Monday, June 17, 2024

Meet the Mexican immigrants whose first local jobs were at Egg Heaven—and how they’re trying to revive the breakfast legend


When it was announced earlier this year that Egg Heaven, a breakfast staple that had been slingin’ eggs and potatoes since 1969, making it the city’s oldest breakfast spot, was closing, there was a deep sense of sadness among locals.

But perhaps there was no deeper sadness felt than that of Esperanza Trejo (who uses her husbands last name, McCorkendale), an immigrant from Mexico City that has called Long Beach her home for over three decades.

“This place has always had a special place in my heart,” Trejo said. “It was the first place that welcomed me after moving from Mexico City and allowed me to continue to work in food, which I’ve done my whole life.”

Rito García [left] and Esperanza Trejo [right] started as a cook and server at Egg Heaven in the 1980s and 90s. Photo by Brian Addison.

Trejo’s sad learning of Egg Heaven’s closure—owner Paul LaFond had formally announced the closure in January of 2022, after multiple attempts to revive the space during the pandemic—was paired with another near-tragedy: Coronavirus had almost taken her life, forcing her once active life as a hospitality worker into a bed-ridden nightmare.

The time to think, albeit while horribly ill, was not entirely a pejorative affair: After spending 16 years with El Torito, a corporate giant that is the direct opposite of an operation like Egg Heaven, Trejo reflected on her days at Egg Heaven, her first job as an American resident—and with that reflection came memories of joy: Connecting with customers to the extent where numbers were exchanged and customers would call to make sure she was working. Playing tag team with the kitchen staff, who had become extended family. Enjoying a space that was locally owned, locally visited, and locally loved.

“Things get put into perspective when something [like COVIC-19] hits you like that,” Trejo said. “So I called up Paul and I said, ‘Let’s do this—let’s re-open Egg Heaven!’ And I wanted to do this together with him because I was honest: I am not financially able to buy the space but I am ready, energy-wise and emotionally, to take this on.”

“Paul is allowing me a little time to bring Egg Heaven back—and he’ll never know how much that means to me,” Trejo said. “I want him to be able to witness the space returning to back to what he loved about it, you know? I want to be able to give that to him… To help revive it isn’t just important to me; it’s an honor to be able to do it.”

With the heart of both a true gentleman and Long Beach local, LaFond withheld from putting the space up for sale and instead, allowed Trejo to follow through on her promise.

And follow through she did: Reaching out to Rito García—one of the OG cooks of Egg Heaven dating back to the late 1980s, where he worked under Chef Angel, who has his own section on the menu dubbed “Angel’s Specialities”—the pair have become these Egg Heaven-ers of the past set to give Long Beach back one of its most treasured breakfast coops.

“I told Rito, ‘You’re going to come with us—there are absolutely no questions!'” Trejo said, summoning García from the back.

The interior of Egg Heaven is the stuff of local legend, its art-ified ceilings and bar having greeted patrons for over half a century. Photo by Brian Addison.

Sauntering out with an infectious smile and genial aura, García is the cooking flip-side to Trejo’s hospitality—and together, the joy with which they speak about the project is not only contagious but outright heartwarming. Comfortable with hugs, bright with their smiles, Trejo and García are not remotely intent on reinventing the wheel that is Egg Heaven but, on the opposite side, are not entirely frightened of changing small things here and there.

Noting new floors, which help open up the tiny-but-mighty space, Trejo also firmly stands by the fact that the space’s iconic art-ified ceilings and collage countertop will go unchanged.

“We’ve noticed the bar top is deteriorating and we want to preserve it so we’re likely to add some glass on top and seal it with metal edges,” Trejo said. “And while we updated the ceiling with some new panels, the art will remain. Who knows—maybe we’ll have a few panels taken over by current artists? Have a contest or something.”

Rito García has been slowly preparing the kitchen for reopening. Photo by Brian Addison.

Trejo mentions the purchase of a beer and wine license, opening the space up to mimosa flights and micheladas.

“And, of course, I told Rito: We have to have chilaquiles on the menu,” Trejo said. “I’m from Mexico and there is no reason we shouldn’t have something representing us on the menu… This is going to be a completely Mexican/American breakfast place.”

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García is equally enthusiastic about the food: “Oh, I’m calling my sisters and relatives in Mexico to double-check on recipes for birria or barbacoa,” he proudly said. “And if you’ve been a customer that’s been here before and you see something you want that’s not on the menu, just ask me. I remember everything and will make it for you.”

Egg Heaven in Belmont Heights, Long Beach. Photo by Brian Addison.

It is this genuinely warm hospitality that really speaks volumes to what all parties involved are doing: Taking back a part of Long Beach that was almost lost.

For LaFond, it should be noted if not outright celebrated that he is putting his potential sale of the space on pause for Trejo—not only because he trusts her but because he never wanted to shut down in the first place.

“We just can’t keep our doors open anymore—and believe me, we want to,” LaFond told me when he was closing Egg Heaven earlier this year.

For LaFond, this is a double-win of sorts, with the ability to take a break from what has been an exhausting life in Egg Heaven while also being able to see it possibly revived to its former glory.

“Paul is allowing me a little time to bring this back—and he’ll never know how much that means to me,” Trejo said. “I want him to be able to witness the space returning to back to what he loved about it, you know? I want to be able to give that to him.”

In a very real sense, both LaFond and Trejo could be called anti-gentrifiers, opening up each with a trustful connection in the hopes that a place that was once open for over half a century can continue to serve both Long Beach stomachs and hearts.

“Maybe one day, I’ll be the owner—who knows?” Trejo said. “To help revive it isn’t just important to me; it’s an honor to be able to do it.”

Egg Heaven is expected to open in the coming weeks and is located at 4358 E. 4th St.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.


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