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Main Chick Hot Chicken and Oi Asian Fusion celebrated their grand opening Saturday afternoon, Sept. 5, at the Uptown Commons shopping center at the northeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Artesia Boulevard. ()

When four friends had the idea to expand their restaurant chain to North Long Beach, a global pandemic was not part of their plan.

The Ninth District’s tight-knit community proved most supportive, however, in their endeavor to open those new eateries, even amid the challenges of the coronavirus outbreak.

Main Chick Hot Chicken and Oi Asian Fusion celebrated their grand opening Saturday afternoon, Sept. 5, at the Uptown Commons shopping center.

Amid the record-breaking holiday-weekend heat wave, patrons poured in to the outdoor dining location at the northeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Artesia Boulevard.

Kevin Popok, Calvin Skarlat, Paul King and Eric de la Cruz first dipped their toes into the restaurant industry with the opening of Oi’s first location in Canoga Park in 2013.

“We became friends while playing a pickup basketball game years ago,” Popok said. “We started playing around with the idea of trying to get into the restaurant industry and the rest is history.”

The Uptown Commons center serves as Oi’s seventh location and Main Chick’s third.

The entrepreneurs attribute their success across Los Angeles County to their networking, both in the communities they serve and through social media channels. But for their Long Beach location, their success, they say, had a lot to do with Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson.

“He’s been so much help and so supportive with everything,” Skarlat said. “He’s been here three or four times in the last week to check in on everything.

“I think he’s actually the first councilperson to visit one of our locations,” de la Cruz added.

Uptown Commons, a project that has been in the works for nearly two years, brings with it hope for a bright future and increased development for the neighborhood, according to Richardson.

“There’s a reason that North Long Beach has done so well through the pandemic,” Richardson said. “Residents had to go far to enjoy a restaurant before the virus hit, but now people are shopping local.”

The Long Beach Quarterly Economic Forum, which took place virtually Aug. 20, revealed that while some neighborhoods’ small business revenue dropped as low as 66% in the last three months, North Long Beach actually had a 39% increase in revenue.

“Residents are supporting local business, our bodegas, our supermarkets,” Richardson said. “Focusing on hyper-local shopping is how we can rebuild the economic power of Long Beach,” he added.

Uptown Commons will also be home to the second location of the ramen bar Shomi Noods and Portside Fish Company, slated to open in the coming months.

The four friends say they have no plans to slow down, with another grand opening set in the next month in San Diego, and then Orange County not long after.

“We’re on our way to being a bigger chain than McDonald’s,” Popok joked.

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