The Coronavirus crisis is an unprecedented challenge for the restaurant business. In Downtown Long Beach, several restaurateurs have responded to the crisis by repurposing their spaces and equipment for the common good.
Michael’s Downtown, located on the Promenade at 210 E. 3rd St., is on a growing list of Downtown restaurants (including Sura Korean BBQ, Romeo Chocolates, the Long Beach Taco Company and others) that have opened small markets to help ease the burden of shopping for food in this time of social distancing.
Carl Dene, who co-owns Michael’s with Martin Howard, is not only assisting the community with his new creation, Giuseppe’s Market: He is also fulfilling a vision.
Dene grew up in New York City, and early in life was instilled with a love for Italian food and all the ingredients and rituals that come with it. His father, Michael, would create magnificent sauces every Sunday, and Dene often arrived at his grandmother’s house to discover she had been up cooking since 7 a.m., laying out fresh pasta on wax paper to dry.
Dene loved the open neighborhood markets in New York City, and as he built his career as a restaurateur he kept the idea alive of someday opening an in-house market of his own. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Dene’s partner Howard urged him to act on his dream, and Giuseppe’s Market became a timely reality.
Giuseppe’s is stocked with pastas, meats, eggs, homemade breads, fresh vegetables, wines, desserts – even toilet paper. Customers are greeted by Chef Giuseppe Musso, who applies his masterful touch to various panini and other Italian takeout treats. Dene estimates that Musso bakes and serves at least 20 loaves of bread daily.
“Meat is our number one seller right now, but eggs are also in high demand,” said Dene, who estimates his egg sales at 90 dozen per day. “It may be tough to find a dozen eggs in a grocery store,” added Dene, “but buying 15 dozen eggs in a case is easy for me.”
Giuseppe’s Market is getting “an amazing reaction from the community,” said Dene. “It’s music to my ears.”
Near the northern end of the Promenade, Portuguese Bend Distillery has reconfigured its operations amidst the current crisis on a grand scale: Since owners Luis Navarro, Brenda Rivera and Simon Haxton decided to adapt their in-house distillery to the creation of hand sanitizer, they have been contacted by over 50 organizations for order requests.
Small, independent distilleries like Portuguese Bend are providing an essential service by taking the burden off of overwhelmed alcohol manufacturing plants. And they’re not alone in their efforts: the distillery is getting assistance from its partners at Long Beach’s Trademark Brewing.
“Big Thanks to Sterling Steffen and his Trademark Brewing crew,” said Haxton. “They stepped up to help us increase production.”
Hospitals, police departments, military units and utility workers in a variety of locations are now using Portuguese Bend’s hand sanitizer, which is made according to the World Health Organization-approved recipe: 70% denatured ethyl alcohol and Hydrogen Peroxide for sanitization, and a small amount of glycerine to help moisturize hands.
“It’s an honor to be able to help everyone on the front lines and provide a bit of defense to them through our little distillery in DTLB,” said Navarro.
Portuguese Bend is still offering its menu of takeout food. Carry-out and delivery liquor is also available temporarily, due to a special ruling by the state of California’s Alcoholic Beverage Control department.
“We’re offering a free bottle of sanitizer with every take-out order of $30 or more, but we’re limiting distribution to organizations within the critical infrastructure [the network of emergency, health and other essential services],” Haxton said. “We’re proud to help keep America running during this crisis.”
The spirit, resilience and inventiveness shown by these businesses bodes well for a new, even greater era in the development of our Downtown community.