The article I wrote announcing that Shady Grove Foods—the much-loved Long Beach barbecue joint on 4th Street—was closing largely because of a lack of support from the City with a Capital C drew a huge response online: Hundreds and hundreds of comments on Facebook and Instagram drew out the ire of many of Shady’s supporters, with a swift dose of vitriol being tossed toward City Hall.
Shady Grove Foods, on one side, claims that the City’s lack of allowing them a smoker has prevented them from properly doing business while, on the other side, supporters of the City’s policies have noted that restaurateurs need to be better prepared before opening a brick-and-mortar. It resulted in calls to me from both the mayor and vice mayor, along with multiple business owners.
And that left Mayor Rex Richardson with nothing but one thing to do: Ask me to connect him with the crew at Shady Grove Foods, pay them a visit, find out if the City was really at fault and, far more importantly, offer them a little hope.
Mayor brings his team to Shady Grove Foods to offer solutions (and eat some great food)
When it came to Shady Grove Foods and its lack-of-a-smoker situation, Mayor Rex Richardson appeared with a small team—Bo Martinez from the Economic Development Department and Lucius Martin from the Mayor’s Office—and asked a very simple question while mowing down on smoked meatloaf and the restaurant’s famed bacon slabs: “Did you fill out the application for the smoker?”
The mayor claims there is no application on file from Shady for the smoker—which is true: Dennis Robicheau, half of the Shady Grove Foods father-and-son team and ownership, said he applied. Twice. Once he was told it was the wrong application; the other, he alleges, was denied before formally filing.
“We came up with the second application they requested and they told us right then and there that it was likely it wouldn’t go through,” Dennis said. “What are we supposed to do with that? We tossed the application.”
“But the first step is to begin the process by submitting an application,” Richardson countered. “Get the application in, so we can begin to address the challenges of safely installing a commercial smoker in a building that is adjacent to residential uses. So I told the guys that we can help them through the process, with technical support and financial resources. But ultimately, the real question is whether the addition of the smoker will actually help them grow their revenue sufficiently to make the business work.”
Richardson and his crew went through a litany of things which could help Shady Grove Foods on a much larger level, from expanding online delivery options to supplementing their sales with additional pop ups at special events. The Mayor’s office also followed up and worked with Shady Grove to cater a city council meeting in December.
“There are tools available in the city which could help make their business flourish—because it definitely isn’t bad food,” Richardson said. “That smoked meatloaf? Whew. And I don’t even really eat pork, but that bacon? Incredible. It isn’t really even bacon, it’s more like bacon steaks. The food definitely isn’t the issue.”
So the final, ultimate stance Richardson and his crew left Shady Grove Foods with is this: “Shady Grove is an incredible local restaurant that we want to see thrive in Long Beach. We understand the pandemic recovery was a very challenging time to open a restaurant. Let’s start with submitting the application. The city can do its part by helping with technical support and resources to get the smoker open and the business on the right track, but the best thing the community can do is to help make sure their tables are full. By rallying together, we can ensure that Shady Grove continues to represent Long Beach barbecue sustainably.”
Crew at Shady Grove Foods feel ‘invigorated and hopeful’ following community response
“It’s been continually busy since your article came out—something we’ve been humbled by in all honesty,” said patriarch David Robicheau. “It’s really invigorated us and brought us hope so we’re excited to say that we’re committed to the community; we’re looking forward to their response and the response from the City. And mostly looking forward to getting that smoker in here.”
That smoker on-site (or at least nearby) is essential: Some nights across the past two weeks since the article was published, they’ve entirely sold out of their smoked meats—and if they had a more local smoker, that wouldn’t have been a problem.
But, there is hope following the community response and the mayor’s meeting. Dennis echoed this sentiment, noting that Bo Martinez has also proposed that, should the smoker not be permitted on site, the crew might have access to City-owned properties that could possibly make way for their smoker to happily exist.
“We have options and that makes us happy,” Dennis said. “It also brings a lot of what ifs and potential—like, some of the spaces could be warehouses that can welcome both a brewery and us, allowing to potentially collaborate on a level we’ve never been able to before—but first, we have to focus on Shady here.”
That focus includes a new effort to increase online delivery services, fundraising efforts to get the smoker application and permitting and installation going—”We’re thinking a GoFundMe or something along those lines,” David said—as well as a potential fundraiser dinner.
“It’s like my Dad said, ‘If I ain’t gonna live forever, I’m gonna die trying,'” David said. “We want to continue to be a part of the community and, as the last two weeks have shown, the community wants us here. Now it’s time to take this forward. We’ll get it done.”
Shady Grove Foods and is located at 2708 E. 4th St.