Morris Starts New Chapter At McKenna's Restaurant In Alamitos Bay
- By Ryan ZumMallen
- | Tuesday, 01 February 2011 03:00
2:49am | Today, long-time Long Beach restaurateur John Morris will sit down, be served a tall iced tea and start hitting the phones.
For the first time in more than 30 years, Morris is starting his first day at a new job.
"I think I've died and gone to Heaven," he says. He isn't the only one.
"I need someone to share ideas with," said Nick Limer, owner of Alamitos Bay upscale restaurant McKenna's On The Bay, where Morris is now employed. "We're working together to promote and expose the atmosphere that we have here."
Morris and Limer have known each other going on 35 years, when Limer lived in Belmont Shore and was employed as a McDonnell Douglas engineer, and would dress up as Santa Claus for holiday charity events when Morris first opened Legend's Sports Bar on 2nd Street. They parted ways for some time but have somehow found themselves together again, working toward a common goal. And if there's one thing you should know about John Morris, it's that he allows very little to stand in the way of his goals.
After founding Legend's and then leaving to open Mum's on a downtown street called Pine Avenue before it was "Pine Avenue," Morris changed the restaurant's name to Smooth's a few years ago and decided to sell the location in September 2010 after 25 years there. He said it was time for a change but also cited continued frustrations with area bureaucracy that stood in the way of his creativity. So far - before Day One has even begun, mind you - there's no inkling of those hurdles at McKenna's.
"There's plenty of free parking here and you don't have to jump through the hoops you had to jump through downtown," Morris says. While at Smooth's, Morris and other business owners continuously complained about inconsistent parking fees that they say kept customers away, while Morris became known for throwing concerts and festivals in the streets but says he fought too many battles to justify it. At McKenna's, in a smaller market but a beautiful waterfront location, he sees potential without the obstacles.
"We've got to reintroduce Alamitos Bay landing with the events," he says, announcing that outdoor concerts could be used as fundraisers. "I think local charities are really going to enjoy the fruits of what we're going to do out here."
Morris will hit the ground running. Limer has already signed off on ideas to hold concerts, oyster tastings and charity events in the parking lot, while they're also laying the groundwork to partner with a nearby Duffy electric boat rental that will pick up customers who live nearby on the Peninsula or Naples Island. The duo is also planning to hold Grand Prix specials that will shuttle fans from the restaurant to the downtown track via Aqualink. Because when Morris is convinced that something will work, it's probably going to happen.
In his last years as a restaurant owner downtown, Morris spearheaded efforts to revive live concerts and special events such as Halloween and New Year's Eve parties that shut down Pine Avenue and were an annual boom to local bars and eateries.
"The Gift of Gab is something that John has that is incredible," says Limer.
While Morris feels like he has a new lease on life, it's Limer that may be most excited about the partnership.
McKenna's is in an undeniably beautiful location that sits on the water and stares directly into the sunset. Limer bursts with pride over the quality of the menu - particularly the sushi - and the atmosphere he's molded, but needs a champion that he thinks he's found in Morris.
"I'm not really a marketer," he says. "Now we're working together to promote and expose this jewel. I've never had anybody that can do that here."
They haven't come up with an official title for Morris just yet; partly because they didn't want to limit his role and partly because they just hadn't thought to. But if you're looking for someone with energy, contacts and plenty of ideas, Morris is your man. He's nothing if not unique, and Limer has already conditioned the staff to get used to their newest co-worker calling the ladies "Love" and everyone else "Babe." While new colleagues and old friends adjust to the new working relationship, Morris says that change will soon bring positive results.
"I've lived and breathed this stuff for 35 years," Morris says. He believes it won't take long to fuse his experience with an already-quality product.
"It has to be the best place in Long Beach to catch a sunset. Just magnificent. I had forgotten what Alamitos Bay looked like."