South Los Angeles is in the midst of a significant coffee cultural shift. In a region historically known more for corporate coffee chains, the last 15 months saw a stunning number of African-American-owned cafes that either opened or plan to debut in 2020.
While these fairly recent businesses have already begun to alter the cafe experience in neighborhoods like View Park, Windsor Hills, Inglewood, and Jefferson Park, one can track the start back to a momentous event in 2018: the closure of Magic Johnson’s iconic Starbucks in Ladera Heights.
Also known as “Starblacks,” this Magic Johnson-owned Starbucks was a popular destination where mostly African-American faces gathered to openly discuss the news of the day, work remotely, and take meetings while playing rounds of dominoes or high-level chess. It remained on the corner of La Cienega and Centinela for 20 years, and its departure left a gaping hole in what used to be a key gathering spot for the neighborhood.
In spring 2018, Anthony Jolly opened Hot And Cool Cafe in Leimert Park. Jolly’s cafe even made a brief appearance on the HBO show Insecure, after he ran into show creator Issa Rae at his local Home Depot. The cafe not only serves honey lattes and flat whites, but also provides a community space where art is on display, trap yoga classes are on the schedule, as are food pop-ups.
Just prior to the “Starblacks’” shutter, Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen arrived into View Park-Windsor Hills. The space is modern and airy, and has itself become a place where neighborhood residents gather for coffee and community. The popular Hilltop stays busy, and owners Ajay Relan and Yonnie Hagos will soon deliver two more locations to Los Angeles. One is slated next year for Eagle Rock, with an Inglewood location arriving very shortly.
Sip & Sonder opened last November in Downtown Inglewood. Owners Shanita Nicholas and Amanda-Jane Thomas, who are lawyers during the day, grew tired of seeing limited options south of the 10, and needed a cafe that reflected their identities as African-American women. Sip & Sonder has become a central space for caffeine, meals, dayworkers, art shows, live performances, investor’s clubs, or fireside chats.
More recently, husband and wife team Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace opened South LA Cafe just two weeks ago. The longtime South LA residents wanted to build something that the Exposition Park/South Central community needed, along with a solid cup of coffee. South LA Cafe was a natural, and needed, fit.
Just this week, Eater learned that Oakland’s Red Bay Coffee will open in Jefferson Park next spring. Owner Keba Konte secured an 11,000-square-foot space that channels the former Magic Johnson spot, but on steroids. Red Bay LA will be a cafe and roastery with a stage, performance area, workspace, and communal area all right in the middle of Jefferson Park. It’s less than a mile away from the breezy cafe and restaurant Highly Likely, which opened in May 2018, and has always drawn its own eclectic mix of locals new and old.
Each of these cafe openings have helped to shine a refreshing light on the community, as opposed to the usual stories around gentrification in South LA. These historically African-American and Latino neighborhoods deeply feel the effects of new investment and displacement, especially around Inglewood’s forthcoming NFL stadium, so offering a communal coffee hub for everyone to gather has proven to be more important now than ever before.
UPDATED: A previous version of this article omitted Leimert Park’s Hot And Cool Cafe, which opened in spring 2018.