In London, they're called boxparks. In Portland, they're food cart pods. In Tijuana, gastroparks. Massive outdoor pop-up food courts, in some form or another, have taken over empty lots in cities across the globe. They're almost commonplace everywhere from Austin to San Francisco, but Los Angeles has remained without a full expression of the food lot.
The closest we've come are the two shipping containers in the Arts District where Shreebs coffee and the Juice occupy a small corner of Astroturf with a few picnic tables, and the Santa Monica Food Truck Lot, which rotates through gourmet trucks nightly.
SteelCraft, a new, permanent food lot that will be built entirely from shipping containers, is coming to Long Beach in February. With four restaurants, one coffee shop, a flower shop, a farm stand and a satellite tasting room from Torrance brewery Smog City all planned to open on the site, it will be the first of its kind in L.A. County.
"We're trying to differentiate it from a food truck mob, which might come on a Wednesday during lunch, then leave," says SteelCraft's developer, project manager and all-around mastermind Kim Gros. "These places aren't leaving. They have leases and they're paying for the buildout of these spaces."
Gros has spent the last year organizing the logistics for SteelCraft, which will sit on what is currently a 14,500-square-foot dirt lot on Long Beach Boulevard in the semi-suburban neighborhood of Bixby Knolls. In addition to Smog City — which will be serving its beers in pints, tasters and growlers, as well as selling bottles and merch — SteelCraft will have shipping-container homes for popular Orange County food truck Seabirds, restaurateur Michael Dene's casual deli Working Class Kitchen, The Great Food Truck Race finalist Waffle Love and Long Beach third-wave coffee shop Steelhead Coffee.
SteelCraft also will house Long Beach's first ramen shop, Long Beach Cup Ramen, a new concept from Yoya Takahashi of Westwood's famed sushi restaurant Hamasaku, as well as florist Blooms by Brooke and various local farms that will rotate daily through the farmstand space.
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"SteelCraft is designed to be communal space," says Smog City's Laurie Porter. "Each on-site vendor has been handpicked to create the most well-rounded space possible."
Currently, the 20- and 40-foot-long shipping containers that will comprise SteelCraft's main structures are being manufactured at a shop in Wilmington, and Smog City is working on getting its liquor license approved.
"My husband and I love going to the Arts District and we spend a lot of time there, eating at the Pie Hole and its other restaurants," Gros says. "We make the trek because we value that place. We value the environment and the food. My hope is that somebody feels like the SteelCraft and the experience is so good they have to get down here. It's not that far."