It’s hard to imagine 4th Street ten, even five, years ago. Granted, many of the shops are still here and flourishing, but the changes have been both subtle and significant. With the remodeling of the historic Art Theater and the addition of Number Nine and Lola’s Mexican Cuisine, the hip 4th Street shopping and services vibe has expanded to include delicious food fare offerings.
This May, Lola’s celebrates its 4-year anniversary, but the seeds of its opening were sown several decades prior. Restaurant namesake and founder Lola Navarro arrived in Long Beach in the summer of 1974 with $50 dollars in her pocket and dream to open a restaurant showcasing family recipes from her hometown of Guadalajara Mexico. For the majority of her life, however, she worked as a house cleaner and hotel banquet food server while raising two children, Erica and Luis, and putting them through college. In May of 2008, she finally took a leap a faith, opening Lola’s Mexican Cuisine in the heart of 4th Street’s Retro Row.
The colorful 2000-s.f. restaurant is accented with folk art from the Western United States and all across Mexico—from Mexico City to the depths of Oaxaca. One of Lola’s hidden gems is the serene back patio. “We’ve had such diverse events in our patio area,” raves Lola’s owner Luis Navarro. “It has served as the location for numerous functions—from rehearsal dinners, weddings, graduation and engagement celebrations, to private parties, summer BBQs and other special events. We’ve even played host and catered many exclusive screenings at Art Theatre, including one with the great comedian Lily Tomlin.”
But Lola’s modest beginnings were anything but smooth, and were wrought with some hiccups and heartbreaks along the way. “Many folks were very wary about us opening in the midst of such a troubled time,” recalls Luis. “The economy had begun to slip and when we finally opened our doors in 2008 we had endured the biggest financial collapse in the history of the country since the stock market crash of 1929. Everyone that ate here wondered whether we’d be around the next time they came by for dinner. But we had a sense of determination, and wanted to fulfill my mother’s vision.”
Shortly after opening, Lola was diagnosed with colon cancer, which was a huge blow to a small business trying to gain momentum and get on its feet. “At the time,” says Luis, “I was working in sales and marketing full time for the Major League Soccer organization. I worked there during the day and at Lola’s in the evenings as a food server. In 2009, I decided to leave my job and help my mother full-time. I was able to implement everything I had learned from previous experience—customer service, hospitality, and my specialty, marketing—helping to open two very successful restaurants while I was in college. The first was Lucille’s BBQ Smokehouse at the Long Beach Town Center in 1999, and later I worked at the newly launched Tantalum in the Marina Pacifica. I had experienced first-hand what it took to open a new restaurant and I knew that we had something special with our location on 4th and my mother’s family recipes.”
Once he began focusing his efforts 100% in the restaurant, Luis said he experienced a big change. Foot traffic began to increase, business was booming—including a newly cemented loyal and rabid clientele—and the positive reviews starting pouring in. At the same time, Luis’ high school sweetheart and wife Brenda left her career in the fashion industry to come aboard. Her detail-oriented experience lent itself well to building relationships as Lola’s director of special events, and creating partnerships with organizations such as the Long Beach Museum of Art.
In September of 2010, Lola lost her battle with cancer, but her dream continues to flourish with her relatives at the helm. A year later, Luis Navarro Sr., Luis’ father, joined the business after a layoff at the Black Angus. Bringing 35+ years experience as an executive chef with restaurants such as The Velvet Turtle, Rain Forest Café, and the Elephant Bar, he added another level of culinary expertise to the family business.
“Having everyone in the family be so intrinsically involved in the business has translated to our customers,” says Luis. “When folks walk through our door there is a sense of home and a sense of belonging.”
Over the years, Lola’s has experience many milestones along the way. At the end of September 2011, Luis joined celebrity chef, Rick Bayless, for a week-long cooking excursion to Veracruz Mexico to study the local cuisine and its influences. Later that year, Lola’s celebrated the grand opening of the first parklet in Southern California, featuring outdoor landscape and seating—and are awaiting the receipt of a license to serve alcohol. This May, they’ll be featured in a Sunset magazine profile, and have previously been covered in a host of regional media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, Press Telegram, Grunion Gazette, Los Angeles and OC Weekly, and the LB Post.
To celebrate its landmark anniversary, Lola’s will be offering specials throughout the month. Its annual Cinco de Mayo party will feature a DJ and live Mariachi band playing throughout the day, with special fare and much more.
“We are proud of what has been accomplished in such short time,” Luis concludes. “Our menu has advanced in all culinary aspects and everything has fallen into place for us with the community and our 4th street family of friends and comrades. Long Beach supports small business and Lola’s and 4th street is certainly proof of that. We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us and helped make us who we are today.”
Happy Birthday to my Favorite Long Beach restaurant!!
Great write up! Happy Birthday, Lola's!!!!
I live in Redondo Beach and I've been there couple times and loved it over all. Biggest complaint is its always crowded and probably would have eaten there more often if not for that.
Seems to me they were one of the few advertisers on 562citilife a few years ago and that influenced my patronage. Also love their logo and their location.
I'm happy about their success but sad to hear the bad about the founder.
Nice write-up Jules and Matt
Thanks Larry! That means a lot about your decision to eat there because of their sponsorship of the site!
I love this place, every time we have guest from out of town we drag them here and they are hooked, even the in-laws wanted to take a jar of the famous "green-crack" back home to Europe haha.
I love that they are so involved with the community and they accommodate us vegetarians (vegans) with many choices and not just your standard salad & chips & salsa lol
Looking forward to the Cinco de Mayo event.