In the heart of South Los Angeles, a new cafe wants to provide a safe space, healthy options and good coffee to its community.
If you happen to stroll by South L.A. Cafe, you will probably find owner Joe Ward-Wallace sweeping up trash in the parking lot or smiling cheek to cheek as he eagerly welcomes new customers into the cafe.
Ward-Wallace and his wife Celia were born and raised in South LA, and after years of noticing that the community lacked nice places to eat, gather and connect, they decided it was time to do things themselves.
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"It was one of those, 'You build it and they will come,'" said Ward-Wallace.
So, after much deliberation, they decided to open up their cafe naming it after their beloved city.
Much of South L.A. Cafe's purpose is not only to build a nice place for the community to enjoy a cup of coffee and connect, but to also provide job opportunities to its people.
"Putting community first was our goal. We wanted to create a place where everyone is seen, heard, valued and loved," said Celia Ward-Wallace.
Although the cafe owners say they are open to hiring outside its community, they take pride in hiring South LA locals. Their open opportunity motto allows them to provide job opportunities to previously incarcerated people, single moms, students and more.
The cafe has been a hit in the area, serving up its signature South L.A. Freeze--a mix of a milkshake and a frappuccino.
"The tears have been pouring. People come in saying 'I can't believe there is something this nice in my neighborhood,' and I just look at them and tell them, 'It's supposed to be nice,'" said Joe Ward-Wallace. "You deserve this, you shouldn't have to go west of the 405 to get good coffee and enjoy it in a nice place."
Although people in the community are pouring in every day, the owners said they noticed some hesitation from people--something he said often happens with new establishments in black and brown communities. The owners said people tend to feel unwelcome, a feeling they want to change.
"I want to make sure that people understand that they are welcome, and to my black and brown communities to know that they are worth it and they deserve this and more," Joe Ward-Wallace said with joy. "This is a way to change the way we see ourselves and the way the community is seen."
It's safe to say that the community feels seen, as the cafe has already accumulated regular customers that purchase drinks, sit down and do work, study, color or engage in conversations with others.
"They have created a powerful space where neighbors can meet and new friendships can bloom," said customer Mayra Yare Recendez. "I thank them for their commitment and love to our South LA family."
As for the cafe's future plans, they include hosting workshops, providing recording equipment, hosting meetings and open mics and a host of other activities.
One thing is clear, South L.A. Cafe was built for and by the community.
"Anything that the community wants to do, they can do here. This is now theirs. We have the key, but its theirs," the owner says.
South L.A. Cafe's official grand opening will be on Dec. 8 at 1 p.m., with the neighborhood spot located at 3991 S. Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90062.