Monday, April 22, 2024

Long Beach popup Axiom BBQ temporarily closes amid concerns over numbers, search for brick-and-mortar

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Is there something up with the state of barbecue in Long Beach? In a deep sense of irony, following Shady Grove’s frustration with their own brick-and-mortar that almost led to their closure and their return to the popup scene, barbecue popup Axiom BBQ announced this will be their last weekend serving “for a while.”

“I know we’ll be back in some capacity but we need to figure stuff out, to regroup,” said Qiana Mafnas, half of the husband-and-wife team behind Axiom.

What, exactly, is prompting Axiom BBQ’s closure—and what is the future?

“We’re just not getting the numbers,” Qiana said frankly. “I think it is a mixture of many things: It’s our location and the hours, it’s the fact that there’s no place for people to sit and have a drink—it’s been the reason we’ve been searching for a brick-and-mortar.”

That latter part is true: Qiana and her husband Ian have not only met multiple landlords examining spaces across the city, but they’ve been doing so for the better half of the last year.

“Our food goes great with a beer or a drink—and that could definitely help us if people were able to sit down and enjoy themselves with food and a drink,” Qiana said. “It’s really those things we’ve long wanted to align ourselves with but the search for a permanent home has been frustrating to say the least.”

That frustration is something many new budding restaurateurs know of: From a landlord unable to reason with upgrades that surely fall in their circle of responsibility to the daunting reality of permitting for a new space, the Mafnas family is not the uncommon factor in dealing with messiness when it comes to making the switch from popup to brick-and-mortar.

“We refuse to give up for now,” Qiana said. “Absolutely refuse.”

Why Axiom BBQ is important to the Long Beach food scene—and our overall culture of food

When I first wrote about Axiom BBQ for Eater LA back in 2022, there was both a sensation of excitement—it was nice to see Long Beach’s barbecue scene expand beyond the sole mastery of Robert Earl and into the hands of a different generation, something they shared with Chef Chad Phuong of Battambong BBQ—and a sense of pride: Them allowing me to tell their story was humbling.

Here’s how I opened that piece:

An Axiom Kitchen Smoked Meats & BBQ pop-up typically looks something like this: Hunks of smoked beef ribs, thickly sliced brisket, and strips of tri-tip get slathered in herbed clarified butter before hitting a scorching-hot flat top for a finishing sear. Qiana and Ian Mafnas, the Black and Chamorro wife-and-husband team behind the Long Beach pop-up, rotate between helping patrons, leading service calls, and packaging to-go trays; the family unit is a well-oiled assembly line. Son Tai always has a spatula in hand, and daughter Dominique and younger son Robbie assemble platters. Ian mans the grill and Qiana handles the money and orders. Together they run a smooth operation, turning out some of the most interesting takes on Texas-style barbecue anywhere in Los Angeles County.

That wasn’t always the case for the Mafnases. Before Qiana and Ian found stability in a life of smoke and meat, they met more than a decade ago as addicts. “We knew the time wasn’t right and that we weren’t treating ourselves right — even though he’s been trying to marry me for a decade,” Qiana says with a laugh, noting the pair finally married last year. “So we had to separate to work on ourselves. When we became sober, we realized we had both entered into social services, working to help other people through their trauma.”

They represent a part of Long Beach that is both vastly underrepresented—Black-woman headed and owned businesses—and one that needs to maintain its identity under the shadow of our sister to the north: That Long Beach’s barbecue scene is worthwhile, inventive, and celebratory.

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.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Could they lease or share lease the place on 4th next to Seabirds that’s available? (Yes, I know it may be odd or unwelcome to have them next to a vegetarian place). The old Pancho’s building on 7th might also still be available.

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