- Reporters Desk
Harkening Back to the Days of Majestic Café
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Relative newcomers to San Pedro probably can’t imagine eating beef stew, spaghetti and chili beans or a beef sandwich au jus at a place like J.Trani’s Ristorante—a place that features pan-Asian and Italian cuisine on the level of a five star restaurant. But that’s exactly what long-time fans of the restaurant can expect for lunch at the four generations-strong family-owned restaurant.
Local fans of Chef Dustin Trani may have noticed that the rising young chef is spending more time at the family restaurant. Since the Beverly Hills restaurant, DOMA, celebrated its second anniversary this past year, Dustin has been able to put more energy into the family business and launch new initiatives to bolster the J.Trani’s lunch crowd.
One of those initiatives was to go back — way back — to the restaurant’s 1925 beginnings, when it was called the Majestic Café on 7th Street, below Centre Street, and its basement was both a pool hall and a dispatch for longshoremen.
“We have always had a lunch business that was kind of like there but inconsistent,” Dustin explained. “But we’re very fortunate to be packed for dinner every night. But that’s when we started to ask, “What can we do to boost our lunch?”
The move is unapologetically nostalgic, giving San Pedrans who grew up during the 1960s and 70s a trip through memory lane in the form of beef stew with chili-beans and beef sandwiches with beef dip.
“It’s kind of cool to give everybody a kind of taste of what we used to do when it all started,” Dustin said.
Dustin doesn’t intend to bring back the entire throwback menu for lunch, just the 8 or 9 most popular menu from that era.
“It cracks me up, because people say, ‘Oh, this is an Italian restaurant.’ Not necessarily.”
The most interesting part about Dustin’s decision to move forward by turning to the past is the opportunities it presents.
“It’s like when you look at Felipe’s and all these restaurants that claim to have the oldest wet beef sandwich with beef dip… we got them beat by five years because we started in 1925. They say they invented the wet beef. They do it in a roll but we do it in sliced bread. But, I think, we have a case for the oldest wet beef sandwich in LA,” Dustin said.
Dustin has been reaching out to various Southern California publications that feature stories on popular old restaurants.
“I’ve been trying to talk to them to say, ‘Hey man, put San Pedro in there.’ Nobody knows it, but it would be great for the community because everybody remembers their grandfathers, their dads or whatever who always used to get the beef sandwich at Trani’s,” Dustin explained.
“All you know about are Coles and Felipe’s in LA because they’ve been around since the late 1920s. But we’re 1925 so I think we gotta step on them,” Dustin said.
Dustin brings out a 1961 Trani’s Majestic menu, a 11 by 14 burgundy fold-up with words written in a scripted font on the cover. Inside were variation of Spaghetti, ravioli and lasagna, as well a series of main dishes featuring veal. This menu also included the original core menu items: beef stew and beef sandwich. The prices in this menu were handwritten.
“Veal with Parmesan… Veal with mushrooms… Veal with marsala… That’s how the old school was. Spaghetti all the way down,” Dustin said with all seriousness.
But bringing back the Majestic menu wasn’t Dustin’s only inspired idea. The other was to reestablish the annual Majestic picnic at the San Pedro Bobby Sox field in the 1950s and 60s.
Dustin explained that back in the day, his grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers kept a large jar behind the bar where they would collect money for the picnic all year long.
“At the end of the year, they would take all of the money that was thrown in and have it at the Bobby Sox field over there and have this huge picnic,” Dustin explained as a set up for why the picnic ended.
The Los Angeles Police Department owns the land on which the Bobby Sox field sits and operates a pistol range nearby.
“One year, they’re sitting there (Dustin’s grandfather and his brothers) and Mickey Cohen (a notorious LA mob boss) shows up to the picnic and he has all of these mobster guys and stuff… Cohen showed up with his entourage. At the picnic, we had politicians there, we had Judge Simpson, who was old school, who ran the whole Long Beach Courthouse. We had congressmen. It was like a freaking scene out of the Godfather,” Dustin said.
“One of the police chiefs came over and said, ‘That’s Mickey Cohen.’ and my grandfather goes, ‘yeah.’ You got Judge Simpson and you got congressman so-and-so with these politicians and you got Mickey Cohen here. Then the next year… they said we’re not going to give you a permit. You got some of the biggest mobsters on the West Coast coming,” Dustin recalled laughing.
Dustin said he’s looking to relaunch the picnic in the summer of 2015 at the Bobby Sox field. All would be welcomed.
But it all started with the beef sandwich.
What’s new with Dustin?
For the past two years, Dustin has been busy getting DOMA to a place where it could excel without taking up his full attention. In 2013, he, representing DOMA, was featured on the celebrity chef show, Knife Fight, made Gayot magazine’s top 40 list of chefs to watch and this past summer he finished shooting for celebrity chef show Best New Restaurant.
“Everything has been going really well. We’ve been getting a lot of praise and a lot of press. It’s been really fun now for the last year or so,” Dustin said.
Best New Restaurant is set to premiere on Bravo in Jan. 21. The show stars celebrity chef Tom Colicchio and was executive produced by Chef Gordon Ramsay. Filmed on both the West and East Coast, Best New Restaurant centers on a competition between 16 new restaurants throughout the United States.
Dustin was also invited to Chefdance, a culinary event at the Sundance film festival in Park City, Utah.
The first inaugural ChefDance event was developed in 2004 to coincide with the film festival, providing, as the event’s website says, “the perfect marriage of fine food and film.”
In the years since its founding, a ChefDance invitation has become the most coveted ticket of the festival.