Monday, April 22, 2024

Why Venice’s The Win~Dow was always destined for Long Beach

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The Win~Dow, Venice’s smash burger concept birthed in 2019 in a parking lot, has officially opened its first Long Beach location in Belmont Shore in the former Archibald’s space, adding to the loved neighborhood’s renaissance and its growing need for more accessible, affordable options.

The pandemic-friendly concept was prescient when it opened before we ever heard the word “COVID,” acting as an accompaniment-slash-through-a-window-offshoot to American Gonzo Food Corporation‘s more upscale American Beauty steakhouse.

And, in all frankness, The Win~Dow was always destined for Long Beach.

Wait—The Win~Dow has Long Beach roots? Kinda.

Jeff Goodman, currently the CEO of American Gonzo Food Corp, had a previous title whose company attached to it Long Beach folk will know quite well: He was the COO of King’s Seafood Company, parent company of King’s Fish House, the 555, Water Grill, and more.

“I left King’s in 2012,” Goodman said before he returned back to his roots on the East Coast to help run the massive Starr Restaurants group. “And I came back in 2016, developing a relationship with [chef and restaurateur] Paul Hibler. After we worked on the existing American Gonzo concepts for a while, I returned to Long Beach in my head. And I say this humbly: like many places in Southern California, it’s a town that is a little underserved for great and reasonably priced restaurants.”

For Goodman, the memories of King’s Fish House on Pine and the 555 in Downtown had always remained both vibrant and fulfilling: Discussions of King’s packed at night, adding a sense of vibrancy and old-school gathering-’round-the-table paired with memories of many telling Goodman that the 555 was their favorite celebratory meal, Goodman had always had his eyes on Long Beach.

Come the pandemic, he would explore—by foot, no less—places throughout the city wondering how American Gonzo Food Corp could potentially fit in.

Then a real estate agent showed him the former Archibald’s in Belmont Shore—and Goodman was determined and officially convinced: “This will be the next space for The Win~Dow.”

The Win~Dow’s genesis stems from community

“Paul [Hibler] has lived in Venice for decades. Bruce [Horwitz, co-owner of American Beauty] has lived in Venice for decades. I bought a house in Venice,” Goodman said. “When we opened American Beauty—which some have tried to paint as this overly elevated thing when it’s not—all we really wanted to do was something cool for the neighborhood.”

Venice has seen what some consider to be the largest transformation of a city in Los Angeles: Once the artist enclave, on the edge of safety and comfort for visitors and voyeurs alike, a city happily flying its freak flag, Venice has become saturated with brands and restaurants that try to buck that ideal in the name of a safer, better city.

Venice locals like Hibler, like Horowitz, like Goodman wanted Venice to evolve—without losing its spirit.

“And even though, for a steakhouse, American Beauty is approachable, next-generation in our eyes,” Goodman said, “we still promised our neighbors that we would do something special for lunch, something for them.”

And hence, the $3.95 (now $4.25, which was “impossible to not change—we tried to keep it at $3.95 but just couldn’t,” Goodman said) was birthed in 2019, offering the company an immediate score among locals. It also presented the group with something they wouldn’t even know they needed: With the space’s colorful plastic chairs, which are included at the Belmont Shore location, and an expansive parking lot, With the space’s colorful plastic chairs, which are included at the Belmont Shore location, and an expansive parking lot, the temporary closure of American Beauty during COVID led to the true growth of The Win~Dow.

It has led to its second location in Silver Lake, its third here in Long Beach, and more to come in Southern California in 2024.

The food behind The Win~Dow is a ‘special alchemy of sorts’

“We wanted to open a Pitfire [American Gonzo Food Corp’s pizza brand] but the saturation of pizza in Long Beach led us to think a more casual space… We’re still thinking about opening a Superba [the group’s bakery-meets-California bistro concept] but we knew The Win~Dow would work at this specific location,” Goodman said. “And the food of Elisha—it’s a special alchemy of sorts.”

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Chef Elisha Ben-Haim, culinary overlord for American Gonzo Food Corp, has created a humble yet hearty creation —and something I hope Long Beach denizens will experience in its most unadulterated after witnessing person after person in line ordered the burger’s literal five ingredients rearranged—a frustrating characteristic at a space which is trying to let the simplicity of its nine-item menu (including desserts) speak for itself.

“”There’s been something special about seeing people waiting in line each day,” Ben-Haim said. “And it is reflective of how we started when we opened American Beauty: It was pretty clear we wouldn’t have a steakhouse open during the day in Venice and we have always been community-centric. You can see that happening in Long Beach.”

Ben-Haim’s humbleness potentially discounts the ingenuity of what he created: Kicking off the smash burger trend in 2019, there is not a single entity which offers what The Win~Dow offers at the value it offers it at. It’s why we included it on our essential Long Beach dishes of 2023 list: There is, indeed, a special alchemy to it all when the burger is enjoyed in its full, original intention. A salt bomb in the best way possible, with the pickle cutting through that salt and fat but not overwhelming it.

It’s unquestionably one of the best burgers in the city—and that fact is only compounded when you consider its price and the variety of options throughout Long Beach when it comes to the overwhelmingly ubiquitous burger.

“In all honesty, we tried to create something that really is for everyone,” Ben-Haim said. “You know, the fatty, salty deliciousness of the burger doesn’t always have to be the case. We have our grain bowl and kale salad. And it’s all under ten bucks. I think that’s worth celebrating.”

Ben-Haim’s self-centered minimalist nature is reflective of The Win~Dow’s success: Its nine-item men hasn’t changed since its inception, a reflection of In-N-Out’s ideal with a bit less of the corporate side and bit more of the I-feel-my-neighborhood-would-love-this ideal.

That grain bowl? Deliciously fulfilling, where a perfectly cooked soft egg joints sesame and sunflower seeds atop a bowl of greens, veggies, and guacamole. The kale salad? Perfectly simple with its croutons, perfect excess of parmesan, and an acidic dressing. The chicken sandwich? A steal at $7.25 and a wonder of a crunch to it.

The Win~Dow is great—and in a world where people are spending less because they have to, forcing some restaurants to have had their worst year in 2023, it a stellar addition to the Shore’s equally stellar offering of sit-down joints.

The Win~Dow is located at 4600 E. 2nd 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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