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‘Ya Estuvo:’ After 23 Years of Service, Highland Park’s Famous Elotero Shucked His Final 500 Ears of Corn

[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]igueroa Street in Highland Park will now be elotero-less. 

At approximately 8 PM last night on the southwest corner of Avenue 57, Andres Santos, sold his very last steaming cup of esquite. 

“Fue una sensación muy padre, nunca esperé esta recepción—jamas de los jamases.” It was a truly great experience, he says. And that he never expected it would end this way. The support was overwhelming. 

It’s 11 PM and Santos is finally relaxing at home. 

He is humbled, exhausted, and fatigued after getting up at 5 AM and single-handedly shucking and slicing the kernels off 500 ears of corn. He prepped up until 3 PM for his very last day of service. 

“I miscalculated how much corn I thought I would sell, I wish I had the time and energy to have shucked 500 more for the hundreds of customers who showed up tonight, but that’s all I could do.” Even with Santos’ 30-year-old daughter, Andrea Wendoline Santos, helping him out for the night, they were overwhelmed by the number of customers who showed up to have one last cup of his special, epazote-scented stewed corn.

At 6:45 PM, the line of loyal customers that he’d built over a career in the craft of elote snaked halfway to the parking lot behind Fashion 21. Locals knew about him retiring for the last two weeks since he kept a hand-painted sign counting down the days for his last two weeks of elote service. On this last night, there were couples, high school students, families, and community leaders from the neighborhood. Absolutely no one seemed to mind the wait. Many ordered up to four large cups of Santos’ esquite. 

But the one thing in common with every single customer was their profound sense of gratitude and good wishes expressed to Santos over the exchange, in both English and Spanish: “Gracias, lo vamos a extrañar,” and “Thank you for your service to the community.” Others seemed to assuage Santos and pat him on the back, “Everything is going to be OK.” 

He confirms that Highland Park’s new non-Latino residents just weren’t interested in his corn. 

One Latino family walking by thought Santos had one more night, and when they found out that it was his last day, they turned around and went back in line. “It’s his last day? OK, let’s get in line now,” the mother said. 

At 59, Santos is retiring from el paso del norte and moving to Toluca, Mexico, leaving the neighborhood he has loyally served his elotes, esquites, and raspados in for the last 23 years of his life. Santos joins the lineage of L.A.’s food industry Mexicanos like Maria de Jesus Monterrubio and Fernando Lopez of Guelaguetza and Gilberto Cetina Sr. of Chichen Itza who decided to retire from the hustle-based life Los Angeles and return to their native Mexico.  

“The only way I’ll come back is if Mexico deports me!”

“I’ve been working up this moment for the last two years,” Andres tells L.A. Taco in a phone interview on his last night of service. “I knew this moment would come soon, I’ve been selling less and less corn through the years.” However, he did not anticipate it would come this soon. 

In 2012, the average cost of a home in the area was $366,000. In February 2020, it is $783,000. Try as he might to keep up with the times—Santos was among the first L.A. eloteros to start using the Square app to accept credit card payments four years ago—he confirms that Highland Park’s new non-Latino residents just weren’t interested in his corn. 

“My feelings are a combination of happiness and sadness, but my customers made me feel really special today.”

He tells L.A. Taco that despite letting his emotions get the best of him tonight and promising the last 75 customers who were left esquite-less after he sold out that he would open for service for one more bonus night Friday, he regrettably will not be able to. “I have so many more errands to do and my flight on Saturday is early in the morning, I’m truly sorry to all my customers but I just can’t make it all happen.” 

“Ya estuvo.” 

In Toluca, he is looking forward to developing a new food craft and specializing in either churros or molletes, Mexico’s famous bean-spread, open-faced Mexican sandwiches.   

When asked if he would ever return to live in the U.S. again, he jokingly responds. 

“The only way I’ll come back is if Mexico deports me!”

Editor's Note: If you would like to make Andres Santos' savory, epazote-scented esquite at home, Javier Cabral published the recipe for TASTE last year. Find that recipe here

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