Like many people under the senior discount age, I only go to Hof’s Hut once a year, but boy, is it a Long Beach tradition. The once-classic dinner that’s now trying really hard to be a mid-priced casual-dining restaurant has whittled down its former local empire from a height of 18 locations to only four. Just one of these remains in Long Beach, the chain’s hometown: on Bellflower Boulevard near Cal State Long Beach.
The closures seem not to be for lack of fans. When the one at the Marina was facing closure in 2013 due to a supposed lease issue, dozens of elderly regulars protested—picket signs and all—saying, rightfully so, that a little slice of Long Beach’s culinary history was going with it (Hof’s had been in that location for 51 years).
But when the former Marina Hof’s quickly became converted into a Lucille’s BBQ (a higher-end concept launched by the Hofman-family-owned Hofman Hospitality Group in 1999) the real reason for the closure became clear: diners just aren’t profitable anymore.
And so it is up to Los Altos I must now trek each October, my birthday month, to take advantage of the only thing more reliable than the nostalgia of diners – birthday benefits.
Putting your name on what is now called the “Preferred Guest” registry at Hof’s Hut nets you the occasional email about seasonal pies, but mainly it gets you on the snail mail list for an oversized postcard that gets you a buy-one-get-one free meal during your birthday month at any of the remaining Hof’s Hut locations.
I admit: it’s a great lure. Because birthdays feel like the appropriate time to return to the childhood naughtiness of splurging on a full country breakfast for dinner. And it’s a good excuse to go out to eat at 4:30 p.m. in an attempt to beat the dinner rush and nab one of Hof’s Hut’s coveted chicken pot pies. A birthday celebration is also a nice way to drag a posse into coming with you, so Hof’s gets the full value of your free meal (and hopefully won’t close the last one in Long Beach, please please).
On my most recent visit, I discovered that Hof’s Hut itself is having a milestone birthday this year. 2016 marks 65 years since the company opened its first Hof’s Hut on Second Street in Belmont Shore, after about a decade operating a chili-and-fries burger stand on the beach nearby.
Despite its age, the company has worked hard to keep the remaining Hof’s Huts as modern as possible, with redesigned branding that hypes up its history (“Classic American Fare Done Right”) and an updated interior that’s more refreshed Marie Callenders than the Chili’s it probably wishes it was.
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There might be newer restaurants out there serving the popular fusion whatevers and build-your-own stone-oven pizzas, but like Harbor House Café in OC, the food that made Hof’s famous will never go out of style. You can still get down on burgers based on the original shack creations, sandwiches from French dips to tuna melts and a two pages of filling entrée options, like pasta, ribs and, my birthday fav, a half rotisserie chicken with two sides.
Like Polly’s, Hof’s also has an on-site bakery that makes all kinds of old-school pies and cakes that look Stepford-Wives perfect. The birthday postcard affords you a slice of something with a candle in it at the end of your meal, but I prefer to put my freebie towards the cost of a full pie, not only so I have something to eat after all the birthday drinking has been done, but to prove that I still appreciate and love Hof’s Hut – even if I only show it once a year.
Hof's Hut, 2147 N. Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 597-5811; hofshut.com