At the L.A. laundromat where it was made, an Oscar hopeful reflects ‘25 years of me’
Majers Coin Laundry in San Fernando could be any Los Angeles-area laundromat.
It’s tucked between an auto repair shop and a mobile home park, its tall glass windows revealing vending machines stocked with M&M’s and bleach. Rows of metal carts line the front, where the wind occasionally blows them into the asphalt parking lot.
But there’s one detail that sets Majers apart from the competition: For six days in March 2020, this laundromat was home to Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s production of “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” now the front-runner for best picture and a host of other prizes at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony after sweeping top honors at the Directors, Producers, Writers and Screen Actors guild awards.
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Since the film’s release in March 2022, fans from as close as Burbank and as far as Singapore have come to Majers. They pose for selfies in front of the building’s recognizable green roof and red signage. Some come in costume. Others simply gawk at the washing machines and dryers, attempting to relive shots from the movie.
To them, the laundromat belongs to the main characters of the sci-fi action comedy, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan), Chinese immigrants struggling to keep their family together and their laundry business afloat amid a messy Internal Revenue Service audit and the threat from an evil, universe-jumping force.
To the laundromat’s regulars, though, the place belongs to the real-life couple who gave it its name: Kenny and Irene Majers.
They will ask Kenny about the new faces. He tells them they’re fans of the movie “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
“What movie?” most grumpily respond.
The significance of the moment isn’t lost on the owners. “Everything Everywhere” is a multifaceted mirror in which viewers’ experiences, feelings and identities are reflected back at themselves. Kenny and Irene included.
After all, the business is where, for the last two decades, the couple have done their laundry and taxes together.
Kenny’s grandfather built the laundromat from the ground up in 1983, in the lot adjoining the family’s liquor store. An album Kenny keeps inside his office contains grainy photos of his grandfather piling cinder blocks and his father helping install the roofing.
When Kenny’s grandfather died in 1997, his father inherited the laundromat and looked to sell it. By then, the business had fallen into disrepair and had very few customers. But Kenny’s longtime dream was to have his own business. He quit his job as a waiter at a casino in Bell Gardens and managed to talk his dad out of selling. Kenny leased it out from his father until his death several years later.
In 2000, Kenny took a trip to Mexico City with some friends for a Morrissey concert. Through a mutual friend, Kenny and Irene met, a moment that Irene still struggles to find words for.
“When I saw my husband for the first time, I felt like I knew him for a long time,” Irene said. “It was weird.”
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Before meeting Kenny, Irene had no aspirations to move to the United States. Yet the impression was enough for her to upend her life in Mexico, leaving her parents and career as a jazz vocalist with a successful ensemble.
Over the next 20 years, the couple worked side-by-side, building the business into a fixture of the community and raising their only child, a daughter, Kaylyn. Irene did much of the office work, writing checks to employees, paying bills, preparing tax documents and labeling products for sale. Kenny handled the machinery, repairing broken parts and purchasing and installing new washers and dryers.
The family weathered the ups and downs of the business, from inflated gas prices after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the loss of customers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and, now, surging bills from Southern California Gas Co.
Similar to Waymond, who fought with kindness, Irene describes the cheery Kenny, who offers advice to customers on the most efficient ways to wash their clothes, as “a really nice guy.”
When the business needed extra cash, Kenny found side work servicing washing machines at competing laundromats — and taught their owners how to service the equipment themselves. Over time, his client list shrank.
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“It wasn’t about that,” Kenny said of the potential profits lost. “I like to help people.”
Irene called herself “a little bit more tough, more strict.”
“I’m like Michelle [Yeoh],” she said. “When I saw Michelle in the office sitting down, or talking to the customers, trying to push Kenny, like she does. It’s ironic, but it’s true.”
When writing the laundromat into the script, co-director Kwan drew inspiration from his father’s family, who after immigrating to the U.S. from Hong Kong owned a similar laundromat with an apartment attached as a second story.
For the movie, images of the apartment were artificially added to the top for exterior shots to reflect Kwan’s childhood memories. But Majers Coin Laundry is a single-story facility.
The large wooden door inside the laundromat that acts as an entrance to the apartment in the film is there, but it opens to a boiler room and supply closet.
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It’s one of the first differences Josh Delson, a video game developer from San Gabriel, noticed when he visited the laundromat in April after watching “Everything Everywhere” for the first time. He’s since seen the movie at least 25 times.
“It kind of felt like visiting an old friend,” Delson said. “It felt like I had a connection to the laundromat in a weird way. It felt like a weird, nostalgic thing, even though I’d never been there before.”
While inside, Delson bought an iced tea from the vending machine and envisioned the film’s opening scenes, where the Wangs are bickering after Evelyn and Waymond overhear their daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), venting to her partner, Becky (Tallie Medel), about coming out as queer to her conservative grandfather, played by James Hong.
The scene reminded Delson of his own struggles communicating across the generational divide in his immigrant Filipino American family.
“My parents, when they moved here along with my grandparents, they had different priorities, trying to live the American dream, and be sustainable and just get by,” he said. “Well, for me, I could have the opportunity to just go anywhere and try new things.”
Similarly, fans Kelly Caballero and maatoombsai’biiboonokamiitaa, which is Siksiká for First Charging Horse, who goes by Yaz, said the film helped them process a difficult decision in their relationship: Caballero, who hails from Santa Ana, was contemplating a move to Florida to pursue a career in the maritime industry. She has since moved, with Yaz remaining in California, where he continues to run his business, Obsidian, which uses graphic design and clothing to fight for Native rights.
After visiting the laundromat on Halloween, in costume as Evelyn and Waymond, the couple sat in their car for an hour, talking about their love for the film and life. “It was one of those super bittersweet, beautiful moments that you’ll remember forever,” Caballero said, “and it’s attached to that laundromat.”
Kenny, who grew up loving movies, geeked out during the shoot himself, chatting with Hong, who would often sit alone at the catering table, and mingling with Yeoh and Quan, whom he remembered from his childhood favorite, “The Goonies.”
As the film crew transformed the place, adding new decorations and lighting and re-arranging some machines, he chastised set workers who’d step on the delicate tops of his washers. He was also on hand for occasional emergencies, such as fixing a dysfunctional dryer, its loud thumps interrupting a scene.
Irene passed much of the time at a hospital where her sick aunt, who died during production, spent her final days, though she too connected with cast members. As family gathered for drinks and food after the aunt’s memorial, Irene received a FaceTime call. On the other end was Kenny, standing alongside one of Irene’s favorite actors, Jamie Lee Curtis, who greeted the family.
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Days after filming wrapped at the laundromat, COVID-19 closures went into effect. The Majers questioned whether the film would ever be released. Then, in late 2021, one of Kenny’s friends texted him the trailer.
Months later, Kenny and Irene watched the movie at an AMC in Burbank with their daughter and a longtime laundry attendant and his wife. As the credits rolled and the theater lights flickered on, Kenny looked over at Irene and Kaylyn as tears flowed from their eyes. In Evelyn and Joy’s relationship, Kenny and Irene saw their relationship with Kaylyn, who is now a high school senior.
Kenny held back his tears at the theater, though. His moment of catharsis came during the film’s production at the laundromat.
During filming, Kenny would watch the scenes unfold from monitors, usually set up inside his office.
One evening, the cast and crew were shooting a scene from the end of the movie, where Evelyn is chasing after Joy outside the laundromat. After airing their grievances, the two choose to love and accept each other, ending in a teary embrace.
“I just started bawling,” Kenny said. “I had to go to my car and just sit there and cry, because that’s 25 years of me bringing my daughter in here, and I saw parts of my life when they were filming.
“Some times were hard. Some times were difficult and tough.”
As “Everything Everywhere” continues its historic run through awards season, Kenny and Irene both feel they are participating from afar.
“We’ll be forever connected — this laundromat will be forever connected — to that, making history,” said Kenny, referring to the groundbreaking nominations and wins for the film’s majority Asian cast.
“I’m proud,” said Irene, who now is a registered nurse in a local hospital oncology unit. “I’m proud of my husband ... and I’m proud of my laundromat.”
There are few indications that the film was shot inside Majers. There’s no plaque or photos to commemorate it. But there are subtle remnants: the dented washer from a scene where Yeoh tees off with a baseball bat, which the production donated to Kenny; signs written in Chinese advising customers not to overload the washing machines with clothes.
Kenny keeps an Easter egg he planted in his office during filming that made it into the movie: a plastic restaurant table number, 22. He said it’s has been his lucky number since childhood and has remained a talisman of sorts, helping him process the grief of losing both his parents. “It lets me know that everything’s gonna be OK,” he said.
While Kenny reminisces about the film shoot from inside his office, smiling, a steady stream of regulars flows in. They are, at this point, more like friends. Some grew up in the laundromat and now bring their children there. They’ve built weekly routines around chatting with Kenny: One, Jeff, solves an L.A. Times crossword puzzle while his clothes are washing every Tuesday morning.
People often ask Kenny, who just turned 50, when he plans on retiring. He scoffs at the idea. He wouldn’t know what to do with himself.
“I’m happy,” Kenny said. “That’s why I’m still here.”
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