During the Great Depression and before the Farmers Market opened in July 1934, Blanche Magee and her husband Raymond had a couple of stalls at the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles. They sold their famous peanut butter and horseradish.
One day while visiting a vacant lot at the corner of 3rd and Fairfax, the Magees noticed a group of farmers selling their produce from the back of their trucks. Blanche recognized a few of the farmers and gave them some sandwiches and potato salad to eat.
The next day she returned with a basket of sandwiches for the farmers. Some of the customers wanted to buy her goodies too. When Earl B. Gilmore opened the Farmers Market at this location, the Magees negotiated a deal to open the first restaurant. Today, Magee’s Kitchen is the only original surviving business in the iconic marketplace.
It was known for its salads, pickled pigs feet, horseradish and ham. Later customers gathered on St. Patrick’s Day for Magee’s corned beef, boiled potatoes and cabbage.
The Magees opened a peanut butter and mixed nuts business at the Farmers Market in the 1930s – naming it Magee’s House of Nuts. Blanche was the first in Los Angeles to sell a bag of roasted fancy mixed nuts. Today, they churn daily a variety of butters that include almond, cashew, and macadamia butter. Annually, they sell around 100,000 pounds of fresh peanut butter.
Magee’s sells nine varieties of jams to go with their famous butters to make great sandwiches.
When I took a Melting Pot tour of the Farmers Market, my group sampled the famous freshly made peanut butter. One of the staff members showed us a copy of a letter written and signed by the Beatles dated 1964. The letter read, “Thank you for the peanut butter. It was FAB.” The Beatles were fans of The Farmers Market when on tour in Los Angeles.
The current owner of Magee’s Kitchen and Magee’s House of Nuts is the personable Phyllis Magee. She joined the Magee family enterprises at the Farmers Market in the 1960s. Later, she fell in love with the owners’ son, Paul Magee and married him. When her mother-in-law Blanche Magee retired in the 1970s, she and Paul took over the stores.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Blanche died in 2000 at 102 years old.
“During the early days, it was very hard for a woman to be a business owner, because the men wouldn’t work for a woman in charge,” Phyllis once told an interviewer.
Today, Magee’s still offers homemade dishes to Los Angelenos and tourists who visit the Farmers Market. They serve a variety of salads, including their famous carrot and raisin salad. The corned beef plate with parsley potatoes and cabbage is still one of the most talked about items on the menu. The French dip sandwich is very popular and a full line of Mexican dishes are offered, including tacos, tostados and burritos, plus three types of enchiladas with rice and beans.
Phyllis feels good about what she’s accomplished at the Farmers Market. “I’ve got employees who’ve been with me for over 40 years,” she said in a previous interview with the Park Labrea News and Beverly Press. “There aren’t too many places in the world like our Farmers Market. I’ve done a lot of traveling and I know this is such a unique place. I’ve been blessed to be here. It’s been a great ride.”
Magee’s Kitchen, open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sundays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 6333 W. 3rd Street, (323)938-4127, Stall #624. Magee’s House of Nuts, open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sundays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 6333 W. 3rd Street, (323)938-4127, Stall #218.
This article was published in the Sept. 19, 2013 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers.