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South LA Cafe Aims to Bring Great Coffee and Community to Exposition Park

South LA Cafe opened this Tuesday

The exterior of South LA Cafe in Exposition Park
South LA Cafe
Courtesy of South LA Cafe
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.

A husband and wife decided they were tired of waiting for a cafe with healthy options and good coffee to land their South LA neighborhood. So they took the leap and started South LA Cafe. The Exposition Park coffeehouse and mini-market opened yesterday near the corner of Western and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

The 2,200 square foot spot is one of the few independent cafes in the neighborhood. Owners Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace sourced beans coffee from the Oakland-based Red Bay Coffee Public Roastery, which provides the base for South LA Cafe’s cold brew, macchiato, flat whites, and beyond. There’s also teas and sandwiches throughout the day, along and a specialty item, the South LA Freeze. It’s like a blended drink with the consistency of a milkshake and a frappuccino. The couple’s goal was to provide fresh healthy and affordable options with good value, which is why anyone can walk in and buy a cup of black coffee for $2.

There’s no kitchen, but South LA Cafe partnered with Homeboy Industries to provide pastries, muffins, cupcakes, danish, and cookies. Later down the line, co-owners Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace envision soups and salads, a co-working space, and conference room. They’ll only work with vendors that align with their vision to be a socially-conscious business.

South LA Market is a 800 square foot mini grocery store next door to the cafe stocked with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and eggs, along with dried and canned goods.

Joe and Celia grew up in South LA witnessing the rapid changes around Crenshaw and USC. “We felt really upset about it all and felt hopeless,” says Celia Ward-Wallace. “We thought this would be our last chance to do anything in our own community. The best thing to do would be to hold onto some of the history, culture, and places in the community that has not been served. We want to create a space that’s actually for them.”

South LA Cafe is the couple’s first time running a retail food business. Joe is a retired firefighter, and Celia worked as a community director in parks and recreation for the City of Los Angeles. Hours are Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.

South LA Cafe. 3991 S. Western Blvd #12A, Exposition Park, CA