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Philadelphia’s Starbucks Arrest Sparks Conversation at One South LA Location

The coffee chain serves a predominantly African-American clientele in Ladera Heights

Magic Johnson Starbucks
Starbucks in Ladera Heights
Mona Holmes
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.

Customers at the Starbucks in Ladera Heights, which serves a predominantly African-American clientele, sit at tables discussing politics or playing dominoes and chess. It’s the day after Starbucks’ founder and executive chairman Howard Schultz offered apologies for a viral video that showed this week’s arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks. Schultz also apologized over an early 2018 video that allegedly showed a Torrance Starbucks employee refusing to give an African-American man the bathroom security code.

In the now well-known incident in Philadelphia, two African-America men sat down and did not immediately order food or drinks. A manager reportedly called police, and the two men were led away in handcuffs. The pair were later released without being charged with a crime. Both the incidents in Philadelphia and Torrance have come under public scrutiny of late, leading to scattered national protests and a full news cycle devoted to conversations about race, the role of national chains like Starbucks, and what can (and will) be done moving forward to address inequality in America.

Eater visited the South LA Starbucks in Ladera Heights, also known as the Magic Johnson Starbucks, or “Starblacks,” to ask customers what they think of the two events, and the company’s response as a result. Most were uncomfortable providing their last names but were eager to talk.

Ralph (who asked for his last name not to be used) has been coming to the Ladera Heights Starbucks for over 15 years, and visits this location five times a week. “It was very unfair,” Ralph said of the Philadelphia incident. “If Starbucks called the police for everyone who walked in whether they’re working or studying there would be arrests all day everyday. This (arrest) was geared toward minorities.”

Ralph added that he had no plans to boycott Starbucks, but only because the company has been actively engaged in the dialogue surrounding the Philadelphia arrests. “If there weren’t any response from the CEO or manager, I would have to stop patronizing Starbucks. It doesn’t make sense for a minority to be arrested for entering a Starbucks. When I lived in Manhattan, I always knew that if I found a Starbucks, I could use their bathroom. I knew every Starbucks in the city. I would go to them and ask for the code, and never had a refusal.”

Starbucks Holds Annual Shareholders Meeting
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Another regular named Reggie took a harder stance. “The problem is that Starbucks has every right to ask a customer to leave. Most employees won’t do that. But even if they do, why call the police? And did the police give them a chance to leave? That was not an arrest-worthy offense. There is a good idea for sensitivity training, but this was an overreaction by the police and the employees.”

Verdell Richardson is a Compton resident and comes to this Starbucks every week, often daily. “It’s crazy that someone would call the police on people just waiting,” he said. “We see homeless people hanging out in a Starbucks all day long and no one bothers them.” Indeed, Los Angeles-area Starbucks locations have for years dealt with swelling numbers of homeless people, though arrests are rare.

Richardson added that he believes boycotts do not work, and that he plans to return to his local Starbucks. “When something happens to another black man by police, nothing is ever done. I want actual change. Starbucks will shut down and train, but some other killing or arrest will happen and this will be old news.”

301 W. Centinela Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA