Getting a hearty lunch from the corner convenience store for me usually means grabbing a bag of Takis, a pack of beef jerky and a Gatorade. Grab-and-go breakfast options aren’t much better — if I’m lucky, I’ll take a Starbucks Double Shot or Rockstar can from the refrigerator. When I’m trying to buy a dessert-y drink in the afternoon or evening? I’ve been settling for an Arizona’s Sweet Tea or a plain old bottle of soda.
In Long Beach — where dusty liquor stores live peacefully on every other block — the espresso pulls are left to the coffee shops, the sandwiches happen at the few delis that have dedicated their entire existences to serving them, and you can head to one of the city’s boba spots for a wide selection of sweet drinks any time of the day. But Honeybee’s in Belmont Heights is a new kind of convenience store. Breaking with the snacks-and-soda-driven West Coast corner store, the 10-month-old spot is more like a new-school New York bodega, a part-Roasting Water, part coffee shop, part breakfast and lunch counter and part craft beer bottle shop that also sells Lotto tickets, chips, cigarettes and energy drinks. Its arrival couldn’t have happened at a better time.
Honeybee’s lands in the corner unit that once housed Henry Market, a wood-shingled (and according to its old faded sign, a Knudsen Dairy retailer) that over the years of adding aisles of household items, last-minute goods and bodega-reminiscent essentials, began to remind me so much of Ma N Pa Grocery, about a mile east. Like Ma N Pa, Henry Market was a family-owned business, always filled with familiar faces and buried deep in a residential neighborhood. It wasn’t the kind of place you even knew existed unless you lived near there, know someone who lived near there or so happen to be riding your bike through there. Unlike Ma N Pa, however, Henry’s never carried fresh produce and never made its own food.
Honeybee’s new owners, Jackson and Mareni Khem, changed all that last year. They removed the crowded shelves and racks (and along with it much of the excess inventory) from the Henry days, built a service counter and food prep area along one wall and opened up a small seating area where I can now bask in the natural light from the tall front windows while eating salads, sandwiches and paninis. The extensive food and drink menu is handwritten on an apartment-sized chalkboard hanging on the wall behind the register. Since I re-discovered this little corner of Loma and 3rd Street last summer, I’ve tried nearly everything on it.
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I’ve ordered Italian and turkey sandwiches, served on crusty French baguettes, to go during the lunch rush. I’ve also curled up on the black leather couch with a book for an hour while downing a tuna melt and a cup of tomato basil soup. The deli meats are definitely coming straight from Sysco and Honeybee’s doesn’t purport to be gourmet frou-frou food, and yet I keep finding more reasons to return to this one-stop shop. My latest obsession is their selection of fruit slushies, icy frappes, creamy smoothies and milk teas, which are on par with what you’d find at any good teahouse in Garden Grove (including the option to add bobas, jellies, mochi and lots of assorted fruit bits to whatever you desire). There’s also a killer house Vietnamese iced coffee, which — coupled with a month-old breakfast menu that includes a build-your-own $5 breakfast sandwich — is quickly luring me away from my usual morning haunts.
Why settle for unfulfilling convenience store rations of Red Bull, Takis and beef jerky when you can buy a pesto chicken panini, a strawberry and Nutella croissant or a boba drink of your choice at Honeybee’s? While you’re there, try you luck with a Lotto ticket. You can also grab bottle of Beachwood beer to drink off the loss later.
Honeybee's, 301 Loma Ave., Long Beach, (562) 433-2830, honeybeeslongbeach.com