Steel Cup Café may still be in its soft opening phase, but the events leading up to the restaurant’s opening had been in play for years. When Alenni Nemitz introduced her friend Nicholas Stoks, whom she grew up with in rural Minnesota and reconnected with in college, to her boyfriend Marc Chitwood, who had just moved cross-country weeks before, they became solid friends. Eventually, the trio moved from Minneapolis to Long Beach, and the business ideas started forming.
“Almost immediately, we started talking about opening a restaurant together,” explains Chitwood, the café’s executive chef. “I’ve known that I wanted to open my own place ever since culinary school, and Nick has been in the restaurant industry for a really long time. He has a lot of experience in the front-of-house that I don’t have.”
“Opening a restaurant with Marc seemed like such an obvious decision,” adds Stoks. “We both bring something to the table that the other person lacks.”
And as of last month, that obvious decision became a reality. In a tiny retail strip on Stearns Street and Lakewood Boulevard, just north of the traffic circle, Steel Cup Café’s grand opening will take place June 21-23.
The menu focuses on locally produced, sustainable ingredients from small-scale farmers, with items made from scratch every day. The owners avoid single-use plastic utensils and such, instead opting for biodegradable, plant-based alternatives. And on the rare occasion there’s leftover food at closing time, the team donates it to a local homeless shelter.
For lunch, there’s a selection of salads, including a kale Caesar, plus house-specialty sandwiches such as the Beef and Bleu—thin slices of rosemary roast beef, mixed greens, pickled red onions and wild mushroom duxelle, plus a mild house-made blue cheese spread, piled thick on grilled sourdough.
Fresh pastries and cookies, as well as a rotating weekly special item, line the front counter.
There’s an outside communal patio and a cozy nook on one side of the building with a couch and a shelf full of books. It’s quiet and quaint right now, but come grand-opening weekend, the restaurant will be filled with live music, artists, vendors and more. “The community is really excited about it, which is fun to see,” says Stoks. “We’re already planning future events at Steel Cup—we want this to become a regular thing. It’s important to us to be a place where the neighborhood can come together.”
Monday through Friday, breakfast is served starting at 5 a.m., with lunch service kicking in at 10 a.m. and lasting until 3 p.m. But first-timers will want to visit the café on the weekend for the notable brunch options not otherwise available during the week.
“My take on chicken and waffles is something I am really excited for people to try,” Chitwood says. The signature dish features three Frenched chicken drumettes that are dipped in waffle batter and fried until golden, then served with jalapeño-mascarpone butter and a smoked-jalapeño-and-blackberry-maple syrup.
There’s also banana bread French toast sticks, which offers house-made banana bread sliced into rectangles and given the French toast treatment, then served with powdered sugar and maple syrup.
“When we were coming up with the menu, it was important to us to be creative and fresh, while preserving the nostalgia of a traditional café,” says Chitwood. “Many of our specials incorporate that same idea—they’re dishes you’ve probably had before, but never like this.
“Opening this café together has been really amazing,” he adds. “We both knew we were capable of doing this, but it still feels a little surreal.”
Steel Cup Café, 2201 Lakewood Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 342-6116; www.steelcupcafe.com .