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Street Vending

Eating Through Long Beach’s Growing Black Street Vendor Row

The smell of crispy catfish and Kansas-style barbecue pepper the salty air of Junipero Beach, offering the promise of just a few street food options you may encounter while taking a walk along the boardwalk there. On any given weekend, depending on your luck, the street vending community—located between Junipero Avenue and the Pacific Ocean—can sometimes be as strong as over two dozen vendors. 

What sets this particular street vendor cluster apart from the countless others across L.A. is that they make up one of the most underrepresented groups in the county; Welcome to Long Beach’s Black street vendor row. 

The open-air street vending market is at its strongest on weekends, selling everything from cold-pressed juice, burgers, hot dogs, fish sandwiches, quesadillas, medicated brownies, and different beverages. Non-food options for sale include essential oils, fades via a mobile barber, and clothing by local designers. 

Long-time Long Beach residents tell L.A. TACO that this street-vending community is new to the city, with vendors lining up their EZ-Up tents for about a year, hinting that this market’s growth is directly correlated to the pandemic-related job shift. 

A smoked chicken quesadilla from A Quesadilla Calling in Long Beach.
A smoked chicken quesadilla from A Quesadilla Calling in Long Beach. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Deliciously seasoned, freshly fried catfish from Rollin' Smoke BBQ. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

“This is old-school Negro food,” says Ruthie S., one of the vendors who also lives and grew up in Long Beach. It was the first week of trying her luck as a street vendor with her father’s fried fish recipe. She sold it for $9 in a simple sandwich: bottled hot sauce jarred tartar sauce, and freshly fried tilapia fillets.   

This thriving street vending community is happening in the district, represented by Senator Lena A. Gonzalez, who authored California’s SB 972 bill that hopes to change the state’s dated food code to become more inclusive of street vending-style food handling practices. The bill is currently slated to be reviewed and either signed into law or rejected by Gavin Newsom.    

On a Saturday afternoon, De’mon T., the owner of The Quesadilla Calling, a pop-up selling flour tortilla-based quesadillas filled with everything from smoked chicken to shrimp, says he started selling out of necessity. 

“You can’t really afford to live on minimum wage with the way kitchens pay you out here,” the owner says.  He sets up around bars whenever possible and saw an opportunity at Junipero Beach, so he picked the furthest end of the street vending community. 

“The County came down here about three weeks ago and kicked everyone out,” he tells L.A. TACO, sharing that he is originally from the east coast and tried to get permits, but the county didn’t have any. 

He tells L.A. TACO that he sees this street-vending phase of his barbecue career as a trial period before opening his own brick-and-mortar restaurant. 

L.A.’s informal economy is heavily weighted by a majority of Mexican and Central American immigrants, but Black street food vendors have always had a presence as well, particularly in South L.A. communities. 

In 2015, Keith Garrett of the wildly popular All Flavor, No Grease, started selling out of his driveway in Compton. He has since moved on to a food truck. L.A. TACO interviewed Mr. Ceviche last year, who is a street vendor introducing his mango-laced shrimp ceviches to Black L.A. 

Black street vendors have also been in solidarity with the Latino street vendors who organized and traveled to Sacramento to advocate passing SB 972 two weeks ago.

Tony D., a vendor born and raised in Kansas City, lugs his smoker onto the back of his pickup truck to travel from Junipero Beach to Orange County to sell his K.C.-style barbecue. His business name is Rollin' Smoke

He tells L.A. TACO that he sees this street-vending phase of his barbecue career as a trial period before opening his own brick-and-mortar restaurant. 

“California is a dream, and people don’t understand what they have out here,” he says. “I grew up in rural America, and it’s not like this over there. I love California and everything it represents, and I wish Californians would see what I see.”

“We just out here hustling like everyone else,” says Fresh the Juiceman, another passionate vendor who sells cold-pressed juices out of a cooler while wearing rollerskates—effortlessly. His mobile is called Ankh Juice of Life and sets up earlier on Saturdays during Bluff Parks’ free outdoor yoga sessions.  

“Come get free samples and join our juice family, he says. We are the vendor avengers.”

Junipero Beach’s street vending market is set up on the boardwalk on Ocean and Junipero Avenues, where you’ll find the most vendors on the weekends and some on weekdays. 

Check out our Youtube video on Long Beach’s Black Street Vendor Row below. 

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