June 16, 2022

By Kimberly Shelby

Contributing Writer


In April of this year, the average price of a home in South L.A., including condos, was $700k. That number is expected to rise by more than 11% by next year.

At this rate, and at the rate of developers’ frenziedly buying up thoroughfares like West Adams Boulevard against the ticking clock of an investment fund life cycle, some mammoth organic grocery chain should be arriving any day now, and the residents of this historically lower income pocket of Los Angeles will, too, have the option to pay $12 for a single loaf of bread.

Because of the work being done at South LA Café, however, those residents may yet have an alternative.  The coffee shop-market-cultural center hybrid is located in the heart of South Central Los Angeles and was conceived to essentially counteract the distasteful effects of such gentrification.

“[Our] team exists to serve the community, fight racial and economic inequality, and provide equal access to food,” says Celia Ward-Wallace, one half of the husband-wife team that founded the café in December 2019.

She and her husband, Joe Wallace, lifelong residents of the area, started with a mission to provide a safe space for members of the South Central community along with affordable food options that are healthy and fresh. Unsurprisingly, the response was positive.

The Black-owned, family-owned business that also hosts book readings, workshops, music and other community-building events, has met with significant success, its revenue reportedly growing by 10% each month.

Ward-Wallace attributes it in part to the café’s brand, which proudly reflects the culture and values of the local community. This is evident in the available merchandise, among which hoodies are included, as well as the visual branding, and the vibrant artwork throughout the space.

“We exist for the people, by the people, and our goal is to uplift our local community. Everything we do is with a standard of excellence, and we have provided a high-quality, culturally relevant alternative to corporate coffee.”

It hasn’t always been easy, Ward-Wallace admits.  “When COVID-19-19 hit, the cafe had to close for take-out ordering only, and as a result, sales dropped by 70%, and the majority of the staff were furloughed.”


However, what followed led to one of their most inspired initiatives.

The team shifted their focus to delivering meals to seniors, launching an advance ordering app with curbside pickup, and beginning to provide prepared South LA Grocery Boxes, which were available for purchase and sponsorship for neighbors in need.

“The challenges of Covid forced us to pivot and reach deeper into our purpose,” says Ward-Wallace.

Thus the South LA Grocery Giveaway was born in May 2020. Established to address the urgent community needs in those early days of COVID-19, their team managed to secure sufficient private and public financial contributions and galvanize an army of integral volunteers to provide food for the most vulnerable members of their community, and the movement is still going strong, entering its 102nd week.

Each week, on Wednesday, 200 free bags of fresh, healthy groceries, each prepared by staff and volunteers, are distributed to residents of the South Central area.

“At this point we have supplied food to over 100,000 local residents, and the need is growing every day, as our community continues to face rising unemployment, racial and economic inequality, and lack of community investment in access to fresh food,” explains Ward-Wallace.

The Grocery Giveaway takes place every Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. in front of South LA Café, at 1700 Browning Blvd, Los Angeles, 90062.

Those interested in supporting this effort and sponsoring groceries can mail in a tax-deductible donation to the café’s 501c3 non-profit affiliate, The South LA Cafe Community Foundation. $40 feeds a family of 4 for a week.

The good works of the café have been recognized by The Ellen Show, the 2022 Super Bowl, and the United States Chamber of Commerce, which named them as the #1 Emerging Business in 2020.

Going forward, South LA Café aims to expand their impact, eradicating hunger in South LA entirely, and further empowering their community as the largest company employing and serving the needs of its residents.


Standing as a nourishing haven for an endangered culture, offering fresh, affordable edibles and a warm environment amid a series of monument-like murals vividly celebrating the legacies of bygone community leaders whose forward-looking activism clearly looms large, South LA Café seems to have the right ingredients to do just that.

To learn more about their work and make a tax-deductible donation, visit southlacafe.com.

Category: Community