Photos by Asia Morris.
On Wednesday, Jackson and Mareni Khem posed for a picture behind the register of their two-month-old new business, HoneyBee’s, where scratchers, chewing gum, ballpoint pens, straws and other random thingamajigs you’d expect at a convenience store fill the counter space.
The Khems have renovated what was Henry Market, an old corner shop that used to serve the Belmont Heights neighborhood and surrounding areas, completing much of the physical work on their own to open a business that the husband and wife team claims wasn’t their idea.
“You can say HoneyBee's was the neighborhood's idea,” said Jackson. “We just brought it to life.”
Walking into the space awash with natural light, shelves of craft beer and wine for sale line the walls, next to tables and chairs sitting on a black and white checkered floor. A father and son finish a couple of sandwiches and a what looks like iced teas, while the door ringer goes off. It's that precise moment when a handful of young adults choose to walk into the space to stand in line.
Ma ‘n Pa Grocery comes to mind, one of Long Beach’s most beloved neighborhood joints you’d only be able to find if you’re a local, or by speaking to one.
“Our vision for our business is to become the neighborhood's one-stop shop,” said Jackson. “If someone is hungry or thirsty, we want her to say, ‘Hey, I'm going to grab a sandwich and cup of tea from HoneyBee's.’ Or if someone is on his way to work and needs a picker-upper, I want him to say, ‘Oh! I have to stop by HoneyBee's and pick up a cup of coffee.’”
The couple's vision may very well have come true. If you spend a short half hour at HoneyBee’s, you’re likely to see patrons walking, not driving, to the shop, probably from their homes, the Temple Israel across the street or maybe from Broadway’s nearby bustling row of businesses. While locals who remember Henry Market, a store that was great for “Oh crap, I forgot” items, where a sweet lady named Lee would sell you a lottery ticket, but not before wishing you good luck, the Khems are proving to fill those shoes and more with their open-minded attitude toward their neighbors and customers.
“The idea actually stemmed from being at the corner store, day in and day out by myself while my wife was on maternity leave, and not having the necessary products and supplies for those who stopped by,” Jackson explained. “One day, I started surveying the customers that did come in to see what they would want here in the neighborhood, and it was unanimous. Everyone wanted a coffee shop that served sandwiches.”
Since opening in May, Jackson and Mareni have listened carefully to customers’ requests and have happily directed their efforts toward satiating those desires. Coffee and sandwiches quickly became coffee, Vietnamese Iced Coffee, sandwiches and tea (from fruit teas to milk teas, boba optional), smoothies and slushies, with both a breakfast and dessert menu in the works, while the two are more than willing to make something not listed on the giant blackboard menu behind the counter. You just have to ask.
But before you get too creative, don’t discount the original selection of sandwiches. The Roast Beef Dip and Italian are HoneyBee’s best sellers. Each comes on a considerately toasted French baguette that won’t scrape the roof of your mouth and each is considerately priced, with most of the sandwiches under $7 and generally big enough to save a half for later. As far as drinks are concerned, the HoneyBee’s Special Iced Coffee, their version of a Vietnamese Iced Coffee, is the “must try,” says Jackson.
As far as the name HoneyBee’s was conceived, the couple used their daughter’s middle name. And while the budding business certainly provides for the Khem family, the proud new owners welcome their customers with open arms, as well. Don’t be surprised if they remember your name the second time you stop by for a scratcher or milk tea.
“We wanted to name our business after something that we would want to wake up every day and come to,” said Jackson. “We figured when we are tired and exhausted from working crazy hours, we are reminded of why, and who, we are doing it for.”
For more information and updates on new menu items, follow HoneyBee’s on Instagram @honeybees_lbc.
HoneyBee’s is located at 301 Loma Avenue.