Lessons from a Long Beach Icon
by Jazmin Lucero
Drowning in sea of deadlines and anxiety, fall 2017 was the most challenging semester for me yet. It was difficult to find the balance between juggling work, school, PRSSA, a social life, bills and my self-care. I had managed to peel myself out of bed one Thursday morning and get to class on time. Our guest speaker that day was none other than Long Beach VIP, John Morris. Though the list of accomplishments goes on and on, Morris is known for owning both Legends Sports Bar and Boathouse on the Bay. I decided to visit him at his restaurant the next week to continue the conversation of how he’s built a life in Long Beach. After chatting with him, there are three recurring characteristics about Morris that have helped him reach the success he has today.
1. He has a clear and strong work ethic
John Morris proves time and time again that he pushes himself as much as he needs to get things done. He has truly worked for and earned everything he’s accomplished. With an alcoholic father and five younger siblings, Morris stepped up to help his mother support their family. At age 10, he stopped going to school and found work picking potatoes on a local farm in his hometown of Widnes, England. This was the first time Morris learned the real meaning of hard work, and is the reason why he believes “a good work ethic needs to be instilled from a young age.” This attitude is part of how Morris always manages to push through.
A developed positive work ethic combines humility, a sense of responsibility, discipline and teamwork. Whenever times are tough, one of the biggest motivators for Morris is remembering why he started his journey in the first place.
“I remember where I came from, and I never want to go back to that,” Morris said. Interestingly, he had never seen a refrigerator prior to coming to the U.S., and would open the fridge door just to look and be amazed at all the food inside.
Life as an entrepreneur isn’t always easy, and sometimes sacrifices are necessary. Morris describes his most difficult decision as a business owner, “We had to give up the house at one point. Having to look my wife and family in the eye and tell them that we have to give up our home to keep the business was the hardest thing I’ve had to do.”
Remember, Beyonce said “work hard and grind until you own it.”
2. His ideas are innovative
Moving in from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Morris started to make a name for himself in the 1970s Long Beach nightlife. During that time he and Dennis Harrah (then an LA Ram’s offensive lineman) became close friends and bought a house together. The pair found themselves at McKenna’s Creek one Monday night, looking to watch the football game.
Morris recounts the experience, “We had to yell at the bartender about the game. He had to go to the closet, get the TV, put it on the mantle, and get the rabbit ears tuned so these guys could watch the game.”
That’s the night Morris came up with the concept for a place where people could gather, eat, dringk and watch sporting events. Nine months later,in 1979, Legends opened as the country’s “first modern sports bar.” It was the first to use satellite technology to broadcast live sporting events from around the world. Not only did John come up with a revolutionary idea, but he was also resourceful and driven enough to see it come to life.
3. He’s passionate about Long Beach
Anyone who’s met Morris knows he loves Long Beach and the people who make up its community. Aside from owning five different business within the city, Morris has played a key role in establishing numerous Long Beach events. These include the “Parade of Champions,” which celebrates Long Beach athletes as well as Belmont Shore Christmas Parade.
To say that John Morris stands up for what he believes in is an understatement. Morris has feuded with Long Beach City Hall countless times in the nearly 40 years that he’s done business the city.
“They [city officials] don’t like that I voice my opinions and disagree with them,” Morris said. Even after winning a lawsuit against Long Beach, Morris claims city hall is “vindictive,” and “still tries to get even” by slowing down projects he tries to push through. Morris advised, “You can’t worry about pissing people off because you’re not gonna make everyone happy.”
John Morris is living proof that anyone can take control of their own story. His passion and drive to achieve a goal sparked a chain reaction of inspiration and dedication that continues to rally the Long Beach community together to this day.
To Morris, success or failure isn’t as important as the “journey” of life. That’s advice we could all live by.
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