L & G Desert Store – A Local Gem
L & G Desert Store - A Local GemBy Brad Wheeler If you lived around the eastern Coachella Valley back in the mid to late ‘seventies, you may remember a very nondescript little desert store at the corner of Avenue 50 and Jackson Street in what is now Indio. In those days, it was a single building, kind of like a shack, with no air conditioning, just a swamp cooler. The store sold typical market items; water, ice, sundries, snacks and beer. It was cramped, a single room, with a cactus garden growing just outside. In 1979, a man named George Thomas was working hard as a parking lot maintenance man for the Palm Springs and Indio Fashion Malls. A married family man, wanting to provide more for his family, he came across this little desert store in the country. His son, Richard Thomas, told me, “He drove me out here when I was a student at Indio High school, and said he wanted me to see this place he found.” Richard told me George convinced his wife, Linda that it was a solid investment opportunity, and with some hard work, they could turn it into something great. George had to wait out another bidder, a local Wonder Bread distributor who was also interested in the property. Linda and George Thomas eventually obtained the store and the property, hence the name: L & G Desert Store. One of the first things George noticed was that many people who stopped in were tourists, and they wanted to know where they could find all of this wonderful grapefruit and citrus everyone was talking about. They would cite Coachella’s moniker, Grapefruit Capital. Which, coincidentally at the time, was misspelled on the city’s gateway signs, although its meaning was still relevant. George had relatives in the Fresno area, so when they went to visit, they would gather ideas from the roadside stands there, and began to implement those ideas in the now-famous fruit stand addition at the front of the current store. Eventually, George passed the business on to his children, Michael and Lorena. George and Linda have since passed on, and Richard speaks of both of them with much reverence and love. Richard left the store for a while when he was younger to work briefly in the golf cart industry, but later returned. Richard helps the business along with his brother Michael, Sister Lorena and family friend Micaela, A.K.A. Mickey. There are many other team members behind the scenes, but these are the most common folks you will see furiously working the dual registers and fruit stand portion of the store. Richard points out that all of the fruit and vegetables that they sell at L & G come only from the best sources, locally. Whether it’s Ocean Mist Farms in Coachella, Del Rey Growers in Oceanside and Fallbrook, or sometimes even dates from “right next door,” nothing they sell ever comes from a warehouse. Richard tells me, “Many local sellers (especially grocery chains) are getting the best deals on their produce because they are bidding on bulk quantities that are sitting in a warehouse refrigerator for sometimes up to a week or more. The problem with that,” Richard says, “is the fruit ripens off of the tree or vine.” He gave me the example of an avocado. He said, “Avocados ripen with an oil content that comes from the tree. Once the avocado is picked, it no longer gains the oil content, the ripening process continues, but the fruit builds water content instead of oil. This is why your store-bought avocados lack flavor, texture and vitamins.” Richard used to physically drive these routes many times a week in his own vehicle to find the freshest, best produce. He says, “I didn’t mind, because it’s alone time, time to think, and it brings the customers the best.” Now, however, to keep up with the pace, he does have some of the produce delivered or hires a company to do the route for him. This writer can tell you from personal experience, the difference between the flavor and richness in the products from L & G versus the local chains is overwhelming. The price point is very competitive as well. You will not find yourself spending a whole lot more for produce here than you would at a discount food chain, but you will be able to tell the difference instantly! In addition to the valley’s best produce, L & G also offers homemade breakfast burritos, tamales, nachos, ice, cold sodas and beer, snacks, candy, grocery items, sundries, toiletries, propane refills, California Lottery, check cashing, and an onsite ATM. There is also a full-service florist on site during business hours attached to the front of the store. Richard tells me some of the best produce is coming in March and April. “Keep your eyes open for the seasons,” Richard says. “Whatever the season typically brings, we will have it right away – we try to get the first of the best every time, and keep it in stock as long as I can.” He said, “Save the date of March 25th for the earliest corn, because I have a guy in Coachella that grows corn early specifically for Coachella and Stagecoach, and I always get some of that, but it goes fast and okra comes at the end of April…” So if you’ve ever wondered, “Where exactly is that L & G place?” or, “Why is it called L & G?”, now you know. If you’ve never visited this great little desert store with the huge heart and the colorful history, it’s time to make it part of your desert itinerary. Don’t forget the ice chest!
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