Love’s

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.

98 Responses to Love’s

  • Melanie Frye says:

    I grew up in Phoenix in the 70′s and can’t stop thinking of the Love’s at Christown Mall, you had to go down stairs into a very dark sweet smelling den! What heaven for a kid, cool relief from the hot sun. Its the first time i ever saw a fingerbowl. I felt so classy washing my hands with lemon water after the bbq. nice to know i wasn’t just being nostalgic, the other comments show i’m not the only one who remembers Loves 40 years later!

  • Lola Terrell says:

    It’s July 4th, and I was trying to think of a good place to get bbq…LOVE’s came to mind immediately…that BBQ Pork sandwich, for me, was better than a good hot fudge sundae, and that is saying alot! It was the absolute Best I have ever eaten, and probably will ever eat! The cole slaw, the sauce, and the pork, the bun, all of it, were the perfect delicious combo. I wish I could head on over to the (old) one on Pico near Beverly Right Now!! Yes, 40 years later and the memories are still delish! Happy 4th!

  • Manuel A. (BIG LOVES FAN) says:

    I am a big loves fan. Was going there when I was a kid in the early 70′s. And through the eighties took all my girlfriends and even my wife when I was dating her. Awesome food and hands down the best bbq sauce on the planet along with the baked beans. When I was a manager fir a finance company I would order a huge amount of ribs and huge tubs of bbq baked beans for my staff. Great memories being there with my mom and dad and my two brothers.

    Lets petition that they open a loves2 with the same menu. I would truly be a big patron. Oh yah and open one in arizona, we truly need a good bbq place here.

  • Don Beury says:

    I remember when I graduated college & was given the choice of any restaurant to eat in, if course I choose Loves. Its so odd with so many fans that the entire chain closed. There were so many restaurant’s. I would love to see one come back, but so many knockoffs and apparently they all failed. We should open one in a modern fast food type building with a drive through. I don’t think the recipe is the problem, its the barbecuing for hours in a wood pit. Ya can’t whip it up on a stove.

  • Alex says:

    Love’s was a treat for our family when I was growing up in Northridge (back in the 60′s) We all miss the ribs, beans, slaw and especially the garlic bread!! Fond memories of stopping by Love’s on my way home from Chatsworth high for an order of bread….the bread never made it home! If anyone has a recipe for the bread, We’d love it.

  • randy wilson says:

    Oh those days of Love’s. Started as a busboy,Left as lead line cook, Man, I miss those days.The recipe for the basting sauce sounds about right, I’ll make a batch and let you guys know(use it at room temp). As for the beans I will look at the store for what I think would be close and reach into the way back machine for the rest.
    Charlie’s recipe looks about right, but it seems like we drained tthe beans first out of the #10 size cans a case at a time, In other words alot of beans.I’m going into a new career and never thought that other people remembered Love’s. Proud Alumni of Love’s Wood Pit B-B-Q Riverside,CA 1974-1977 P.S I’ll come up with some shortcuts, on time, not flavor!!

  • Mark Stetler says:

    While stationed in SoCal (MCAS)(H) Santa Ana, I used to eat at the Love’s just off Red Hill Ave. in Tustin. The food was excellent, and it was conveniently close to the Base and not fast food. What happened to all the good places in So.Cal?? I recently visited, No Love’s or Pioneer Chicken.

  • Enigma says:

    Photo 2 was the Escondido location on Escondido Blvd. There was a Taco Bell next door and you can see the arches.

  • Steve Ward says:

    I used to frequent the two Inland Empire locations in San Bernardino and Riverside. The Riverside store closed and was torn down when University of Calif Riverside bought the property for redevelopment and Love’s didn’t fit into its idea of university life. A few years later, the San Bernardino store closed. Another BBQ restaurant sign went up but never opened. That building is now gone. I really miss Love’s. I almost always ordered the short ribs or Heart’s Delight (the sandwich with cole slaw). And the beans. Oh … what I’d give to taste those beans again.

  • Enigma says:

    For those wondering if the site selling Loves sauce is legit, I can verify it is! I ordered a case of sauce a week ago and it arrived today. I had to open a bottle just to see if it was the same taste as years ago and it brought back old memories. Now all I need is a rack of babybacks!!!

  • Jennifer Sarria says:

    I am 47 i ate at Loves since i was little i was heart broken when i went by how you the one i used to go to closed are there any still open

  • John Hindsill says:

    Yes, Jennifer. See my post above. It could be a stop on your next vacation cruise.

  • J.D. says:

    Finger bowls and curly parsley garnish… dark, dank, wood paneling and “the Lion’s Den” Bar/lounge… those beans and that weird marbled bread. Growing up in Brea in the 1980′s Love’s was a regular dining spot for my family for 15 years. I’m nostalgic about just about everything, and always have been, more so since Ma died, and wish I could visit a Love’s again every time I pass through SoCal. I’m a Texan now, and a traveling BBQ junkie, with some of the best and worst of what BBQ is at my fingertips… but as I remember it, I think Love’s could stand its ground on the BBQ circuit, even here in central Texas. If not for the ‘cue alone for the sides, service, and ambiance. I actually believe a franchise could fly here. The “old” Love’s decor, customer treatment, and business model that was heavy on attention to detail is a perfect fit for the nostalgic and quirky Austin scene.

  • Joe says:

    All the bean incarnations are very close. But not one person could replicate the taste as only a few people know the reason. One would have to cook the brisket in the pit while basting it with the secret basting sauce, then remove brisket from pit and trim all the fat and seasonings, grind it up, stir into bean mix and place back in the pit and cook for hours. One would have to understand that the wood mix, sauce mix and trim mix would have to be exact to duplicate those beans. Good luck to all.

  • Phil ( Mr. A ) says:

    For Randy Wilson,
    Could you be the same Randy Wilson who worked with us at Woody’s
    Smorgasburger in Redondo Beach during 1967/68 ?
    If so, jump over to the Woody’s site listed here and fill us in.
    Phil Ankofski

  • Mike Flugennock says:

    Just wondering, out of sheer curiosity… would this be the same “Love’s Pit Barbecue” whose van is featured in a scene from Coleman Francis’ movie The Skydivers, featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000?

  • K.C. says:

    I grew up in Whittier, CA and remember going to the Loves in La Habra and Brea. One waitress at the La Habra store always brought us extra pickles because she knew how much I loved them. My favorite was the bbq chicken and of course THE BEANS! OMG what I wouldn’t give for some of those beans! They were ambrosia, like the food of the gods. *sigh* Many happy memories of wonderful meals with my parents who have now passed. (My Dad owned the Baskin-Robbins just down the street from the one in La Habra).

  • Cheri says:

    My mom knew Dick Love, who was one of the founders (I’m pretty sure there was another brother, whose name also started with ‘D’ as well). The story as I heard it, was that the brothers either got the recipes from a cook in Kansas City, Missouri, or brought the cook himself, who had a small set-up in KC where the brothers had experienced his barbecue, to LA to oversee the original kitchen and develop the menu. When we moved to LA in 1960, we stayed with friends from Missouri, and the dad worked at one of the Love’s in the SF valley. All summer we’d wait up for him to come home with the leftovers, and eat them watching the late show on tv (in black and white, of course)–I can still sing the ‘Stanley Chevrolet’ jingle from that era because I listened to it so many times every night–anyone else?

    Heading down the freeway
    To Stanley Chevrolet
    One block south in Norwalk
    I’m gonna get a deal today
    At Stanley, Stanley, Stanley Chevrolet

    Stanley, Stanley, Stanley Chevrolet
    Two blocks off the Santa Ana Freeway
    1-1-9-8-0 East Firestone
    Stanley Chevrolet

  • Vikki Churchward says:

    I grew up with Loves… my whole family worked there one time or another,…my mom was a waitress at the Orange restaurant for years 70s’ and 80s’(Raquel). I worked at the Redhill location and my sister (Donna) worked there with me in the 80′s. We all loved working there and talk about it all the time. I want to thanks all of you for being such a great clientele… We all miss the food. It was all so good. I can’t wait to make the BBQ sauce recipe.

  • Glenn says:

    Driving home from work today I somehow got the memory of a smell, a taste, and a sticky texture that was as essential to me as a kid in Granada Hills, CA., as was oxygen. Yes. It was the wonderful recollection of eating Love’s ribs. Oh that magical, sticky, clove and peppercorn laden goodness. And the beans! I have read all of the posts to date and have concluded that replication of said beans would be nearly as challenging as eating Love’s ribs without getting sticky fingers. But who would want that? I’m game to throw my hat into the ring if these posts begin to coalesce into an effort to MAKE THOSE BEANS! Glenn in Seattle

  • Charles Sheen says:

    we use to go to the one on pico,the last time we went alpha beta was still there,and the bbq wasnt that great.I want to say up until 00 loves was still there,i would catch the number 7 blue bus from University High and the smell of the bbq would kill me,i always wanted to get off and go inside but always remembered my last meal there which would make me change my mind.also in that area on the other side of the street was a butcher shop with meat hanging in the window…which was right next door to a hospital….a high schoolers mind would wonder…now the hospital is a hotel!

  • scott says:

    My family went to the LOVES in West Covina from the late 70′s to 80′s and loved it. In the early 90′s it changed into MJ’s bbq they tried hard but it lost the same feel of LOVES. I always ordered the babyback ribs they were so good, I never even ordered anything else. The original building was just recently torn down.

  • Roy says:

    I truly appreciate website like this one. The older I become, the more memories I possess. When we look back through the years, those memories do have a way to cause us to stop for just a moment and reflect. The Loves’ restaurants are one of those memories. It’s funny that within the last two weeks, I’ve been talking with my friends (who, of course, are old enough to remember) about their BBQ beans. Then, I accidentally (actually there are no accidents) came across this site. To be honest, I haven’t had any beans since I last patronized the restaurant in West Covina. Rosemead, CA, (right off the 10 Frwy) was another location that was even closer to where I grew up. Thanks for the trip back in time.

  • Mike says:

    As a kid growing up in Simi Valley, our family’s all-too-infrequent visits to the Love’s in Woodland Hills (it was right off the 101) was a big night out for us. Loved it all, but the beans were great, also IIRC the slaw was really good.

  • Mike Palaszewski says:

    Growing up in So Cal, it was always a treat to eat at Loves. My family and I would eat at the Chatsworth Loves on Mason and Devonshire or the one one on Balboa and after those closed, we would go to the one in Woodland Hills, the Hearts Delight was my moms favorite, I preferred the bar b ques beef with plenty of Loves bar b que sauce. but the beans were the highlight of the meal, you know what they say beans will do to you (gas) it smelled the same going in as coming out, now that’s a good f#^^t. I have ordered their Loves Bar B Que sauce online several times, it is the real deal, but pricey. I miss the beans. I still live in So Cal and now my Bar B Que place of joice is The abear Pit located in the valley (Sepulveda) they serve a Bar B Que sandfwhich on grilled sourdough garlic bread which is to die for, their beans don’t compare to Loves

  • Kristi says:

    My sisters and I along with my mother worked at the Garden Grove location for years,the food was fantastic,I miss the hot dog covered in BBQ beans. THE BEST. I’ve been trying to find a set of the dishes with the Loves Logo if anyone can help I would appricate it.

  • Steve O says:

    Used to go there with my whole family and poach everyones beans!! My sisters and my Dads and order extra, this was a great place with solid bbq.

    Someone has to get the Bean recipe from the the person who created them, this is an national treasure.

  • David says:

    Remember the old song on the commercials?
    When your at Love’s the whole world’s delicious.

  • Cherri says:

    Loves in garden grove was the best place around. Me and my sisters and mom all worked there. The food was great and the beans were out of this world. Sure miss the place.

  • Kim says:

    My boyfriend and I grew up in BH and we both went to the one on pico from the 70′s till even the early 90′s. I went on their website and it says you can buy a franchise. I wish I had the money…I know it would be a money maker..I miss the Beans. I miss it all..

  • Karen says:

    I never left Love’s hungry, that’s for sure!

  • Debby Whited says:

    Waht about the sparkling apple cider?!! That was SO good with those beans! I can taste it all now! I moved to Tennessee in 1979 and I still remember going to Love’s! Truly miss it. :(

  • Bill bray says:

    Grew up in La Crescenta, Love’s on Foothill was our baseball sponsor for two years, 1970′s, I remember it for the baseball parties. Sad to hear it’s all folded up.

  • Mike Torres says:

    Worked at the original Loves Pit BBQ on Ventura Blvd in 1958 while in high school. The best beans I’ve ever tasted. I remember when the y opened up the store in Woodland Hills. There were only about 13 tables back then. On the weekends there was always a packed house.

  • Roni Reed says:

    Yep. The top photo is indeed the Mission Valley location. We lived at the top of the hill above it. Back in the early 70s, my darling little brother and his friends hiked down the canyon to go get suckers placed inside the Love’s front doors. Unfortunately Love’s was out of suckers, so they grabbed matches from the other door. Young boys and matches….the canyon was on fire but Love’s was saved by the fire department. Whew!
    (This location sat at the bottom end of two former properties: a chicken ranch and an ice-skating rink)

    The beans were the best, as were the Love’s fries and the all-you-can-eat BBQ chicken deals! I even had the privilege of doing “mystery shopper” visits in the late 70s. Getting paid to eat at Love’s, oh my!

    I’ll try the recipe that you provided but wonder what meat was used in the beans. They did have meat to round off the amazing flavor. Love your site.

  • Debbie Ridgley says:

    I grew up in LaMirada,CA 1962-1982 where my now husband and I used to date. I am still in mourning and searching for the miracle that it will one day return! Even more than the beans, i miss the Short Ribs! I used to call them Candy Ribs as a kid.

  • LK says:

    I was in Cali, especially around San Diego, a lot for business trips. And as a traveler, I often look for places that had the home cook feel and Love’s was one of those places. I always made time to stop in for a meal. I’m so saddened that they no longer exist or is harder to find. Miss those beef ribs, best I’ve tasted.

  • CG says:

    I LOVED Love’s. I went to many, mostly Carlsbad (El Camino Real) when I was a kid and later, Garden Grove, Costa Mesa, Brea.
    I went to Riley’s before it closed and it was the same, bummed that it closed.
    My favorite is the pork ribs, the beans and the Cole Slaw dressing on a regular salad.
    I like Lucille’s when they are at their best, but they are very hit and miss.

  • eddie caballero says:

    my first job was at loves in El Cajon, CA. back in 1990 then I worked in the one in chula vista loved this place…I still miss it

  • Craig Buckel says:

    I really miss the Woodland Hills location in the San Fernando Valley. Any idea where I can find the recipe for the Heart’s Delight sandwich..my absolute favorite…Thanks

  • Stu Miller says:

    I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and as a kid, we rarely got to go to restaurants. When it was my choice of where to go, everyone knew ahead of time where that was going to be. The one – the only – Love’s. Well, ok, it was a chain but to me there was only one. I could never get enough of Love’s.

    I was with my parents one time after breaking my ankle. They spied Claude Akins sitting at the bar and told me to go ask him to sign my cast. When I asked him, he spun around in his bar stool and said, “Only if you sign mine son.” So I signed his cast and he mine. Love’s will always be in my heart and I still look for the sign along 101 any time I’m down there.

    Fast forward 40 years and I own a BBQ restaurant off the central coast of Oregon called Pig Feathers BBQ. My love of BBQ began at Love’s and never ended.

  • Gary Love says:

    Cheri,
    I grew up on the recipes, the smell outside the restaurant, and the thrill of going to Smart and Final with my grandfather to buy supplies for the original Love’s BBQ.

    Yes Dick was one of the brothers and Dan was the other (who established the chain of franchises). My father was the brother who wasn’t in the business. My grandfather, Charlie, managed the food services in the State Pen in Jefferson City, MO. This was a political appointment and he would have a yearly bbq for his associates and would spring an old lifer from the Pen who helped Charlie dig the pit and provided many of the recipes. When Charlie lost the political appointment, he moved to the Valley which led to the opening of the Encino restaurant on Ventura Blvd. Dick is still with us – living in Missouri.

  • John Hindsill says:

    From my comment last year, “Love Love’s? The only extant store in Jakarta, Indonesia. Corporate HQ in Diamond Bar, CA looking for franchisees. Go for it!”
    Better thought, Gary–buy the rights back from the current owner, and resurrect the chain here in Southern California.

  • Phil A. says:

    For Gary Love,

    In your recent narrative I have learned that Dan established the chain of franchises. I had always thought that Loves was a very small local chain until IHOP came upon the scene and signed agreements which allowed them ( IHOP ) to expand the Love’s chain via their franchise system.
    ( like Woody’s , Copper Penny, Wrights Ice cream , etc. )

    Please clarify as to how long Loves operated as an independent before the
    link up with IHOP. Did the family reserve any stores to keep as their own ?
    Thanks for your detailed info.
    Phil Ankofski

  • Ann Schank says:

    I was recently at a new BBQ restaurant (not impressed) and I got to talking about the best bbq baked beans in the world…Loves’! Decided to Google and see if there were still any operating. Grew up in So. Cal. and went often. Mostly would stop by on the way home from work and get a couple of pints of beans…soooooo delicious! Would absolutely love to find that recipe. Enjoyed other’s comments, especially about the atmosphere, jingle, etc. Thanks for the walk down memory lane! Now just find me that bean recipe!

  • larry carpenter says:

    Not only was I an avid customer of Love’s, I was a bartender at the Pico/Beverly location one summer during my college years (1975 or 76). Have tried to make the beans. The key is the leftover meat. You have to have enough fat and flavor in the leftover meat to make the beans even close. The harder thing to replicate is the texture of the ribs. Not fall off the bone style that is so prevalent these days, but cooked/smoked perfectly where there is still some texture to the meat. I ate and worked at the Pico establishment, and I ate and ate at the San Diego establishment. Short Ribs were the best. Loved the Beef ribs, too. The beans were the best. Everyone now serves pork ribs, but not many places have good beef ribs. The chicken was also exceptional, crispy skin, very flavorful.

    Bottom line . . . anyone want to go in on a franchise? Obviously not in Jakarta — that market is taken . . .

  • Debbie says:

    When I moved to Northridge, I was thrilled that there was a Loves nearby, on Balboa. Can’t remember if they were still there at the time of the Northridge Earthquake, but they weren’t there after. I really miss them, the crunch of the ribs, always perfectly cooked, perfectly glazed,, never over done, and I can still taste the beans. There was another similar chain but much smaller called BBQ Heaven and BBQ Haven, but Love’s was the best!

  • Robert Adinolfi says:

    Loved Loves BBQ. As i recollect the origanal store was on Ventura Blvd in the San Fernando valley. Dick sold the business and signed an agreement with new owners not to reopen or duplicate. I met Dick Love when years later he reopened with same menu and logo only in blue, in Northdge CA. He was sued and forced to shut down. I have good success duplicating most of his recipes except for the bbq short ribs, one of my favorites. Oh well I keep trying.

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