Appie van der Fluit is serious about barbecue, and he’s also serious about his community. He said his hope is to bring the two together at a permanent location at the gateway of the Wrigley Village business district.
For now, the Kansas native, who works as a teacher at South Gate High School, has organized regular “pop-ups” around town, sometimes on a landscaped median at 19th Street and Daisy Avenue, not far from his home in the historic Wrigley District neighborhood on the west side of Long Beach.
Most people driving by can find the temporary restaurant by spotting the large, bright-red “Wrigley BBQ” sign. As his children play in the distance, van der Fluit and his wife Jennifer serve up an array of barbecue plates with portions of pulled-pork sandwiches, grilled veggies and quartered chicken.
On the table are van der Fluit’s specialty sauces, which he named after famous slogans from his favorite wrestlers, such as “Ooh Yeah!” for Macho Man Randy Savage.
Since van der Fluit hasn’t obtained a business license yet, he legally can’t make a profit, and currently he’s offering the food for free, though he does accept suggested donations, such as $15 for the “Holy Trinity” of beef, pork and ribs. The most recent pop-up was Saturday, Nov. 9 just after the annual Long Beach Veterans Day Parade.
Being from Kansas, where, he said, barbecue is “huge,” and also being a self-taught chef since childhood, van der Fluit suggested hosting a community barbecue. Now his operation has generated a local fan base and a growing interest on social-media sites. He’s already been asked to cater parties and provide food for the annual Wrigley River Run’s Pizza Pig-Out event.
With a clientele that has already sampled his food, van der Fluit hopes that by next year he will move into a brick-and-mortar location in the Wrigley Village corridor with the help of Gavin McKiernan, who has years of experience in the restaurant industry and organizes the Wrigley River Run, hoping to make the operation a real business.
One possible location that the yet-to-be entrepreneurs have been eyeing is the vacant lot at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway, which is considered by the community the “gateway” to the south Wrigley District. McKiernan said the hope is that the spot may become available since an auto-title loan company called Pennbrooke Financial Services LLC was denied a conditional-use-permit by the Long Beach City Council. If not, however, he said there are plenty of other open spaces in the area.
McKiernan said the idea for opening a permanent location came out of the large interest that Wrigley BBQ has received from the community. He added that the Wrigley District also lacks a family-style restaurant where people can gather for events, unlike other areas in Long Beach. Some residents said the interest might some day spark a monthly event in Wrigley like the First Fridays event in Bixby Knolls. “There’s so much potential in this neighborhood for stuff along Pacific Avenue or Willow Street as well,” McKiernan said. “There’s some great, successful businesses and restaurants, we just haven’t gotten the critical mass for it to start really blossoming like Bixby Knolls or Belmont Shore… It just needs that little nudge until it starts blossoming into that place where you start getting a lot of businesses looking to want to get in on the ground floor. We’d love to be a part of that and have a successful business and be one of the anchors for that.”