Photos by Asia Morris.
John and Rany Aguirre would walk past 1208 E. Wardlow Rd., when it was still a photography studio, and dream not about light meters and family portraits, but steaming hot cups of coffee and a life of friendly service to the Cal Heights community. There was something special about the location, the feeling they got from the space, that had them dreaming of someday opening up the doors to their own ambitions in that very spot.
A “For Lease” sign was soon seen hanging inside the window and the rest is, well, recent history. Enter Steelhead Coffee, the coffee shop that Cal Heights has been waiting so patiently for, which they named after their two-year-old son Logan, whose carefree and adventurous personality inspired not only the name, but the rhino logo, as well.
Rany explained, "Logan is a go, go, go type and charges forward at full speed always toward everything he sets his eyes and mind on... thus, a rhino is the one animal we felt best fit his personality and that became our inspiration during the the journey of our build out. We knew we had to keep driving forward to make our dream of owning our own coffee shop a reality."
Surprisingly, Rany and John are not Long Beach natives, but held jobs in Orange County and Los Angeles and used the City as the perfect midway point to meet when they were still dating, which coffee naturally became a large part of. The two met through mutual friends and had their first get-together at a coffee shop.
Rany said, “[...] over that date we were able to find out a lot about each other and whether or not we were going to pursue this relationship. So somehow coffee has always been a part of us. And the more and more we saw each other and dated, we were constantly looking for a coffee shop to hang out at or to grab a coffee at just to get us going for the day. So I feel like coffee has been in our blood,” she laughed and glanced at John.
Dating eventually led to marriage and to buying a house in the Cal Heights neighborhood.
"The moment we moved here we fell in love with everything about Long Beach and especially this community," said Rany. "The fact that it's old, historical and it has a lot of charm. We walk around the neighborhood all the time, we've met tons of neighbors and they're just so welcoming, everybody is just so genuine, and that's what's drawn us to this area."
John added, “Before we knew all that though,” he paused. “You go to a place and you feel like, 'This is it, this is home.' You know, you feel comfortable.”
Rany continued, “And now, especially with this coffee shop we feel pretty rooted here. So we take a lot of pride in this area.”
The two have garnered a symbiotic relationship with other coffee shops in the area, such as Rose Park and Lord Windsor Roasters, whose products they carry proudly. The couple said they were welcomed with open arms by the Long Beach coffee community and have been able to learn from them in many ways, such as how to start simply.
John, speaking about Rose Park Roasters, said, “They’ve been our big brother in a lot of ways, pulling us in the right direction. We’re proud to be partners with them.”
“I feel like we grew together, too,” Rany added.
Steelhead Coffee supports local and small business as much as possible and aims to not only "network," but to build lasting connections with the community. They carry vegan donuts from the Long Beach-based company The Caffeinated Kitchen, as well as items from Scratch Baked Goods. They carry Rose Park Roasters cold brew on tap as well as kombucha, and have Lord Windsor Roaster's bottled cold brew proudly lining their shelves.
Monk Tea was another brand the two excitedly described. They were able to meet with the San Diego-based journeyman who, every Spring, explores Taiwan, Thailand and China in search of that perfect, flavorful leaf. Alongside supporting local brands, John plans to sell beans from roasters out of state once a month just to mix it up and introduce locals to new flavors. He spent some years in Seattle, Washington, where he discovered this month's featured out-of-towner, Kuma Coffee.
As far as residents' reactions are concerned, those that walk through the front door for their first time have been thanking John and Rany for opening the type of business that many locals believe the neighborhood desperately needed, a place for them to congregate, a place to hunker down with a good book or a laptop, a place for the community to get together for no other reason than a good cup of coffee and a conversation.
Kelly, a regular Steelhead Coffee customer who always orders an Almond Milk Latte, moved to Long Beach with her family from Orange County in January. The shop now serves as her afternoon stop before she takes her son to the park.
“We’ve met a lot of local people, it’s been a great social tool,” Kelly said. “We don’t have many friends here so that’s kind of a way for us to get out and make them. We found out about the library, about storytime at the library, we found out about a lot of things at the coffee shop.”
One of the perks of how the space is designed includes a bar where you can sit and watch (or bother) the baristas as they work. Head Barista Allen Sin will likely take a moment to tell you about his day and talk about how accepting the community has been from day one. He’ll even maintain his cool while you try to photograph him mastering an artful pour.
John said succinctly, “It's not just about serving the coffee but enjoying the coffee and understanding what it is inside that cup. That's where the passion is rooted, in understanding what it provides three people sitting at a table, or someone coming in to start their work day. That's what we've learned. You can get into the nitty gritty of the details, but it's the interaction that we're all about.”
Steelhead Coffee is open 6:00AM to 6:00PM Monday through Friday, 7:00AM to 5:00PM Saturday and 7:00AM to 4:00PM Sunday, and is located at 1208 E. Wardlow Rd.