LONG BEACH — Veronica Nangano grew up amid the clatter of restaurant dishes, the smell of freshly caught fish and the hubbub of life on the waterfront.
As a little girl, she played around her grandmother's Spanish Kitchen restaurant at the old Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach, always eager for another handful of anchovies to toss into the seal pen.
When she was a little older, Nangano recalls her nervousness the first time she had to make change for a $50 bill at her parents' Harbor Inn restaurant in the port.
And now Nangano, who turns 25 on Friday, is struggling to save the latest family business, Long Beach Sportfishing and Berth 55 Seafood in the harbor off Pico Avenue.
She is banking on the family's experience, her general manager and a little luck to get her through.
Hopes for Miracle
"That's what runs in the blood the most: last-minute miracles," she said, later explaining, "If I worry too much it will immobilize me. You have to go with the flow."
It may take a few miracles. Nangano's parents, Joseph A. and India Nangano, died of cancer within a few months of each other in 1986 and left the business debt-ridden and in disarray.
After a few months, the business fell to Veronica and her 20-year-old brother, Andrew. She said her brother, however, has had little time to devote to the business while he attends Orange Coast College.
Nangano's general manager, Mike Kingsbury, said "the basic problem is when Veronica's parents passed away they left substantial debt. Neither had medical insurance and the business was run without management for nine months" during their illnesses and immediately after their deaths, he said. "It's been a constant battle for the past year."
Or, as James H. McJunkin, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, put it, "They inherited a mess."
Number of Creditors
As of last week, the Nanganos owed $31,940 to the Port of Long Beach in rent and water meter charges. The Board of Harbor Commissioners declared the business in default. Kingsbury said there are other creditors too.
"I have negotiated with everybody and a lot of folks are playing ball with us," Kingsbury said. "It doesn't solve the problem. It solves the symptoms. The place has a lot of potential. It's just undercapitalized."
Veronica Nangano said she closed the Berth 55 dinner house and bar and the adjoining Queen's Wharf Cafe last month because of long-running losses.
Nangano said she has not courted offers to buy out the operation despite the financial difficulties, though Kingsbury said "anything's possible at the right price."
The landing has a loyal clientele of regulars, but the landing's site in the industrial northern edge of the port makes it difficult to find. "A lot of people don't know we're here," Nangano said. "We haven't done that much promoting."
Besides the tackle and seafood shops, Nangano said she collects a percentage fee from the landing's eight owner-operated fishing boats, a scuba diving boat and harbor tour boat. The business, however, is seasonal. The fish bite more often in summer than winter, she said.
An attractive, tanned woman clad in a short denim skirt, Nangano defies the image of a fish-landing operator as a beer-guzzling, gray-haired old salt. The reigning Miss Port of Long Beach, Nangano said that she can cuss as adeptly as any roustabout if the need arises. She holds a brown belt in judo.
Took Judo Lessons
The 5-foot-5 manager said she took judo lessons a couple years ago after being thrown across the bar when she tried to eject a troublemaker.
A graduate of St. Joseph's High School in Lakewood who bounced between colleges before taking over the family business, Nangano said she had to work seven-day weeks until the restaurant closed. Even now, her work schedule includes weekends and holidays when anglers head for the day boats at the landing. Nangano has adapted her social schedule to her work: her boyfriend is part-owner of some of the fishing boats at the dock.
She said that managing her business keeps her running all the time.
"It's a lot of responsibility," she said. "You have a lot of people--I don't want to say, 'on your back,' but that's the bottom line."
Nangano said she has a hard time imagining a job away from the docks.
"I'm never that unhappy with my job," she said. "How many people can sit outside and do their paper work?"