Manhattan Avenue. One year ago, the original Mama D’s, Darren’s, Jimmy’s, Fonz’s, and Wahoo’s served meals a few blocks from each other. All had been open for decades, and now all are gone, the most abrupt change in one neighborhood in recent years, not caused by fire or other disasters. Only two of their replacements have managed to get open, Slay’s and Costa.

PCH has been lively too, with the move of Big Wok into its new location underway and new restaurants Mercado and Urban Plates opening in the mall. North Manhattan was unusually quiet, with only vegan breakfast and lunch spot M & Love opening on Highland.

Hermosa was uneventful by comparison, with the plaza and Pier Avenue fairly stable, though nearby Decadence and Crafty Minds brought life two locations that had been moribund. The arrival of Spumoni and Barsha on Aviation lit up that area, and nearby El Barrio has been doing well, too. They’re proving that sophisticated and creative dining can thrive east of PCH, and that may spur other entrepreneurs to give the area a fresh look.

In Redondo the reopening of Addi’s and the eccentric Fatta A Mano pasta shop were highly anticipated and have lived up to expectations. Riviera Village has been hopping as always, with two former retail spaces turned into food destinations and another in process, so concerns about parking haven’t scared off diners and investors, yet.

It has been a mixed year in El Segundo, with Slice and Pint the only full-service restaurant to open downtown. The El Segundo Chophouse called it quits, probably due to a concept too odd to draw enough traffic to that large space, but other area restaurants are thriving. On Rosecrans Chin Chin and Butcher, Baker, and Cappuccino Maker recently opened, and they’ll have company when Eddie V’s steakhouse opens across the street.

There are storm clouds at the Elevon development, which has several stalled or canceled projects. Lisa’s Café and Bakery, the largest and most ambitious restaurant in the complex, has shuttered, though a branch of the Fantastic Café burger chain is taking up the slack. Some nearby projects have also faltered, and it may be that the lack of weekend traffic makes this area a niche market. Still, many people are now open to the idea of driving considerable distances for an exceptional dining experience, and one bold success could put the area on the map. It will take some outreach to the local community to get them to consider eastern ES as more than a business district with a hockey rink, but it can be done.

The Peninsula lost more than it gained this year, with no significant changes except for the repositioning of Terranea’s poolside restaurant as the spa-oriented Solviva. Locals lost the landmark Admiral Risty, the only eatery on that side of the Hill to draw from outside the area. Other restaurants around the South Bay that served their last meals include A Basq Kitchen, Angel City Grill, Chicago For Ribs, Hawaiian Shaka Burgers, Kochi, Orlando’s, Pie Pie Pie, Serve on Second, Shark’s Cove, Superba Food & Bread, Suzy’s, and the 1892 Bistro.

Looking ahead, Manhattan Beach will continue to lead in openings, with nine projects now under construction and others planned. Hermosa has only two announced projects, but several vacant spaces and a few eateries are for sale, so that number will grow. Redondo may finally see changes at the pier, thanks to a new push to lease vacant spaces there, though concerns about the dilapidated parking structure may deter potential tenants.

This year’s openings were diverse in style and cuisine, and the announced debuts next year are similarly eclectic. The shine is still on the Beach Cities as the dining area of choice for locals and a destination for visitors. Though the restaurant business is never predictable, 2020 look generally good for the industry.

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