The Eatery That Employs Foster Care Youth: La La Land Kind Café Comes to The Grove in L.A.

La La Land Kind Café is an eatery like no other.

The 27-year-old owner, Francois Reihani, who employs foster care youth, likes to say he’s in the business of kindness.

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After opening in Dallas in March of 2019, then unveiling eight more cafés in the state, Reihani first expanded to Santa Monica, California. Now, he’s brought La La Land Kind Café to The Grove in Los Angeles.

“I had my first date in seventh grade at The Grove,” he said. “I spent most of my childhood there sneaking into movies. It’s personal for me, I guess.”

Reihani grew up in L.A., studying at the University of Southern California before relocating to Texas and transferring to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A young entrepreneur, he ventured into hospitality, opening a poke spot (Pōk The Raw Bar) and restaurant, (Bar Stellar), then sold his shares before imagining La La Land Kind Café (which has one private investor).

“I was making a lot of money,” he said of the former business endeavors. “I just wasn’t really happy with what I was doing. A couple months in, I didn’t see myself doing it for a very long time. We were talking about expanding stores, and I didn’t really see myself just serving people raw fish for the next 20 years of my life.”

With La La Land Kind Café, he feels a purpose, aiming to “empower foster youth aging out of the foster care system through employment and mentorship opportunities while on a mission to normalize kindness.”

(In California foster care can be extended to age 21, but in some states, kids age out at 18; many have difficulty transitioning to successful independence and end up unhoused.)

Employees at the café tell customers, “We love you” after getting an order. It’s a personal habit of Reihani’s to often say “love you,” he said, and he incorporated it into the business. On TikTok, that message of kindness has resonated with viewers; the café counts over 6.4 million followers on the app.

Here’s how it works at La La Land Kind Café: Those aging out of the foster care system are able to start with a paid eight-week internship, then decide if they want a full-time position. Each location has a manager that helps with professional development and a youth director who assists with personal matters outside of work — from finding a therapist to securing housing.

“They learn all the regular job skills,” Reihani said of the internship. “But because they’re not actually put onto a shift, on the schedule, the pressure is off, and they’re actually able to just learn and soak in the experience.”

Reihani explained that he also spent time in Mexico as a kid.

“[There], you see homeless kids all day long, all over the streets,” he said. “But in America, because you don’t see it, I didn’t even know that there was an actual issue.…The L.A. homeless children population is extremely, extremely high.”

The concept for La La Land Kind Café came to life after Reihani met with a Dallas-based organization that works in foster care and learned about the issues impacting its youth. It inspired him to start his own nonprofit, We Are One Project, with the mission to “provide the right tools for businesses to come together and employ foster youth.”

“We were giving them housing, therapy, mentorship, all these things,” he explained. “The program wasn’t really working, mainly because they couldn’t get a job. And so, that one issue is what created La La Land [Kind Café]. We wanted to create a place where we could actually hire and mentor them and give them a sustainable living.”

The program has changed 12 to 15 times since its inception, he admitted. “Because it’s so new, there was no model to copy. We’ve been trying to figure out how to make it work. Really, this past year has been the first time where the program has actually started to work well.”

It’s a complex and stressful business, he said, but he feels “grateful.”

Reihani has tried just about every model for La La Land Kind Café, he went on, in an “outdoor mall, indoor mall, stand-alone store, drive-through store, grab-and-go only.” At The Grove, it’s the first time the café is offering table service (half-service). It’s a 1,600-square-foot space with seating lining its alleyway.

There’s more expansion coming, added Reihani: “Huge growth and domination of the market is definitely in our plans.”

Located at 189 The Grove Drive, La La Land Kind Café is open now. Hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; it’s open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 8 p.m. on Sunday. Jan. 21 is the grand opening, when guests can enjoy 50 percent off beverages and food. Expect vegan options, coffee drinks ($4.50 for a latte), matcha, herbal tea, as well as pastries and a variety of sweet and savory toasts (about $7). A special “The Grove” drink will be available exclusively at this location.

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