By Alex Medina
Boyle Heights Beat
Customers entering Boyle Heights’ A & Z Nut Wagon find shelves of small bags stuffed with many varieties of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and candy. Knickknacks line the walls, including nutcrackers, old-fashioned toy cars, antique figurines, a miniature cart adorned with the shop’s name and Mexican novelty items.
The crowded shop awakens the senses. Inside, customers breathe in both nutty scents and the mildly spicy aroma of the shop’s signature beef jerky, which LA Magazine once praised as “thick and smoky and [which] unlike commercial brands, comes apart in your mouth in flavorful shreds.”
Located at the corner of Lorena Street and Whittier Boulevard, the shop has drawn both local customers and people from all over Southern California for more than 70 years. Some loyal customers who have left the area still have items delivered or stop by when they’re visiting.
Jennifer Guedea, a local Boyle Heights resident, has been going to the Nut Wagon for many years. “I really love the charming look of the Nut Wagon,” says Guedea. “I feel like it’s a hidden treasure here in Boyle Heights.”
She comes to the shop about once a month, especially when she’s craving beef jerky. “It’s made fresh using good quality meat at a great price,” Guedea said. She also loves the shop’s pistachios, especially the chile lemon variety.
On Yelp, one formerly local customer wrote: “I make sure to stop by here every time I’m back in SoCal. The beef jerky is the best I’ve ever had, and [I] have to bring several pounds of it back to Texas when I go back home. The owner is super cool as well and remembers me every time I visit.”
Customers know that A & Z Nut Wagon is open if a rustic full-size wagon with wooden spokes stands in front of the shop. If it’s not there, the shop is closed.
“We keep everything fresh all the time,” says Guillermo González, who has owned the shop for 30 years. González came to California from Aguascalientes, México, and has lived in Boyle Heights for 58 years. “We’ve got the best of the West,” he says.
When it comes to nuts, González says the most popular varieties include walnuts, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazel nuts, peanuts and cashews.
Various types of dried fruit are sold, including strawberries, mangos, apricots, pineapple and kiwis. The shop also offers seeds, including several varieties of pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
González and his wife staff the shop themselves. “I have to do it myself to be satisfied with the work that I do,” says González. He packages the shop’s products into small plastic bags, which he then stocks on the shelves.
González says a Russian family originally owned the shop. González says he has never regretted buying it.
“Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you about why I decided to become the owner, but it may have something to do with destiny,” says González. “I bought it, and now here we are. I’m not a rich guy, but I get by really well.”
All photos by Alex Medina.
Alex Medina is a senior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School. He is an avid runner and writer who leads the Gay Straight Alliance at Bravo in order to provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth and their allies. He hopes to attend a University of California school after high school.