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South LA Restaurants Experience Improved Business With ‘The Issa Effect’

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After appearing as a location on HBO’s Insecure, restaurants and cafes are seeing a serious uptick of business

HBO’s Post Emmy Awards Reception - Red Carpet
Actress Issa Rae at HBO’s Post Emmy Awards Reception in Los Angeles
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

Insecure creator Issa Rae is a staunch supporter of South LA businesses. The show’s writers weave South LA neighborhoods like Leimert Park, Inglewood, View Park, Windsor Hills, and Crenshaw eateries into the narrative. The location choices not only deepen the understanding of the characters, but might come with a positive and net impact on businesses that appear on Insecure.

It’s best described as “The Issa Effect,” where businesses see a noticeable improvement in revenue after appearing as a location on the hit HBO show. Season three just ended last month, and Eater spoke with restaurants experiencing this cultural bump.

Spoilers ahead, you’ve been fully warned.

Hot and Cool Cafe, Leimert Park

Hot and Cool Cafe HBO [Screenshot]

Hot and Cool Cafe owner Anthony Jolly appeared in season three’s “Fresh-Like” episode. The Leimert Park cafe opened in April this year, but wasn’t getting much traffic until Jolly ran into Rae at his local Home Depot. He introduced himself and gave a suggestion. “I told her we needed some support,” says Jolly. “Her people acted quickly and added the cafe to the script. She did her homework too, we were supposed to be open a long time ago. And in the script, she even mentioned that.”

Jolly calls the Leimert Park strip as challenging to find. “It was such a good shout out,” he says. “We’re definitely a destination spot, and we’re getting a lot of support because of the show.”

Worldwide Tacos

Worldwide Tacos HBO [Screenshot]

During season three’s “Fresh Like” episode, Rae’s lead character Issa Dee visited Worldwide Tacos in Leimert Park. She also tweeted about the legendary walk-up restaurant when the episode aired. Owner Frederick Sennie almost immediately noticed the surge. “Right after the show aired, I had seven-hour wait times and people were actually waiting,” says Sennie, who admits that orders typically take anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours to complete.

“We noticed the bump in the first two weeks. I would say a 50 percent increase,” continues Sennie. “At the end of the day, I’m making more money, but people are coming who haven’t been here before. The salmon tacos (which Rae’s character mentioned on the episode), are the more popular tacos now. Even people that have been coming here a long time, they’re going out of their comfort zone and trying different things.”

Chef Marilyn’s: Queen of Down Home Southern Goodies

Insecure HBO [Screenshot]

Sennie also spoke with chef Marilyn, owner of Chef Marilyn’s: Queen of Down Home Southern Goodies on Crenshaw Boulevard. Even though chef Marilyn’s restaurant facade only appears for a few seconds in season three, she reportedly told Sennie that her sales are significantly up.

Simply Wholesome

Apryl Sims, general manager at Simply Wholesome, added another observation. “Since the airing of the insecure episode that featured Simply Wholesome, we have noticed an increased amongst young urban professionals in my time they were known buppies or wuppies,” says Sims. “Now I think they are called ‘adulting.’ When they come in, they remarked that they saw the space on Insecure and it looked like a cool spot to come to.”