Thursday, May 30, 2024

Prospector Long Beach to close after nearly 60 years of service; developer to revamp into two new spaces

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For many Long Beach residents, it is time to say goodbye to a place that has provided a serious amount of memories, be they plates of stellar fried chicken (or very mid prime rib), plates of celebration (or buckets of you’ve-been-over-served), plates of stellar live music (or showers of cringey karaoke): The Prospector Long Beach is going to close.

After announcing that it would go up for sale back in February of 2022, has officially been sold to Hilco Development. The restaurant’s last day of service will be May 28.

So what is the future of The Prospector in Long Beach?

Cameron Hildreth of Hilco Development has confirmed the sale and stated he will be dividing the building into two new, revamped spaces, with one likely to be a pan-Latin American concept and the other to be a coffeeshop; it will not, as some had hoped, remained The Prospector with an updated menu and interior.

A date of construction on the building has yet to be confirmed as plans need to be submitted and approved before the crew can move forward considering the age of the building.

Though many have their various opinions about The Prospector, one thing will always remain true: It is a local, legendary, legacy institution that will likely remain in the Long Beach zeitgeist for as long as its tenure saving the community—and that is largely thanks to Luis Lemus, the started-out-as-a-busser-and-then-became-owner who has been heading the restaurant for 34 years.

The history of The Prospector in Long Beach

“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 back when the building first went up for sale. “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 play 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.

The idea of buying turn-key restaurants is becoming a dated one

Cafe Piccolo, the beloved old-school Italian joint on Broadway that would have celebrated its 40th birthday in two years (while having been shuttered for the past three), had its sale go on and off the market for nearly two years before finally being sold in 2022, with its new owners announcing that the Leimert Park legend Ackee Bamboo would be opening a new location there come May. 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.

No matter how trends are diced in terms of pros and cons, there is one certainty: The retirement of Lemus is well-deserved, especially when you know his 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 puts 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.”

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

And fear not, Karaokers: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday karaoke nights will still take place until the restaurant closes from 10PM to 1:30AM.

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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