Ma 'n' Pa Grocery a Popular Place

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By Kirt Ramirez
Zac Henderson with Ma 'n' Pa's famous natural jerky.

Zac and Renee Henderson consider the customers at Ma ‘n’ Pa Grocery to be like extended family.

The cordial couple owns the market and restaurant at 346 Roycroft Avenue and Colorado Street. They greet patrons by their first names and know their favorite items.

“Will that be the regular?” Zac asked customers on a recent Sunday morning.

Founded in 1921 as Jones Market, Ma ‘n’ Pa Grocery has changed owners over the years with the Henderson’s owning it for the past 16. The celebrated store has been a fixture in the Belmont Heights neighborhood for a long time, nestled between Craftsman bungalows, cottages and the like.

Hardwood paneling decorates the structure’s exterior like a log cabin. Rustic tools hang on the walls inside the rugged shop and a lantern dangles in antique style.

Like a general store in the mountains or rural setting, Ma ‘n’ Pa gives locals a bit of everything; fresh foods, canned goods, cold drinks and so on. But Ma ‘n’ Pa is more than a convenience store. It’s a restaurant, a catering service and a place where natural jerky is made in-house.

“I’ve already made about 50 breakfast burritos this morning,” said Zac, a trained teacher who pursued his restaurant passion instead.

Born in Long Beach, Zac, 42, attended Bryant Elementary, Jefferson Middle School, Wilson High School, Long Beach City College and Long Beach State, where he earned his teaching credentials.

He played baseball for 10 years, softball for 20 and now coaches Long Beach Little League at Stearns Champions Park, which he’s done for the last eight years. Trophies are displayed in a corner of the room.

“I’m coaching my son and daughter, who is playing baseball with the boys,” he said. “She’s becoming a pretty darn good player too.”

Wife Renee used to run the former Henry’s Market at Third Street and Loma Avenue. That’s where she met Zac 20 years ago.

That store was sold and Ma ‘n’ Pa Grocery was purchased.

“I’ve been in the business forever,” Renee said. “I love it.”

Born in Cambodia and having lived in Thailand before coming to America in 1979, Renee said the small-town feel of the store reminds her of her childhood.

The Henderson’s have three children, Pauline, Sean and Cole.

Twenty to 30 Rogers Middle School children hang out at Ma ‘n’ Pa Grocery before and after school and Zac and Renee take care of them like parents would.

“We are Ma ‘n’ Pa’s market,” she chuckled.

A customer came in from Texas one day and wanted the banana cake recipe – containing chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts – a cherished recipe from Zac’s late grandmother. Hesitant to give it out, Renee gave in. Later the woman called and asked “Why can’t I get it like yours?” to which Renee joked, “Because you have to put love into it.”

Renee added, “You have to give love to make the food good.”

Every day the team makes fresh, hearty items. Ninety-plus-percent of the food is homemade.

Zac assembles 60 sandwiches a day for easy grab and go including pastrami, top sirloin, turkey, ham, roast beef, egg salad, tuna and meat loaf. Other wholesome selections range from casseroles to pastas, soups to salads, hearty meat dishes and desserts.

And then there’s “Locally-Famous Fried Chicken Wednesdays.”

“Fried Chicken Wednesdays are a big deal,” Zac said. “I fry about 500 pieces of chicken every Wednesday.”

A highlight of the store is the tasty jerky.

Zac is a certified processing inspector and that allows him to make jerky on site, dipped in a secret sauce. The varieties are buffalo, turkey, corned beef, Cajun, teriyaki and the most popular, original.

“It’s addicting; it’s so good, almost like a teriyaki, peppery, old-fashioned flavor to it,” said customer Michael Guzman. “I love this small, quaint store that they have. It’s a hidden gem. It’s delicious food with great people.”

Local attorney Lawrence Lallande climbs mountains over 18,000 feet. He’s hiked in Russia, Argentina, Bolivia, Equador, Mexico, Tanzania and other places. He takes along four pounds of Ma ‘n’ Pa’s jerky to share with the locals and climbing team.

He said the jerky is pure with no mystery meats.

“That’s just a piece of steak that’s been sliced,” he said while showing a piece.

A customer for 34 years, he added his grandchildren love the place too. And he gives his two pet dogs jerky on Sundays.

Katrina Stimson said her parents are regulars and were good friends with the previous owners, and her step-father, Mark Killam, gave her jerky last year for her birthday.

“I’ve been coming here since 1984,” she said. “The beef jerky is my favorite.”

Jane Larsen traveled from Kern County for one pound of original jerky.

“I came all the way from Tehachapi just to get it,” she said.

Larsen learned of the store through her son, who took her to Ma ‘n’ Pa previously and now she returns.

Ma ‘n’ Pa Grocery was named best caterer in the Beachcomber’s “Best of Long Beach” contest for 2018 and won several times before.

This year the store won “Best Neighborhood Business” in the Long Beach Post’s “Best of Long Beach Reader’s Choice” contest.

Former Third District Councilman Frank Colonna presented a Certificate of Recognition in 2005.

Renee recalled her grandmother’s words of wisdom:

“The more you give, the more you receive.”

kirt@beachcomber.news

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