INFRASTRUCTURE IS KEY
The shores of Los Angeles are home to two major seaports. The Port of Long Beach, in Long Beach, CA, and the Port of Los Angeles, berthed in San Pedro, CA, are experiencing increasing business. “In conjunction with the ability to move produce overseas, the City of LA also has the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market,” says Marcel Van Dijk, the Port of Los Angeles’ cargo marketing manager. “This is the major center for distributing fresh vegetables and fruit, not only in Southern California, but also other Western states like Arizona and Nevada. The LA Wholesale Produce Market provides a mix-and-match opportunity to handle domestic-grown produce along with foreign imports, in effect providing a ‘one-stop-shop.’”
The ports and LA’s vast transportation system help movement. “Between the Long Beach Harbor and LAX airport, if we fly things in, it gives us a lot of tools to have access to pretty much anything around the world,” says Mark Munger, vice president of sales and marketing for 4 Earth Farms. “Long Beach is a jumping off point to the Pacific Rim. It covers Central America, South America, Peru, Chile and Guatemala, and all the Asian regions we source from are all a straight line into Long Beach. It’s a huge advantage for the LA marketplace.”
LA’s dining scene has long been vibrant. “I don’t know of any type of food I can’t get my hands on,” observes Andrew Bivens, chief operating officer of Westlake Produce. “From Vietnamese Pho, to Indian curry to Mediterranean hummus and every sushi place under the sun, it’s all right here. Not only are there a lot of people here, but people want to eat what they’re familiar with. It doesn’t matter what part of the Southern California region you’re in, the diversity of restaurants is huge.”
According to Francisco Clouthier, owner of Maui Fresh, the diversity includes many smaller, chef-owned restaurants. “They got hit in the face with COVID and all the restrictions,” but are starting to reopen. Because of pandemic-triggered product shortages, chefs are adjusting their menus, Clouthier adds, often focusing on smaller menus, which may help with inventories.
Other eateries are also adapting to life with COVID. “New restaurants are offering more convenient offerings,” says Robert Schueller, public relations director for Melissa’s/World Variety. “There is more outside seating and easier takeout options. Foodservice is still struggling to survive, however. It still hasn’t come close to recovery.”
“Before the pandemic, I would rate the LA restaurant scene very high for its creativity and innovativeness,” says David Weinstein, director of procurement for Heath & Lejeune. “As all of us came from somewhere else, we don’t have a China Town or Little Italy that goes back 150 years. We’re not like Atlanta, where they have a tradition of Southern cooking. All we have is what we want to do today. This facilitates a kind of creativity and inventiveness that you don’t see in New York, Chicago, Atlanta or place like that. They have great food, but everyone in New York — one way or another — will hark back to some ethnic tradition. In LA, there’s no limitations or boundaries. You get a kind of creativity you don’t see anywhere else.”