There was a time when Love’s Wood Pit Barbecue restaurants dotted the California landscape and seeped into other states, as well. Some folks believe it’s impossible to get decent barbecue in a chain. You need a small, one-of-a-kind restaurant in a building that used to be a welding shop and was converted by some guy who’s obsessive about good bbq and has been doing it all his life. I’ve been to some great places that fit that description and also some where the food was close to inedible.

Love’s fell somewhere in-between but they were always conveniently located and there are times you need to eat and you can’t find one of the “other” kind of bbq joint, or maybe you’re just not in the mood to gamble. Love’s had decent ribs, great chicken, terrific sandwiches and easily the best beans I’ve ever had in my life. I used to go to every Love’s I ventured near and for a time, I had a running correspondence with a gent who was either the president of the company or very close to that. Each time I ate at a new (to me) Love’s, I’d send him a critique. He’d write me back a nice letter and toss in coupons for free meals. A fine relationship.

But I liked Love’s for other reasons beyond the coupons. They were friendly and dependable and the food was pretty darned good. So you could often find me at the one on Pico Boulevard near Beverly or at the one on Hollywood Boulevard at Cherokee or at the one in Encino or the one in Pacific Palisades or any other one. I probably went to twenty different Love’s including the one Love’s Junior they operated (briefly) on Ventura Boulevard in Van Nuys. It was an attempt to repackage their cuisine into something that functioned like a fast food outlet. Had that experiment succeeded, I assume we’d have seen them in locations too small to handle a full-sized Love’s or in food courts.

Alas, over the years the chain just lost business and got smaller. The one on Pico, which had once been a kind of “flagship” Love’s and was used as a model and training facility for others, turned mysteriously one day into a place called Noonan’s. Noonan’s was the name of the company that supplied uncooked ribs to many L.A. restaurants and they went into business in some kind of partnership with Bob Morris, who had founded R.J.’s for Ribs, Gladstone’s and other popular Los Angeles restaurants. (Morris now operates the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe in Malibu, which is not covered on this site because it’s open and thriving.) Then it became Bob Morris’ Beverly Hills Cafe even though it wasn’t really in Beverly Hills…and it may have changed names one or two more times before closing down. The building is now the office of a limousine company. The Love’s on Hollywood Boulevard changed identities at least ten times and is now a restaurant called the Geisha House.

There were some changes of ownership and some lawsuits in the Love’s operation. A lot of them closed and the ones that didn’t changed names. The Love’s in Brea, for instance, changed its name to Riley’s and went on serving the exact same menu for years. The one in Chula Vista renamed itself The Great Rib Restaurant, which was a subtitle that Love’s sometimes used in its advertising and on its signs. Eventually, all such after-life Love’s closed. According to the company website, there’s still a Love’s in Jakarta, Indonesia but I’m skeptical that’s so. If it exists, it’s the only one.

Click above to enlarge

Folks who loved Love’s still love it…and miss it. If you do some Googling, you’ll find a number of different recipes that purport to be the secret to replicating Love’s Beans and others that teach you how to make the sauce. Since the recipes differ, some or all of these are obviously wrong. I haven’t tried making any of them but the recipes for beans (which is sometimes attributed to the L.A. Times) strike me as dead wrong. Some of the sauce recipes seem credible, especially this one…

2 cups cider vinegar
3 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons lard
1/4 cup pickling spices

Place lard (not shortening) in a pot. Add sugar and then other ingredients. Cook over a low flame stirring occasionally until sauce reaches the desired consistency.

As I said, I never made this but it sounds like it might be the secret. And the reason I’ve never made it is that every three or four years, I order another case of the genuine article from the Love’s website. I have no idea why they’re still bottling this stuff if there are no restaurants to sell it in. Maybe there is one in Jakarta and it’s thriving. Anyway, it’s been more than two years since I ordered any of it. I don’t guarantee that the site is still active but you can inquire there if you long to get some. As you might imagine from all that brown sugar, Love’s sauce was very sweet but it was awfully good.

209 Responses to Love’s

  • Stewart Teaze says:

    My sister and I used to like to swipe the maraschino cherries they kept in the metal dispenser on the wall leading from the bar (for the waitresses to grab and drop in the customers’ drinks)… Our parents usually took us to the Mission Valley San Diego Love’s – the one in the photo at the top of this article… While my parents were sitting and drinking after dinner, I would climb up on the old ranch’s trails carved into the side of the hill behind the restaurant… you can kinda see them in the photo.

  • Adrienne Bass says:

    Thanks for the nostalgia. My first job (other than babysitting) was in the take out dept of the Love’s in Encino…the food was great, esp. the cheesecake.

  • Mike Belman says:

    Regarding IHOP- the company was called International Industries, they were a huge franchisor, in fact larger then McDonalds at one point. They were involved in retail stores, multiple restaurant chains, had the Sawyer and Bryman schools, nursing homes and financial services. They made a bid to acquire Ramada Inns to add to their hotel chain but the deal fell through. They were also mentioned as a buyer of American Broadcasting. The company accounted for all franchise income at one shot instead of amortizing over a number of years, the SEC made them restate earnings in 1970 and they had a huge loss and were never able to fully recover. The pancake division was making money. They kept Loves and Copper Penny and sold everything else off including Orange Julius. Eventually they closed Copper Penny and sold off Loves. Loves was eventually bought by a company controlled by Harry Shuster who ran Lion Country. They were going to go public but nothing happened. I lost a huge amount in the stock when it was International. I was a day late when they wrecked the store in Garden Grove. The guy there told me people took out everything that was left- glasses, dishes, signs. I took a brick, with the instructions to be buried with it. Only ate at Loves one time as I grew up in Chicago. I made my half blind aunt drive from Temecula to Encinatas. We didn’t have Love’s here, though International did build one House of Pies ( in Oak Park) before they closed the chain. If anyone has any memorabilia, let me know.

  • Diana Hawks says:

    I worked at Love’s for 26 years. I might be able to get some memorabilia

  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (NM) says:

    Yo Diana….Kudos and Bless your Heart!!! So few Folks today “last” as WaitStaff…it is so Welcoming to have Folks who “work at” remembering who we are! I swear a “Zio’s”, an Italian place in Albuquerque, has a Camera set-up that is of the ‘facial recognition’ sort whereby I’m greeted once a month such as ” Hi There! I’ve got your Grilled Salmon on order. What might you have to drink today?”
    Whoa, to all you Dianas who treat us so Especial!

  • Debbie G. says:

    I have fond memories of the Love’s in La Mirada at the La Mirada Mall. I grew up right down the street and worked there as a hostess in 1980’s. I worked with Patty, Reggie, Tom and so many others. Jose and Duke were the managers. Jose was there for a long time. Remember Marjie – she stole everyone’s tables. Haha! Patty, let me know your email so we can talk about the good ‘ol days at Love’s! We had the best times and did work with some wonderful women and men! I miss that place. My parents still live down the street so when I go visit them, I always drive by where it used to be and picture how it was – my mom and I always say too bad they tore it down and now there is an ugly building in its place that can’t seem to stay in business. I wish they would open them back up again – I know they would do great! I’ve gone to other BBQ restaurants and none of them are as good as Love’s. They had the best everything! Does anyone remember their blue cheese dressing? We used to dip the wonderful bread in it and the beans were the best. My favorite was the Frankfurter – hot dog with the beans smothered over it with cheese. I see all these other restaurants making comebacks – Ferrell’s Ice Cream, Dunkin Donuts and so on. PLEASE BRING BACK Love’s BBQ!!!

  • Tim Lawton says:

    My first “real job” was at the Loves restaurant in El Cajon, CA. probably around 1980. I remember I was making $3.10 hourly, and was happy to get it as a 15 year old busboy with a work permit. I loved the food, and was disappointed to see that place go, I used to drive all the way to Carlsbad in later years as it was the last one to close in the San Diego area. I remember they had fantastic homemade Blue cheese dressing, along with great cheesecake and their incredible rib glaze. If memory serves, I think my manager’s name was Vi Pleasents, she was a great lady.

  • George says:

    I grew up going to the Love’s in Oceanside Ca, some ppl on here have said Carlsbad but that’s not correct, very close though. Beginning in the years of 1986, as a kid, it was my favorite restaurant to go because my dad loved it. Dad worked hard during the week and every Sunday after church he take my mom, 3 sisters and myself for a ride in his car then later choose a place to dine. I wished to go to Love’s every Sunday. As I grew older my favorite meal at Love’s was the The Wagon, sharing of course because it was huge, who remembers that one? Fast forward, after my wife and I had our first born, Loves was the first restaurant we dined at when both mommy and newborn were able to venture outside to socialize as a family. Since there closing in Oside, I was able to find one in Chula Vista, I treated dad and my family there a few times, along with my other siblings. Then Love’s completely disappeared. Currently now in my mid 30s, i enjoy to cook for friends and family. I’ve thrown myself into a new category of cooking, Smoking. Been smoking for 2 years now. My greatest accomplishments in smoking thus fas is getting this comment from dad, he said “it tastes almost like Loves”. I know I’ll never hit that mark but as long as the taste takes us there, Love’s, im ok with that.

  • Brian says:

    My wife & I were just wondering what happened to
    Love’s BBQ… it was our first date April 15, 1986, now we
    are coming to our 30 th anniversary on December 30.
    We would of actually went there if they were still open.

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