Phyllis Magee, owner of Magee’s Kitchen and Magee’s House of Nuts at the Original Farmers Market, hung up her apron and retired on Saturday, Dec. 21, after being involved with the businesses since the early 1960s.
Magee is a familiar face to generations of customers who regularly flock to Magee’s Kitchen for home-style meals, and the House of Nuts for fresh nut butters and assorted edibles. She said she will miss the people she has come to know as friends during her decades at the Market, as well as her longtime employees — many of whom have worked for her between 15 to 43 years. Magee said she always knew the day for retirement would come, but had not set a date until recently, when she decided spontaneously that she wanted to leave before Christmas so she could spend more time with her family. Fans of Magee’s Kitchen and Magee’s House of Nuts need not worry, however, as she will retain her ownership in the businesses which will be run by her longtime manager, Janita Granados, and business-partner, Dwayne Call.
“It is bittersweet. When you have been doing business as long as I have, you get to know people, and I will definitely miss them,” Magee said. “Another concern is the love for my employees, but everything has to change, and you come to a point in your life when you have to make a change. I always said I’ll leave when the time is right, and this year, I realized the time is right.”
Magee’s Kitchen dates back to 1934, the year the Original Farmers Market was founded at the corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue. It was started by Blanche Magee, an enterprising woman who since 1917 had sold produce, pickles, horseradish, peanut butter, nuts and other bulk foods at a stand at the Grand Central Market downtown. One day, Blanche Magee noticed a group of farmers she knew selling produce at the corner, and she stopped to offer them lunch.
“She brought some ham out to give to them, and someone said, ‘I’ve got to have some’,” Magee said. “She charged him a nickel, and that’s how she started at the Farmers Market.”
Blanche Magee went on to run Magee’s Kitchen for the next few decades, and opened the House of Nuts in the 1940s. Phyllis Magee, who originally came to Los Angeles from Missouri, said her sister was married to one of Blanche’s nephews. In the early 1960s, they needed help in the office, and Phyllis came in to “straighten up.” She met Paul Magee and ended up marrying Blanche’s youngest son, and the couple eventually took over the family business. Magee said she began overseeing the businesses as the sole proprietor in 1983 after her husband became ill.
Magee added that she has stayed true to Blanche’s ideas for the Kitchen and House of Nuts over the years, and added that it has contributed to their longevity. Many of the recipes originated in the Midwest, she said, and remind customers of meals their mothers cooked.
“I call it comfort food. It’s all pure with no preservatives, made fresh every day, all day long,” Magee said.
Some of the most popular items at the Kitchen are the corned beef — served with cabbage and potatoes — as well as French dip and turkey sandwiches, and the carrot salad. The fresh peanut butter and almond butter are favorites at the House of Nuts.
Magee added that she plans to move to Las Vegas, where she owns a home, and hopes to spend a lot of time with family.
“I have so many plans, I don’t know how I will find time to do them all,” Magee said. “I have a lot of trips planned, a lot of projects at home, and a lot of people will be visiting. When I have some time, I would like to do some volunteer work. I like to teach little children — kids five and under.”
Although Magee will no longer be at the Market, she encouraged everyone to continue to dine at the Kitchen and enjoy their favorite items at the House of Nuts.
“Nothing is going to change,” Magee said. “The Farmers Market has always been a fun place. In all my travels, I’ve never seen anything like it. There are so many wonderful people. It has been like a family.”
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