By Richard Foss, Food and Culture Writer
As you walk, bike or drive around downtown San Pedro, you’ll see evidence that new restaurants are in the works. The curious local diner who tries to find out what is going on often has difficulty, because the new owners aren’t usually present until the late stages and the construction workers often don’t know or care what they’re building. Their job is to get a floor resurfaced or some new booths installed, then pick up their checks, not to answer questions about the new menu.
There are several new restaurants in progress around town, so we’re happy to sate your curiosity with a sneak peek at three of them. They’re in various stages of development, so we’ll start with the one that is most likely to open first.
Sebastian’s Mediterranean Restaurant
The space at 309 W. 7th St. has been several restaurants, most recently a Hungarian strudel bakery and a Cuban café. The space will soon be Sebastian’s, a restaurant owned by Nima Karimi. Nima was formerly the Executive Chef at Avenue Italy in Palos Verdes, but his restaurant will not have the style or menu of that rather formal establishment.
“We’ll be serving Mediterranean food — a little Greek and Lebanese, but also Moroccan and Italian food, though we won’t be serving pizza. We may get a wine and beer license later, but we won’t even be deciding that for at least six months.”
Their space was extensively remodeled and upgraded by previous tenants and won’t be changing much, and Nima says the only barrier to opening now is bureaucratic rather than practical.
“Any restaurant closed for more than 90 days has to be recertified, and that takes a little time. Right now we’re waiting for the final papers, and we hope to be open by the end of October.”
Next to open will be a French restaurant, the first in San Pedro in recent memory. The location at 335 W. 7th St. was most recently Jackson’s Place, but is being transformed into a wine bistro by someone with impeccable credentials.
La Buvette Bistro
Thomas Compagnon has a vision: build a casual restaurant and wine bar that reflects the culture of the region where he grew up in France.
“Buvette means roadside refreshment stand. I’m going to create the kind of small French neighborhood bistro of the kind also called a bouchon. That concept began in Lyon as a place where silk workers could get around a table and share food and wine, like a French gastropub,” Compagnon said.
Thomas worked in restaurants in France and England for almost 10 years before moving to the U.S., and he has been the sommelier at the Trump country club for almost 18 years (but don’t hold that against him). He moved from Redondo Beach to San Pedro only six months ago, having decided that this was where he wanted both to live and work.
“At the Trump Golf Course I met a lot of people who visited from San Pedro, and a lot of my co-workers lived here. I looked at various places, Torrance, Redondo and Gardena among them, but I was never really happy with any of them. Finally, the landlord here approached me and after she showed me the space I decided that was it.”
La Buvette will offer country French food with an extensive selection of wines by the glass, many French but also Southern European and Californian. He looks forward to selecting all of those, but for the moment is occupied with the remodeling. The previous occupants in this space had a tiny food preparation area without an oven, which limited their food service.
“I’m not close to opening yet, because I’m building a new kitchen where there never was one before. It is a question mark about when we will open. I want to be open by December 1st, but it depends on getting all of the permits.” (Which is a common refrain for every restaurant that’s ever opened in the Los Angeles side of the bay.)
The final in this week’s survey is a longtime hangout that is moving and transforming beyond all recognition. Only one thing about the new location will be recognizable from the old one — the pizza they’ve been serving for 45 years.
Frank Buono has sentimental ties to the old location on Gaffey St., but he says the business needs room to grow.
“Before we were a pizza restaurant in 1973 we were an Italian deli and market started by my dad in 1967. We’re famous as the landmark pizza restaurant in San Pedro, but we’re limited to being a pickup place, and parking is a pain. We couldn’t grow there, we couldn’t offer wine or beer.”
Parking won’t be a problem at their new location at the corner of 6th and Centre streets, because the new space is attached to a parking structure. There also won’t be a problem with insufficient seating.
“The new location will be 2,700 square feet with around a thousand square feet of wrap-around patio. The restaurant will be fun, it will be designed in urban chic modern Italian, decorated with vintage photography featuring our heritage and San Pedro’s heritage. We may paint some Italian proverbs on the walls… it’s going to have a mix of ancient and modern.”
The menu will expand dramatically and they plan an unusual strategy of varying the style of service depending on the time of day.
“We will feature the family-style pizzas we’re famous for, along with Neapolitan pizzas baked in an 800-degree oven, the way they do in Naples. Those light, thin crust pizzas are popular as an appetizer or an individual meal. We’ll also be the only restaurant in town offering a quick-service lunch buffet with pizza, salad bar, three gourmet pastas and a protein like sausage and peppers or meatballs. We’ll be express service from 11 to 5 and full table service after that. We’ll rotate our offerings to keep people coming back for new and interesting stuff.
My family came from the island of Ischia in the bay of Naples, and we will have some Ischian items on our rotating menu.”
If that sounds so interesting to you that you’re ready to book a table right now, you probably should hold off. Construction will get underway in January, with a planned opening in spring of 2019.
And there’s more coming soon to San Pedro’s vintage and historic arts district. Stay tuned for more updates as we get the information.
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