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South LA Cafe defies odds and is succeeding


Four locations across the city

“Coffee, Community, Connection.” That’s the slogan that South L.A. Cafe proudly dons as they continue to flourish in all aspects of their business.

The Black-owned coffee shop, at 1700 Browning Blvd.,  is owned and operated by husband and wife duo, Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace. They have four locations (Jefferson Park, at the Hollywood Bowl, and another in Baldwin Hills) with two more scheduled to open later this year. The first cafe opened in 2019 Joe Wallace simply wanted a “decent cup of coffee” that didn’t require him driving a significant distance in order to satisfy that coffee craving. He was on his way home one day when he accidentally took the wrong freeway exit and came upon the perfect spot for a pot of coffee.

They also operate a weekly food giveaway which serves about 200 families each Wednesday.  He and his wife’s mission was simple: “We exist to fight racial, social, economic and food inequality and to provide access to fresh, healthy and affordable food,” Wallace said.

“At this time in our community there was a big transition happening where we were noticing a sort of rampant gentrification where it seemed like the people who had been in the community for a long time were starting to get displaced,” said Celia Ward-Wallace. “The demographic was changing and it felt like the culture was shifting and in conversation with people, everybody was just so frustrated. I felt really helpless and hopeless about it.” She said the area (Jefferson Park) has become a “food desert” that their vision was shaped by making a positive impact in the community. 

Celia said their community-centered business model has allowed them to focus on their neighborhood and expand to offer a variety of needed services, particularly during the pandemic. They organized vaccine shots and offered referrals to persons needing assistance. Also, there are on-going catering services. Celia said it  didn’t take long for the “ripple effect” of their business model and community efforts to demonstrate that their business was one that was essential and should be provided to other areas as it is at their original location.

The couple considers their operation a community center in addition to a coffee shop in offering training in entrepreneurship and business development. They offer services to previously incarcerated persons and have hired a number of these individuals. Ten percent of the coffee bag purchases made at the cafe are restored back into the grocery giveaway. They collaborate with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and have created a retail grocery program in conjunction with a number of local non-profits to have their coffee bags specially created and crafted for distribution in other areas. 

Future goals for their business include transitioning to owning their own spaces as opposed to working with landlords and to continue to show that entrepreneurship and small business ownership can be successful within the community of South Los Angeles.

If you’re wondering what their best menu item is, it might be avocado toast. Their horchata latte is a fan favorite drink.

Joe’s advice to entrepreneurs is simply to keep the passion alive. “It has to be your ‘why,’  because you’re gonna have to have something that’ll get you up everyday throughout the trials and there are going to be trials and tribulations. There are going to be very,very lows and very, very highs,” he said.

Joe received the Black Men of Excellence Award and South L.A. Cafe has won 2024 Business of the Year, Celia was awarded 2024 LA County Woman of the Year in Business and Labor. For more information on South L.A. Cafe, visit South LA Cafe.