Wide Eyes Open Palms A Safe Space Builds New Ground By Melina Paris, Staff Reporter

  • 11/19/2018
  • Melina Paris

Wide Eyes Open Palms is what you get if you combine a specialty coffee shop run by women who provide seasonal cuisines and politics that promote safe spaces for the whole community.

WeOP, for short, is a breakfast and lunch cafe on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach that’s been open for about a  year and a half.

For the past ten years, restaurateurs Angie Evans and Kat McIver  have been partners in operating WeOP–and are life partners.

The food is locally sourced — therefore farm-to-table fresh — from Farm Lot 59. If an ingredient is unavailable they simply make a different dish. That explains the constantly changing menu.

Coffee is at the heart of WeOP. The eclectic list of flavors featured includes an iced cardamom spiced latte and a rosemary latte with organic, local rosemary that people have come back for. There’s also a nuts-and-bolt pour over that’s been part of their repertoire since they first did pop ups. Bread runs a close second to coffee among the favorites on WeOP’s menu. It is fresh, crunchy, crispy and warm, just delicious, and that includes the gluten-free options.

Another popular dish is the vegan grain bowl, a collection of organic grains, hummus, veggies sprouts and legumes–an order that will keep appetite at bay most of the day for the not-bad price of  $12. Co-owner, Angie also loves making shrubs, which are apple-cider-vinegar-infused fruit sparkling sodas. The week we spoke it was strawberry, lemon verbena, and pear sage. There are plenty more dishes to try. With high-quality ingredients made in-house by skilled and informed crew, you won’t go wrong. The friendly staff is always ready to offer suggestions based on your preferences and needs.

The Space

The partners went to great lengths to ensure that WeOP was a welcoming safe space. They even trained the staff to avoid gender pronouns and signs are posted — including one on the front door — that read, “This is a safe space. Sexism, Racism, Fascism, Homophobia, Transphobia is not welcome.”

The staff appreciates it, Angie noted, saying “Everyone needs to feel safe.”

“It wasn’t simple,” Angie said. “They learned very quick, (to) use words like ‘folks,’ or just saying ‘hello’ and ‘welcome’. Me personally, as a butch woman, I identify as a woman, but when I’m at a restaurant and someone says, ‘Hi ladies,’ you don’t feel good. We don’t identify with lady. Even Kat, she’s feminine but does not prefer to be called lady.”

Their business plan includes all of these tenets. The partners have both worked in service and had bosses they’ve seen do wrong things. So, their employee’s manual highlights these philosophies, including being positive in the work space.

“We want our employees to be into it, to have fun and share that with customers,” Angie said beaming.  

Angie explained that this safe space and welcoming ideology is the result of being a spiritual person. It’s also the combination of being queer and learning that language in certain circles (like creating a safe space). The partners spent many years associating with different groups– Kat is an organizer and activist and Angie was a women’s study major in college. These are the ingredients that form the space that WeOP is today and the positive energy it holds.

Beginnings

Angie, who was always a barista, managed a coffee shop that was a Long Beach community hub.

“Even though it was about coffee, I was able to pull together a like-minded community with the help of a lot of other people,” she said.

But in the back of her head, Angie always wanted to create her own space and vision.  Kat always worked in well-known kitchens such as Good Girl Dinette and Sqirl in Los Angeles. It was Kat who inspired Angie to frequent farmers’ markets and to eat fresh and sustainably.  They began selling coffee along with an entire coffee experience at the local farmers’ market in 2013. They soon wondered, What if you could eat organic and sustainable produce and eggs, while you’re at the market? They began to offer seasonal foods to accompany their specialty coffees.

“We saw that little farmers market coffee booth as a coffee shop and people always commented on that,” Angie said.

They made it feel like a coffee house by adding music and lights. And Angie built a little wooden bar for their booth that she could fold in half to fit in her van at the end of the day. Between that and doing pop ups around town, the community got to know them and their specialty coffees. Angie and Kat also held backyard brunches. It was a way to bring people together and introduce them to the idea of seasonal foods from their own backyard. They soon considered opening a restaurant focused on specialty coffee and seasonal food. They discussed whether to open in Los Angeles or Long Beach. Angie felt Long Beach needed this kind of business.

She realized that by opening in Los Angeles, many people have more access to seasonal food and specialty coffee restaurants there. This familiarity could make opening in LA easier.  But this was the type of place Angie and Kat wanted to go to in Long Beach. They just never found it.

“You can go to a fine dining restaurant but then maybe you order a coffee after and it’s completely a second thought,” Angie said. “Or, you go to a specialty coffee shop and the focus is coffee, the making of it and the craft and then you’re hungry but the food is an afterthought. They bring in sandwiches (from elsewhere) or they bring in pastries.”

WeOp has become everything Kat and Angie wanted – “a café where you can get it all.”

Pop Up to Brick and Mortar

Their food is sourced from the local farmer’s market, Farm Lot 59– a Long Beach farm–  and the local honey lady. If something they want is unavailable they just make something different. That’s why their menu always changes. For folks who patronize WeOp, they know they are getting farm-fresh, sustainable, organic and fair-trade options. And that comes at a cost. They intentionally made their prices as low as they could go. But Angie takes the time to explain why.

“We have to be a little higher than another coffee shop using lower-quality ingredients,” she said. “I could go get cheaper honey, non organic eggs, non organic butter, or not compost, or use compostable products like cups but the intention is to not waste and to serve the best food we can.”

They are located just around the corner from The Gay and Lesbian Center on Fourth Street. Angie and Kat are very “out” business owners, so they love that the Center patronizes them. They hope to have more people come and use their space for activist events and gatherings. They’re planning to add a sidewalk extension that provides more space and amenities for people using the street, a valuable investment to accommodate their large crowd of customers. Their next move will be a beer and wine license. Angie also has an herbal tea and tinctures line. She eventually wants another place near WeOP as an apothecary and natural market.

The partners had a goal to actually see where their coffee is grown. They went to Panama to visit coffee farms right before they opened. WeOp doesn’t have a direct relationship with coffee farmers but they choose roasters they know that do have that direct relationship and, Angie emphasized, who have a radical viewpoint.

“That’s intentional who we choose, not only for flavor but we know that their sourcing responsibly,” Angie said. “We need the farmers and the people working in the countries that are giving us this delicious beverage to be compensated for it.”

That radical viewpoint Angie mentioned is about maintaining adequate compensation for the farmers and their employees. They want to know how their roasters source coffee, so they use only direct trade suppliers. WeOp’s coffee options change because they purchase small amounts of coffee imported from all over Africa, Central and South America.

Sustainable foods, a safe space flowing with positive/feminine energy and prioritizing fair trade practices– these are the catalysts Angie and Kat utilize to create the café they envisioned. And this business model has proven successful for the community in one of the most diverse cities in the nation.

Details: Wide Eyes Open Palms is located at 416 Cherry Ave. Long  Beach

Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sunday  

(562) 386-2031; www.wideeyesopenpalms.com

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Melina Paris

Melina Paris is a Southern California-based writer, who blends her passion for writing and connecting people to their local community into pieces centered music, cultural events, the arts, and most recently, the intersection of art and social justice.