Little Brass Café Takes Off After Owners Reimagine Their Small Business at Long Beach Airport
When downtown’s seminal book bar The Brass Lamp shuttered its doors after two years of operation in 2017, owner Samantha Argosino was not ready to let go of her business. A few months later, she got a phone call from the Long Beach City’s Economic Development team about an unprecedented opportunity: to open a boutique café at the Long Beach Airport, as the only stop available for coffee and gourmet bites before airport security. The space was formerly used for vending machines.
“When you’re a business owner and you think about where you want to be — location, location, location — the airport is something that never comes to mind,” said Argosino. “You just don’t think it’s an opportunity that’s available.”
The Little Brass Café Express opened its doors on the first of April last year. While it’s much smaller than The Brass Lamp’s original 4,000 sq. ft. footprint, Argosino and her husband Tony Arredondo—who co-owns the new café—decided to carry on the legacy of The Brass Lamp by keeping several popular menu items (such as The Brass Lamp Classic Sandwich, Mom’s Chicken Salad and Sam’s Spicy Mocha). Much of the café is furnished with tables and stools from the book bar; the original brass lamp sits on a table by the entrance.
Samantha credits the City’s Economic Development and Airport team for helping her navigate the opening of The Brass Lamp, her first business ever, and the Little Brass Café Express. From providing resources on loan programs and technical assistance to helping her navigate the permitting process, the City has been extremely supportive throughout the process, she shared.
“Sam and Tony are examples of how the City works with small businesses to help them not only take root in this community but also be able to expand and flourish,” said Seyed Jalali, the City’s Economic Development Officer.
Job creation, business formation, and business expansion are three of the main objectives of the City’s Economic Development department. Aligned with the Economic Development Blueprint adopted by the City Council in 2017, the department works with small businesses and new entrepreneurs by providing access to affordable capital through one of the City’s three active loan programs: KIVA Loan Program, a crowdfunding platform providing loans up to $10,000 with zero interest and fees; a Micro-Enterprise Loan Program, which provides $25,000 to $100,000 starting capital for new businesses; and Small Business Administration Loan Program, which provides $150,000 to $2 million for eligible businesses with collateral.
The department also provides technical support -- from one-on-one counseling sessions on how to write a successful business plan to marketing and development workshops -- by pairing entrepreneurs with City partners Cal State University Long Beach and Long Beach City College.
Argosino and Arredondo, both alumni of CSULB, hold plenty of Long Beach pride and incorporate it into their business, from hiring CSULB students to showcase the city to daily travelers stopping by the café.
“You get to see different people from everywhere every day,” said Arredondo. “We make sure that all of our staff know that you do have to give your customers a good experience, so they leave with a good experience, that you represent Long Beach Airport as what it is. It’s a really great small community airport.”
The couple has hopes of rebuilding The Brass Lamp in a new location in Long Beach someday. In the meantime, they are extremely happy of the Little Brass Café at LGB, where they can provide a bona fide local flavor to travelers from around the country.
“We think of ourselves as business people who love having a business in the Long Beach community,” said Argosino. “[T]he airport wanted to add an amenity to the quaintness and customer experience of being in Long Beach. It’s really a huge honor to run a business here.”
She shared that they will continue their work as long as they are adding value to the community.