The importance of community is nothing new for South LA Café owners Celia and Joe Ward-Wallace. Both native Angelenos, the Ward-Wallaces settled in the South-Central L.A. area before they got married over 20 years ago, and quickly realized they would have to confront one of the bigger issues plaguing lower income communities across the country -- the shortage of availability and access to fresh, healthy foods. South Central L.A. was a “food desert”, and after decades of having to travel the extra mile to obtain healthy, fresh foods, the Ward-Wallaces couldn’t wait any longer. They took a leap of faith, and in late 2019 opened the community coffee shop, South LA Café, complete with an associated fresh food market and gathering spaces.
“We live in a food desert without many healthy food options, grocery stores or restaurants,” said Joe and Celia Wallace. “This results in an increase in health issues directly related to racial and economic injustice. In recent years, there has been an influx of commercial development and gentrification. In response, we wanted to create a safe space, that provided fresh, healthy, and affordable foods for the local community.”
South LA Café takes the community investment element a step further, in addition to providing easy access to healthy foods, the Café’ includes available community meeting spaces for special events and gatherings, including the “Hussle Studio”, named for the late South L.A. hip-hop icon Nipsey Hussle.
With the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Ward-Wallaces continued to look for ways to continue to support the community any way they could, when they were approached by LAFC community partner Frontline Foods.
“Frontline Foods followed our work and reached out to collaborate to feed essential workers,” Wallace said. “This is something we were already doing, and combined with their infrastructure and relationships we have been able to have a huge impact and take care of those most vulnerable. “
We spoke with the Ward-Wallaces about their mission, and how it’s been running their business during the “Stay at Home” order.
Q) Tell us a little about your story. How did South LA Café come to be?
Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace: “We are born and raised in South Central L.A. Over the past several decades there has been a disinvestment in our community which is primarily lower-income and Black and Brown folks. We live in a food desert without many healthy food options, grocery stores or restaurants. This results in an increase in health issues directly related to racial and economic injustice. In recent years, there has been an influx of commercial development and gentrification. In response, we wanted to create a safe space, that provided fresh, healthy, and affordable foods for the local community.”
Q) How important is the concept of community to South LA Café?
Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace: We exist as a community coffee shop, grocery store, and cultural center. We are a beloved community organization and cultural hub where people from all around can connect and gather. The space was created for the people, by the people, and the fact that we are a local husband and wife team means a lot.
Q) How is the restaurant and staff doing? How are you getting by during this difficult time?
Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace: The staff is doing well. We have banded together tighter than ever during this time. We are all working harder than ever to make sure our organization not only survives but thrives, while serving our local community at the highest level.
Q) How has the restaurant adjusted to the 'Safer At Home' orders in Los Angeles?
Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace: We actually adjusted really well with the help of the community and our strategic partnerships. We pivoted to take out orders only with the launch of our mobile ordering app. We started to prepare and deliver pre-packed vegan meals, and we create a $35 South LA Grocery Box that can be purchased or sponsored for a neighbor in need. We also set up the option for people to make a one-time donation or create a recurring monthly donation. All of these options can be found at our website www.southlacafe.com and on Instagram at @southlacafe.