Arts & Life, Features

Wide Eyes Open Palms sets up shop for all

Patrons sit on turquoise and white fold-out chairs, the two outside tables already hosting parties of three in the middle of breakfast — they are waking up over slices of delicious house-made bread slathered in ricotta and jam, soft boiled eggs and specialty coffee complete with jitters.

Outside on a Friday morning, breakfast cafe and specialty coffee house Wide Eyes Open Palms is teeming with the buzz of the early day. Those who are unable to snag a table outside sit facing one another, cheerful and chattery for 9 in the morning.

Owners and partners Angie Evans and Kat McIver opened the shop last April after gaining a following at local Long Beach farmers markets, where the pair dished out house-made pastries, pour-over coffee and farm fresh food for three years. Last year, Evans and McIver gained enough traction that they were able to move into a permanent location just off Retro Row on Cherry Avenue and Fourth Street.

Evans graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 2005 with a major in creative writing and a minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies. McIver graduated from Chapman University with a degree in political science. While 35-year-old Evans and McIver were trying to determine a location for Wide Eyes Open Palms, McIver pushed for a location in Los Angeles, while Evans reasoned that there was nothing else like WEOP in Long Beach.

“I wanted Long Beach to have [WEOP],” Evans said. “We wanted to give something different.”

The inside of the 600 square foot cafe is not as claustrophobic as you might think. The tall glass windows and high ceiling open up the breakfast cafe with natural light. The decor features a number of holistic texts stacked neatly on one of the tables, with titles such as “The Herbal Drugstore” and “The Coffee Story: Ethiopia.” All other table space is taken up by patrons.

On the glass partition separating the staff from customers, two WEOP shirts hang on display — one branded with the cafe’s logo and the other reading: “Queerest Coffee in Town!”

As partners, Evans and McIver have created a space that deviates from the standard coffee house. It’s common for traditional coffee houses to serve sub-par food — old pastries, pre-made vegan donuts, greasy breakfast sandwiches — but it’s Wide Eyes Open Palms that looks to challenge this standard.

Evans works the coffee grind, while McIver rules the kitchen. All of their food is sourced from the same farmers markets WEOP used to run their pop-up shop at, with a menu that changes based on the seasons.

“I listen to the farmers, who are listening to the earth,” McIver said. “If we just had a crazy rain come in, or a crazy heat wave, and it made some things not available then I say — fine, let’s switch it up. Let’s do something different.”

Their house-made jams of the day are pear, rhubarb and guava, and the advertised drinks are spiced hot apple cider and a ginger cinnamon latte. The specials marquee board posted on the wall changes every day, featuring delights developed by Evans and McIver in WEOP’s kitchen. Today, McIver has a subtly sweet almond buckwheat cake topped with a light cream and poached pear on display — when asked how long they’d have this cake in stock, Evans replied, “Until today,” with a laugh.

“The menu is based off of what I started doing at the farmer’s market, which is just finding things that could easily kind of fit in with what was seasonal,” McIver said. “Like a frittata, you can put any f*****g thing in a frittata.”

Despite McIver’s deliciously fresh menu and made-that-morning pastries, she grew up with no real background in culinary arts. McIver is self-taught, meaning that all of her experience has been cultivated over years of working in creative kitchens that inspired her passion for cooking and baking.

“When I was in college, I got a degree in political science and I got into food politics, shopping at [farmers] markets, and just learning about the food system from a really political perspective,” McIver said. “And then, I was vegan at the time and had been vegetarian for a long time, and so I was always thinking about where the food was coming from.”

Good food creates good energy, and this is what Evans and McIver bring to the table. They say good food is not defined by a perfectly soft boiled egg, or a popular special of the day — but the relationships that are cultivated through the food sourcing and preparation process.

“We know the people who the food comes from, it’s prepared by loving hands by people we really trust, and served to you by people in the front of the house who are amazing at being intuitive, thoughtful and loving,” McIver said.

It’s true. Evans and her front of the house staff are relaxed and undeniably thoughtful when interacting with and serving patrons, and despite the small space, there is never any rush for patrons to leave the comfort of the cafe. Evans said employees have mandatory sensitivity training, in which the staff learns how to interact with customers in a respectful and thoughtful way — this type of training was especially important to Evans.

“Everything [at WEOP] is basically the place that I would want to go to,” Evans said “The person behind the register would not say lady to me, [and they would] not use any gender pronouns…there’s just really no need, especially if someone is gender ambiguous.”

Prior to Wide Eyes Open Palms, Evans and McIver wanted to test the waters in terms of running a business as partners. Together, they opened EcoDykes, a holistic cleaning and organization service that helped fund their cafe venture. While running EcoDykes, the duo balanced Feng Shui and cleaned stuffy energies out of cluttered apartments. During the operation of EcoDykes, McIver thought of the cafe’s name.

She said that Evans originally hated the name and believed everyone else would too. But after some time, her partner gradually warmed up to the long name.

“We had all these other names, and I was like — no, [Wide Eyes Open Palms is] true,” Evans said. “It’s kind of like a mantra, and it’s like…how we have felt every time we traveled and we went somewhere. [When] we walked in and the lighting was right, and the smell was right, and the music was right, and the service was right, and then the food was right!”

McIver liked the ambiguity of Wide Eyes Open Palms — and she liked that it could be shortened into an acronym.

“You can take [WEOP] in all sorts of different ways,” McIver said. “People come up with their own interpretations of the name.”

Next April will mark WEOP’s first year in their permanent location, but for now, Evans and McIver work on cultivating their recipe for the perfect breakfast cafe: fresh food, intuitive service and delicious espresso.

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