“Ma N Pa Grocery is Belmont Heights,” Belmont Heights Community Association secretary Gina Redican said.
The neighborhood market at 346 Roycroft Ave. is celebrating 100 years in business this year. Zac and Renee Henderson have owned and operated Ma N Pa for the last 17 of those years. Zac started working there as a teenager. As much as this old school neighborhood store defines the Heights, Renee and Zac are Ma N Pa.
“This is definitely a labor of love,” Zac said as he returned from delivering groceries to customers.
Redican said she has been a customer for 30 years, starting when she and her Wilson High School friends were able to obtain off campus lunch passes so they could go to Ma N Pa’s. She recalled the days when Renee ran the former Henry’s Market at Third Street and Loma Avenue, where Renee met Zac in 2004.
Many students frequent the store, and many families have accounts there, so their children don’t need to carry cash. Renee proudly showed the stack of hand-written ledgers of neighborhood accounts that date back 40 years.
“Once the balance gets high, I call them to stop by and pay on the account,” Renee said as she shuffled through the dog-eared cards.
The Hendersons said they consider the Belmont Heights residents family, and host a huge block party every August. The streets are closed off, they roll out big grills and there is plenty of food and drinks. It started as a retirement party for the former owner 17 years ago and soon became an annual tradition.
Last year's party was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions; if circumstances change, it could become a 100th anniversary party this year.
House historian Maureen Neeley offered some background. “The grocery store was founded in 1921 as Jones Market (there is an original advert on display) nestled in the Belmont Heights neighborhood where the original owner lived down the street. The grocery usage is grandfathered in as legal non-conforming.
“Just like our early residents of Belmont Heights, those of us who live here today need to support businesses that fall into that category," Neeley added, "like the Starling Diner (Fowle Market) at 4114 E. Third St. and Honeybees (formerly Henry Market and originally Loma Grocery) at 301 Loma Ave.
“Curated markets like these keep people out of cars shopping locally," she continued. "In the early ’20s, Belmont Heights expanded with families often associated with the oil industry and ancillary services. It makes sense a market would open at Colorado and Roycroft, close to the Red Car line.”
Groceries in the neighborhood makes it convenient, but what sets Ma N Pa apart is the daily home cooking. More than 500 pieces of chicken are fried every Wednesday, 60 sandwiches are built a day, and countless burritos are rolled.
“There are so many things to love," said Lauren Friedman, real estate agent specializing in Belmont Heights. "It is wonderful to have a family-owned grocery store in our neighborhood. The staff is friendly and the food is delicious."
Friedman, added the family’s go-to item is the breakfast burritos, a “great on the go for the kids.”
The range of types of food the catering operation can handle is appreciated by the local customers.
“I’ve been a customer for more than 35 years," Naomi Rainey-Pierson said. "One time, I needed some last-minute catering for a major Black History event. Renee was able to work with my limited budget when preparing the soul food menu of chicken wings, greens, and catfish. Many of the guests were surprised to learn the meal was not made by African Americans."
Rainey-Pierson is an educator, philanthropist, and Long Beach Branch President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“The food is wonderful Renee and I have been friends and prayer warriors, she made special dishes for my sister when she was battling cancer,” Rainey-Pierson added.
Renee recently beat cancer. The battle was a serious one, requiring Zac to sleep in the garage so Renee wasn't exposed to anything while her immunity was low. She lived through communism, having been born in Cambodia, so strength is her strong suit, she said.
Customers are quick to share stories how the Hendersons saved the day for them by having toilet paper in stock, delivering meals to the home-bound or supporting a community event.
Longtime Ma N Pa fan Janis Krantz, who orders a catered lunch for her J & L Jewelry customers weekly summarized the community’s feelings: “Come for the homemade beef jerky and fried chicken. — but stay for the love.”