Friday, July 19, 2024

A local institution: Long Beach Prospector up for sale with hopes new owner will continue traditions

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In three years, The Prospector—the wood-paneled, heavy-pour steakhouse at the southeast corner of 7th Street and Junipero Avenue—will be turning 60.

But it will likely be without its current owner, the much-loved Luis Lemus, who has been heading the restaurant for 33 years and has the space currently listed for $3M.

How the Long Beach Prospector falls into an old-school category of restaurants

“In all honesty and given his preferences, Luis would love to have somebody keep it as The Prospector,” said listing agent and longtime patron Christopher Livingston. “But there’s also a reality: He wants to retire and be done with the whole thing—so it just matters who makes offers and in what capacity.”

This comes with a trend that will be interesting to see lay out: Old-school restaurateurs are used to the concept that ones buys an entire restaurant as is—just as Luis did with The Prospector—where you take on the brand, the vibe, and the menu.

But as new chefs become more confident about their own ability at creating a menu and contemporary restaurateurs know precisely the concepts they want to execute, the idea of turnkey-restaurants is a fading one. 

Cafe Piccolo, the beloved old-school Italian joint on Broadway that will celebrate its 40th in three years (while having been shuttered for the past two), has had its sale go on and off the market for nearly two years. Owner Moe Shahbani admits two things: A refusal to admit the restaurant is fully closed but unsure where he wants to take it, be it for resale or reopen.

The history of the Long Beach Prospector is rich and beautiful

That retirement is well-deserved, especially when you know of Lemus’s story: Immigrating from Mexico in February of 1977 with a couple of cousins when he was 17, he came straight to Long Beach to come live with a brother. And The Prospector was, as he put it amusingly, “a mistake.”

Within a year of being here, Luis bounced back-and-forth between a plethora of jobs ranging from a bakery to a hamburger joint. As his English improved, he became the leader in achieving jobs for his family—and one of those jobs happened to be a dishwashing position at The Prospector for his brother. 

Luis soon began noticing something very specific at his restaurant job: The cook would leave his post a bit too often and, without hesitation, Luis hopped on the cooking line, checking tickets, and cooking orders.

Luckily, the boss was watching.

And he denied that boss’s initial offer to become a cook. However, after some sneaky bargaining—”Of course, I lied about how much I was making at my other job. I was making $3.90 an hour but I told her I was making $4.50″—he accepted the job as a cook at a higher rate than he could have ever expected: $5 bucks an hour.

After a year of a self-admitted dislike for The Prospector, he suddenly “got used to it,” as he put it. Perhaps it was the fact that he was slowly making the kitchen his own. Perhaps it was because no one questioned him. Perhaps it was the fact that a small family was being built. Either way, a customer at the bar told him one day, “Y’know, Luis, you’re gonna be the boss around here one day.”

And now, that boss is rightfully ready to take a well-deserved seat. 

The Prospector is located at 2400 E. 7th St.

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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