On May 31, Saundra Christmas’ landlord called to say that her shop, one of the few black-owned businesses in Long Beach, had just been looted.
For the past 14 years, Christmas has operated Mabel’s Gourmet Pralines on Pine Avenue. Without pausing to think, she and her nephew drove downtown to save her candy-making equipment.
“I didn’t know what we would find,” Christmas said. “It was like entering a war zone. My front door window had been smashed and my cash register was destroyed. Everything was a mess.”
As her nephew, Archie Williams, carried heavy machinery outside, she worried that the police would come by and mistake the two of them for looters.
“I got really nervous,” Christmas said. “But I had to make sure that my equipment was safe. I knew it would cost me about $22,000 to replace it and I don’t have that kind of money.”
Christmas said she has been making pralines since she was a little girl in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her family had pecan trees in the backyard and it was her job to gather and shell the nuts.
“Of course, I always hung around the kitchen when my mom was making the candy, because I wanted to lick the spoon!” Christmas said.
As she got older, she discovered how strenuous it was to stir the mixture and make sure that nothing burned. But the work was worth it, she said, because the candy was so good. When Christmas became a mom, she continued to make pralines exactly like her mother had taught her.
“I would bring them to my daughter’s school fundraisers,” she said, “and everyone loved them. Long after the fundraiser was over, people were placing orders for more pralines.”
In addition to working as a paralegal, Christmas began selling batches of pralines. From 2000 to 2006, she leased a commercial kitchen in Compton and sold her goods at farmers markets and special events. In 2006, she noticed a “for rent” sign in downtown Long Beach. Shortly thereafter, Mabel’s Gourmet Pralines (named in honor of her mother) opened at 625 Pine Ave.
Originally, Christmas planned to sell only pralines; however, previous tenants sold banana pudding from her location. Since people kept asking for banana pudding, Christmas decided to add it to her menu. Five-star Yelp reviews attest to the excellence of Mabel’s Gourmet pralines and “puddin.”
“She makes the best pralines and banana pudding you’ll ever taste,” Williams said.
“I have been Saundra’s customer for about 12 years,” Beth Yates said. “Each year, I order about 35 pounds of pralines and have her ship them to my customers, family, and friends. Everyone loves that sweet/salty, melt in your mouth flavor!”
Christmas said her secret is a good recipe and quality ingredients.
“I haven’t changed one thing from the way my mother used to make it,” she said. “People always tell me how much they like the taste and texture of my pralines. And that makes me happy, because my customers mean everything to me.”
Her customers are now showing their support and contributing to a GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/f/mabels-gourmet-pralines) to help Christmas regroup from the one-two punch of the COVID-19 shutdown and the vandalism.
“I get such a feeling of love from my customers,” Christmas said. “There are a lot of things that are not good right now, but I really appreciate their love.”
When Mabel’s Gourmet Pralines reopens, call 562-682-7156 to sweeten the day.