Lindsay Cates Manager, Communications and Strategy

Published

April 12, 2021

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South LA Café had just opened in 2019, and revenue was growing every month, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020 and sales dropped by 50%.  

The community coffee shop and grocery store, founded on the idea of providing equal access to healthy food, immediately pivoted to stay afloat and started delivering meals to seniors, launched an app for curbside pickup, and created a $35 grocery box for families to purchase (shoppers can also sponsor a grocery box for neighbors in need).  

South LA Café's dedication to supporting their community during the COVID-19 pandemic landed them attention from national press, sponsorship from partners like Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and World Central Kitchen, and even celebrity support – Ariana Grande is a loyal customer. 

Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace, owners of South LA Café and winners of the U.S. Chamber’s 2020 Dream Big Emerging Business Award Winner, were recently gifted $25,000 on The Ellen Show to help them continue to feed communities in need.  

We caught up with Joe and Celia to learn their biggest takeaways from the past year, and what’s next for their growing business. What follows has been lightly edited for clarity.   

Q. How has the pandemic impacted your business and its mission? What has been your best business move during COVID-19? 

Living through COVID-19 and keeping our business open deepened our purpose to serve our community and to combat food insecurity and food deserts. The greatest pivot for us has been investing more time, energy, and resources toward providing our food insecure community with fresh and healthy options.  

Creating the $35 South LA Grocery Box and providing healthy essentials for a family of four, that others around the world could sponsor for only $35, was one of our best business moves. This added service allowed us to have an even greater impact than we could’ve ever imagined, helping people across the globe take action and make a difference. 

Q. South LA Café has more than 30K followers on Instagram and has received attention from local and national press. How have you promoted your business during the pandemic?  

Our greatest tool of promotion is telling the stories of our team, our volunteers, and the residents of our community. We exist to serve the people of South-Central Los Angeles, and they can see themselves reflected in our social media posts. We are preserving our culture while simultaneously building upon it— and sharing our work with the broader world allows them to become a part of it as well.  

We’re showing what is possible when a Black-led, multi-racial coalition of people come together for a common good, and this is something that people on a local and global scale are inspired by. 

Q. As vaccine distribution continues will any pandemic-related efforts remain a part of South LA Cafe moving forward? Is anything new on the horizon? 

We are just scratching the surface of the work that we will do as we grow our business and our work in the community through our non-profit organization The SLAC Foundation. We are deeply committed to vaccine equity for COVID-19 vaccines, and much of our community work is currently focused on this issue.  

We are also entering our 43rd week of our South LA Grocery Giveaway food distribution program, where we have fed over 35,000 people fresh and healthy food, primarily supported by local and global donations. This work will not stop until every person in our community has access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food options locally. We are also working on several future locations of both South LA Cafe and South LA Market in the years to come, as well as growing the catering and healthy grab-and-go meals divisions of our organization. 

To learn more about the efforts of South LA Café during the recovery, make a donation, or sponsor groceries, visit www.southlacafe.com.  

About the authors

Lindsay Cates

Lindsay Cates

Manager, Communications and Strategy

Lindsay is a manager on the communications and strategy team. She previously worked as a writer and editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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