See’s Turns 100. Plus Other Quintessentially California Foods.
Avocados, In-N-Out Burger, sourdough bread and more.,
LOS ANGELES — To the untrained eye, a strip of littered sidewalk along Western Avenue appears to be nothing more than an empty storefront that was recently home to a coffee shop.
But if you look carefully, there are clues about the building’s more distant past: The brick facade is painted white, delicate carvings adorn the eaves, and if you crane your neck, you can see the small plaque nailed to a streetlamp that marks the spot as a historic site.
Here, in what’s now this city’s Koreatown, the first See’s Candies opened a century ago this month.
When I was growing up in Southern California, See’s treats felt ubiquitous; the candy boxes, given as gifts, often piled up in our house during the holidays. But until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t known that the company’s headquarters were in San Francisco, let alone that the original store was two miles from where I live now.
In fact, three-quarters of the company’s 250 shops are in California, the See’s chief executive, Pat Egan, told me. It is one of the oldest businesses founded in the state.
“If you’re born in California you take it for granted,” Egan said.
Concerned I had some California blind spots, I made a recent plea on Twitter for people to name foods they associate with California.
But beyond that, things get murkier. My Twitter question yielded hundreds of suggestions and a fair amount of bickering but no clear answer.
California has specialty dishes, but they tend to be regional: Santa Maria tri-tip, the San Francisco fish stew cioppino, Los Angeles’s chicken and waffles, bacon-wrapped hot dogs and doughnuts sold in pink paper boxes.
There are Asian and Latin American foods that California does well — tacos, burritos, Korean BBQ, dim sum, sriracha — but you could argue those aren’t truly Californian because they originated elsewhere.
The obvious rub here is that there are nearly 40 million people living in California and probably just as many opinions about what constitutes Californian food. And, as I’ve realized about myself, we enjoy a certain happy ignorance about the things we eat.
The snacks we binged late at night in college or the takeout we grab on the way home from work feel like such personal choices that we’re rarely thinking about their place in a greater food taxonomy. The meals are satisfying and available, and that’s the end of it.
When I asked my co-worker raised in the Bay Area about California foods, she brought up boba tea, Philz Coffee, Ike’s Sandwiches and sourdough bread. But she didn’t mention two of her favorites — See’s and the chocolate-dipped ice cream sandwiches IT’S-ITs — because she hadn’t known their California roots.
It wasn’t until she was watching the Netflix show “Never Have I Ever,” and saw a Sherman Oaks family with a See’s Candies cabinet that she realized her parents had also tended to buy See’s boxes in bulk. And it wasn’t until her conversation with me that she realized perhaps there was something Californian about this.
When I was a kid, I dismissed See’s because I didn’t like picking through the assorted boxes that often sat on our kitchen counter. It wasn’t until high school when my best friend dragged me into a See’s store that I got to choose my flavors and my opinion changed. (My favorites are the raspberry creams.)
Last week, I walked into a See’s shop and took in the familiar black-and-white checkered floor and the framed photo of Mary See.
Charles See began the business in 1921 using his mother Mary’s recipes for maple walnut creams, Victoria toffee and other candies. The company quickly expanded — it had a dozen stores in Los Angeles by 1925, later moved into shopping malls and in 1972 was sold to the billionaire Warren Buffett — but Mary’s face still appears on every See’s box.
The woman working behind the counter offered me a free sample, a tradition whose origins I’ve learned have been lost to history.
She reached across the glass case to hand me a special chocolate created for the company’s centennial. I gladly accepted the little piece of California.
“If the timing was right and we saw the driver, two or three of us would each grab a bowl and run up the street to meet him, and if we were lucky, he would fill our bowls with chocolate.” — The San Francisco Chronicle asked readers for their See’s memories.
Lucille Ball visited the See’s factory in Los Angeles to prepare for one of the most famous episodes of “I Love Lucy.”
The rest of the news
Covid-19 boosters: State public health officials said all fully vaccinated adults should be able to receive a booster shot regardless of C.D.C. recommendations, NPR reports.
Psychedelic medicine: Military veterans in California and beyond are campaigning to legalize the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs.
Opioid lawsuits: Two recent decisions from a California trial judge and the Oklahoma Supreme Court suggest that a reliance on public nuisance law to hold the pharmaceutical industry responsible for opioid deaths might not be effective.
Redistricting drafts: After losing a congressional seat, California is redrawing its political maps, which could alter key districts, The Associated Press reports.
Firefighters’ union sues: Firefighters are suing Los Angeles over a vaccine mandate and seeking a temporary restraining order against its enforcement, The Los Angeles Daily News reports.
New hearing Friday: Will the Britney Spears conservatorship end today?
Celebrity sightings: See Billie Eilish, Steven Spielberg and Miley Cyrus at the LACMA gala.
San Diego climate target: The city released its goal to reach net zero emissions by 2035, Voice of San Diego reports.
Dust bowl prevention: Legislators set aside $50 million to help farmers reimagine land that is sitting idle, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Deadliest highway: A new report finds that Interstate 280, between San Bruno and Cupertino, is the deadliest highway for wildlife-vehicle collisions, The Associated Press reports.
Cal football Covid-19 outbreak: More than two dozen members of U.C. Berkeley’s football team caught the coronavirus despite 99 percent of its players being vaccinated, The Associated Press reports.
Sexual assault investigation: The investigation of former Mayor Dominic Foppoli of Windsor escalated with a police raid of his home, The Press Democrat reports.
On another food front, Florida’s governor this week tried to lure In-N-Out Burger out of California — gasp! — where the chain was founded, and into the Sunshine State.
In-N-Out, a California institution since 1948, has refused to enforce local health rules in several parts of California that require customers to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination to enter the indoor areas of businesses, including restaurants.
“We refuse to become the vaccination police,” the company said last month after repeated violations of San Francisco’s local mandate forced health inspectors to temporarily shut down its Fisherman’s Wharf location. Since then, indoor dining has been suspended at the restaurant, along with several others in Contra Costa County.
More than 250 of the chain’s 370-plus locations are in California. The impending showdown has intensified Republican claims that California, led by Democrats, is less business-friendly than G.O.P.-dominated states such as Florida and Texas.
Last month, after the closure in San Francisco, Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, wrote to In-N-Out’s president, Lynsi Snyder-Ellingson, expressing his sympathy and noting that Florida opposes “harsh lockdowns and mandates.”
On Monday, as the city of Los Angeles began a sweeping new vaccine mandate that includes indoor dining, that overture was followed by one from Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
“I wasn’t in the room during the call, but I understand it was a productive conversation,” the Florida governor’s spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, wrote in an email. “If they can identify suppliers for all their ingredients here, which we believe is possible, In-N-Out could expand to Florida.”
Not so fast, In-N-Out has since countered.
“The phone call was at the request of Gov. DeSantis and the primary purpose was to establish a business relationship,” the company’s chief legal counsel and business officer, Arnie Wensinger, said in a statement. “While we are thankful for the gracious invitation, In-N-Out Burger has no plans or intention to expand operations or move its corporate headquarters to Florida.”
State records show that, as recently as April, In-N-Out was awarded a $7 million tax credit in return for a commitment to create 224 new jobs in its home state. “California is passionate about supporting local businesses, and In-N-Out is a California tradition,” said a spokeswoman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, Erin Mellon.
At an economic summit this week, Newsom noted that California’s economy has rebounded considerably despite pandemic restrictions. And he had fightin’ words of his own for Republican rivals: “Eat your heart out, Texas and — I’m going to add, just as a little punctuation, especially — Florida.”
— Shawn Hubler, Times correspondent based in Sacramento
What we’re eating
Nineteen recipes that your kids will actually eat.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s travel tip comes from Max Farbman, who recommends the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Park in Pacific Grove near Monterey:
“It is an extraordinarily beautiful place of solitude with angelic flight all around you.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
In their spare time, a lawyer and a neurologist in Los Angeles are helping at-risk women escape danger in Afghanistan.
Jahan Shahryar and Dr. Ayesha Sherzai, both of Afghan descent, have assisted with bringing at least 65 women to the United States, NBC Los Angeles reports.
“They’re the biggest threat to the Taliban regime because they are powerful, outspoken women,” Shahryar told the news outlet.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back Monday. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Pack animal of the Incas (5 letters).
Shawn Hubler, Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.