You would be hard-pressed to find a longtime Long Beach resident who hasn’t heard of Hof’s Hut – or Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, for that matter. And it’s no wonder – the Hofman family has been making their culinary mark in the greater Long Beach area for four generations now, beginning with a burger stand on the beach at 5th Place in the 1930s.


Run by the third and fourth generations of the Hofman family, the Hofman Hospitality Group (HHG), based in Signal Hill, traces its roots back to the little burger stand opened by President Craig Hofman’s grandparents, Dirk, a merchant mariner, and Sjoukje, a Dutch immigrant. The company now runs a family of restaurants: the American home-cookin’ Hof’s Hut chain, the Southern-style Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que chain, Belmont Shore’s culinary-and-spirits-driven Saint & Second, and a new sliders and “rollers” (the hot dog equivalent of sliders) concept called Mighty Kitchen in Los Alamitos.

Hofman Hospitality Group, parent company of restaurants Hof’s Hut, Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, Saint & Second and Mighty Kitchen, is a family affair. Pictured at the site of the original Hof’s Hut, on 2nd Street in Belmont Shore, now the contemporary Saint & Second, is Craig Hofman (right) with his children. From left: Brad Hofman, director of marketing and operations; Ryan Hofman, director of construction and facilities; Ashley Pedersen, brand manager; and Dirk Hofman, executive bar manager for specialty concepts. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)


Craig’s father, Harold, grew up working summers at the original burger stand. When an injury derailed his budding basketball career, he decided to join the family business. Eventually, he decided to start a year-round enterprise, opening the first Hof’s Hut in Belmont Shore in 1951. The Hofman family still owns the location, which today is the spot for one of its most recent concepts, Saint & Second – named for its address at the corner of St. Joseph Avenue and 2nd Street.


“I was born into the business – that’s the story,” Craig told the Business Journal in an interview with his son and marketing chief, Brad. “I was born the night Hof’s Hut was opened in Belmont Shore.” Back then, the joint was “a little 15-stool restaurant,” rather than the two-story eatery with multiple patios it is today.


“I grew up being a fountain boy – that was my first job when I was like 10 or 11,” Craig recalled, earning laughter from his son, who told him he was dating himself with the soda fountain reference.


Craig’s father died the same year he graduated from high school and left Long Beach to attend Arizona State University. His mother, Donna, took over running the business, which had expanded to five Hof’s Hut locations. “After a couple years, she said . . . ‘If you’re interested in taking these [restaurants] ­­over at some point, you really need to come back here and help me,’” Craig recalled. “So I left Arizona State, went to work for the company and finished my degree at Long Beach State.”


The Hof’s Hut brand eventually grew to 13 locations at its peak. Now, some have been converted to HHG’s successful Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que brand, which has 22 locations in all. There are three Hof’s Huts locations – Torrance, Los Alamitos and Long Beach’s Los Altos neighborhood.


A Hof’s Hut in Bixby Knolls suffered an extensive fire about a year ago, and Craig said it won’t be reopened. “We went through a long, protracted battle with the insurance companies. After it was all said and done, we elected to give the space back to the landlord, and he’s going to do something else with it,” he explained.


Like their dad, Brad and his three siblings grew up in the family business. “It was kind of a requirement of our parents to work summers and get a taste for the business,” he said. “I started at 13 as a front desk host at the Torrance Hof’s Hut. And then it was every summer after that.” Brad said he has always enjoyed working in the family business.


All the Hofman siblings continue to work at HHG. “My older sister, Ashley, is our brand manager, so she is responsible for helping to maintain the look and feel of each of our restaurant concepts,” Brad explained. Craig added that she also does graphic design and web content work.


“My next-youngest brother, Ryan, is an engineer, so he is our director of construction. He builds our restaurants and maintains them and is also our facility manager,” Brad said. “Then my youngest brother, Dirk, is kind of a mixologist. He really spent a lot of time on the bar side, and he helped develop a lot of the recipes and the program at Saint & Second and our newest concept, Mighty Kitchen.”


When asked how it feels to have his kids working with him, Craig responded, “Leave the room, Brad,” making them both laugh. “It has been a great experience,” he said. “It kind of reinvigorated me. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, and to come in and have your children involved in the business and see them on a daily basis has been very rewarding. And seeing that they really want to take the business to another level has been a good thing.”


In the 1990s, Craig started to look into creating a new restaurant concept. “I kept seeing more and more theme restaurants come online and do really well in the late ’90s. And I just thought it was time to try something different,” he said. “Then somebody who worked for me said, ‘You know, when my parents come into town, I don’t know where to take them for authentic barbecue. A lot of it is in places that I don’t want to go at night, or they don’t have a bar.’”


Craig decided to pursue the idea of a barbecue-themed restaurant and began taking trips to states throughout the South to get a feel for the food. He found that it was great food that Californians would love – but perhaps not the way it was often presented in the South in a very casual assembly-line style. “We upscaled the concept with cloth napkins, cloth wet wipes, a full bar and live entertainment,” he said.


In 1999, the Hofmans opened the first Lucille’s at Long Beach Towne Center. “It has been the brand that has been the most expandable,” Craig said. The concept behind the restaurant – “serving the best barbecue with the finest Southern hospitality” and in big portions – has made the brand “a hit,” he said.


HHG currently operates Lucille’s locations in Southern and Northern California, one in Tempe, Arizona, and two in the greater Las Vegas area of Nevada. The first Nevada location opened in 2004. “The Vegas market has been very good to us,” Craig said. The Lucille’s brand continues to expand, with the next location planned in Montebello. “We’re continuing on an expansion program with Lucille’s – just in the West at this point. We’re not going farther than that,” he noted.


A couple of years ago, HHG closed the Hof’s Hut adjacent to Marina Pacifica Mall and relocated the Lucille’s from the original Hof’s Hut building to that location so they could pursue a new venture on 2nd Street. “What kind of prompted that was it was just such a unique building,” Brad said. The two-story building allowed them to create an upstairs patio and two patios on the main level, as well a bar that is open to both floors.


In 2015, HHG opened Saint & Second at the original Hof’s Hut location. “The people around there have really embraced it because there are so many ways to go in there and enjoy [themselves], whether it’s a drink or dinner downstairs or whatnot,” Brad said. Craig said the restaurant is meant to be unique, with a creative beverage program and chef-driven food.


While Craig considers all the concepts developed by HHG successful, not all the firm’s ventures succeeded. A recent foray into a pizza franchise, SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza, didn’t pan out. “We were continuing to expand Lucille’s and I just thought it might be a good idea to hedge ourselves with more of a fast, casual concept not so geared to protein,” Craig said.


“I found this concept in Kansas City called SPIN! Pizza that was doing really well and went back there and met with them,” Craig recalled. “And we decided to do some test stores in California to see if it would work out here as a potential franchisee.” HHG opened locations in Huntington Beach, Orange and Los Alamitos.

Craig (left) and Brad Hofman at Hofman Hospitality Group’s Belmont Shore restaurant, Saint & Second. The painting behind them depicts the family’s original burger beach stand at 5th Place in Long Beach, which opened in the 1930s. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)


The competition was steep. “At the same time, everybody else was opening pizza places like Blaze [Pizza] and Pieology and PizzaRev,” Craig said. “And they were kind of geared to more of the Chipotle model with less service. I think that was part of it. We got priced out of the marketplace a little bit. We were too expensive, and it just didn’t take here in California like it did in Kansas City.”


HHG pulled out of the franchise. Its Los Alamitos location has been converted to HHG’s newest restaurant, Mighty Kitchen. The eatery opened just a few weeks ago. “It’s brand new and it’s a full-service restaurant, but it’s kind of created around the slider food items,” Brad said, adding that it also has a full bar.


The Hofmans have faced other roadblocks over the years. The Great Recession brought a “significant drop in sales,” as it did for all restaurants, Craig said.


“The biggest challenges have been the mandates by government, whether it be Obamacare or the minimum wage or paid sick leave,” Craig reflected. “The continual mandates that require us to raise our prices [while] trying to figure out how to still deliver that quality and value to our guests – and keep our business without raising our prices too much and losing business. It’s a real tough environment for restaurants right now,” he explained.


Brad said he hoped the Long Beach City Council would decide to go with the state’s minimum wage increase schedule instead of its more aggressive timeline. Craig agreed. “In my lifetime, I’ve never seen this kind of increase [to the minimum wage],” Craig said. “The real challenge is going to be as we keep these restaurants full service, to be able to employ the amount of people that we have and . . . [keep] our menu prices affordable for our guests.” After delaying a vote on this matter on August 23, the city council has agreed to take up the issue at its September 6 meeting.


In all, HHG operates four locations in Long Beach, and Craig said he still sees the city as a good place to invest. Of HHG’s 4,000 or so employees, approximately 600 work in the Long Beach area. “I don’t have a negative feeling about Long Beach in terms of the business climate. I think it has got a lot of potential to get much better as things improve in the economy overall,” he said.


Brad called the restaurant scene in Long Beach “more ambitious, more locally driven, more authentic and as good as it’s ever been” since he came in to the business 12 years ago. The local restaurant industry has also shifted from a focus on retail center locations to being more neighborhood driven, he noted.


Craig shared the sentiment, chiming in, “There have been a lot of small restaurants that have come in with very authentic and different types of cuisine that are not chain driven. I think that that has been a plus to the community.”


If Craig’s parents could see the company today, they would look on it with pride, he said. In particular, “I think that they would be proud to have their grandchildren in the business. They would be excited that they have kept the business going all these years and have been able to make different modifications to brands to survive.”