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.

108 Responses to Love’s

  • Michael says:

    (prior post continued). The Chula Vista Love’s was serving a two-color sweetbread that was better than their beans! People would come in just to buy loaves of bread to take home. After I moved back to the LA area, I would stop to eat at the Chula Vista Love’s every time I drive to San Diego (frequently due to Naval a reserve Duty). Even if I didn’t have time to eat there, I always stopped in to pick up two loaves to take home. A few years ago, I drove down to San Diego to pick up a few loaves and was shocked to find them closed. I was heartbroken

  • Michael says:

    During the 1980′s I remember seeing the Chula Vista Love’s coctail waitress wearing an awesome outfit. It was the same uniform the Charlie Brown’s waitresses wore in the late 1960′s. The only difference was the color of the dress. The dress was cut very low ine the front with white ruffles (almost showed as much cleavage as a playboy bunny). The short dress was open at the front exposing the huge white petticoat under the dress. It was awesome! Anybody know where I could find pictures of this uniform? Anybody know who manufactured the outfit & is it still available to be purchased??
    FOR Cherie: I still sing the Stanley Chevrolet jingle. Best ad of all time! I can still recite the address after fifty years – that’s one effective ad!!!

  • Jeff Strain says:

    We had a Loves in our neighborhood in Sacramento, during the 70s would go with my family and order the children’s chicken leg meal – every time! There didn’t need anything else on the menu. During the 80s I worked there, started as a bus boy, worked my way into the kitchen, then became that franchises first waiter. Lots of great memories, and still friends with a couple of the young ladies I worked with over 30 years later.

    As for the beans, I made countless punds of that slop during my years in the kitchen, and if you actually saw the meat that went into those giant aluminum pots, you would not be asking for the recipe. It was the trimmings of mostly fat and gristle from the pork and beef roasts and leftovers that were no longer fit for serving, run through a meat grinder, before mixing with the brown sugar, beans and other ingrediants, then cooked for hours in the wood pit. But I must say, customers always commented on how much they loved them.

    Personally, I favored the pork sandwich topped with that awesome sauce. I still barbeque ribs at home and have not been able to replicate the flavor of that sauce. Maybe I will have to purchase a case from the website.

  • Bill C. says:

    I too used to try every Love’s I would come across. My absolute favorite Love’s happened to be in La Mirada though.

    When I first began dating in the early to mid 70’s, I would take my dates there and then go to the theater at the the mall.

    I continued to eat at them until I moved to Arizona in 2000. I really miss that place.

  • Cherri says:

    Hi I’m looking for dishes from the restaurant. If you know of any please let me know. Thank you. Cherri

  • Michael says:

    I grew up pretty close to the one on Pico, between Beverwill and Roxbury. Went there a few times back in the 80′s and 90′s. It was really good! I miss Love’s!

  • Frank says:

    In the early 70s I worked at Buena Park, Aurora Colorado, Harbor Island-San Diego, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, La Mirada, Ventura…Good times

  • Dana McLemore says:

    Ah, when you were in Loves the whole world was delicious. Mom and I used to have lunch there and we grew up with the taste in our mouths. The countless dates I took there and remember many locations from Torrance to LAKEWOOD, then a couple in San Diego. Great food, ambiance and our favorite server Gus, who works now in another diner in Lakewood. Its a shame all great things from our memories are taken away except that of our memories; a simple place, great meal and great service with a smile. The best beans, pork sandwiches and ranch dressing around. Bless the memories of Loves. You truly were a staple in my families life, and many others I know-

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