Monday, April 22, 2024

Chef Jason Witzl shutters deli concept, ditches Zaferia move as Ellie’s Long Beach returns to original home

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It ain’t easy out there for restaurants—and especially for Ellle’s Long Beach, as Chef Jason Witzl is forced to abandon the restaurant’s move to the much-lauded, soon-to-likely-shutter Compound art complex in Zaferia. There is, however, a silver lining: Ellie’s will return to its full glory at its original location in Alamitos Beach.

The evolution of Ellie’s Long Beach, one of the city’s best restaurants

When Chef Jason Witzl first opened Ellie’s in Alamitos Beach, he had no intention of becoming a high-end spot serving $30 pasta dishes. In fact, he’d intended for Ellie’s to be a deli, a place where stacks of calabrese, mortadella, capocollo, chicken parm, and meatballs were stuffed between slices of hearty bread.

But, like many chefs, his mind raced and he opted for a last-minute turn highlighting the more formal aspects of Italian cuisine merged with Californian sensibility and, with it, came the crowds that adored the food but expressed frustration with its tiny space as well as the neighborhood’s infamous lack of parking or ability to score a valet.

That’s changed in mid-2020 as Ellie’s Long Beach attempted to move to a new home in the East Long Beach neighborhood of Zaferia—joining The Hideaway, Pho Hong Phat, and other culinary gems—while leaving the original location in Alamitos Beach to become an all-out Italian deli Witzl originally envisioned mid-pandemic.

It’s name was Ellie’s Deli.

Moving the original space away from high-end Italian and toward accessible, hearty deli foods wasn’t just what Witzl called “necessary and right,” but ultimately a smart move in the world of COVID.

“I simply can’t look at my neighborhood [of Alamitos Beach] and ask them to keep this up,” Witzl said at the time of opening Ellie’s Deli. “So many of my patrons and regulars have lost their jobs—and they were already spending heavy when they came in. I can’t ask them, when we re-open, to throw down on a $35 plate of pasta. I just can’t.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t work out—and neither did Zaferia.

The sad loss of The Compound in Long Beach

Ellie’s move to Zaferia was one Witzl exclaimed with genuine enthusiasm: “We’ll have a valet!” he happily exclaimed at the time.

Ellie’s becoming part of The Compound was but a string of successes for Witzl: Ellie’s was becoming Ellie’s Deli, his short-lived private dinner concept at Ginger’s was a great success and looks to reopen when it can, and at the time, the now-shuttered Lupe’s (which doesn’t seem to be opening any time soon) was lauded.

Amid rumors, The Compound itself isn’t faring well either as staff layoffs continue and the site seems uncertain at best.

But hey, we still have Ellie’s. At its original location. And during these times, that’s a win.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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