As the city of Inglewood tackles big development projects, these companies are clearing the way for businesses with community-building at their cores.
Inglewood is changing fast. One major sports stadium is nearing completion, another is finalizing plans and rents are going up in anticipation of new residents. In the last few years, independent cafes have brought specialty coffee and tea, healthy food options and new amenities to the area. These cafes are making it possible for Inglewood and South L.A. to have not only resources usually found north of the 10, but also spaces to build community.
Red Bay Coffee Roasters, a black-owned, Oakland-based coffee company, recently announced a new location in Jefferson Park that’s slated to open next spring. Red Bay also supplies coffee to Inglewood’s Sip & Sonder, another black-owned business founded by attorneys Shanita Nicholas and Amanda-Jane Thomas last year.
When Nicholas moved from New York to L.A. for work, she quickly set out to find a neighborhood that reflected her values and included the people she wanted to be around. “There’s just an energy in Inglewood … this community feels like home,” Nicholas says.
This past year, Sip & Sonder quickly gained popularity among residents, especially considering the bustling “Magic Johnson” Inglewood Starbucks shuttered its doors last year. Inside, regulars mingle in the cozy yet industrial space featuring high ceilings and comfy chairs. The cafe hosts monthly events including a game night, a movie night and, on the last Saturday of every month, #SIPANDCHILL where a live DJ plays tunes all day. The owners are also working towards a production studio to the space to provide video and audio equipment for community use.
For regulars, Sip & Sonder is more than a typical coffee shop. “I go to a lot of coffee shops,” says Dwayne LeBlanc, a film creative from Inglewood. “Part of it’s like ritualistic, just like the experience. But I think [coming here is] bigger than that. It’s more like I build a community here, where other coffee shops I go for just purely the experience of getting a coffee.”
As for Thomas, she’s excited for the next generation to experience the coffee shop she wanted as a child. “When kids come in here, it’s the best thing for me, because they get to grow up [where] this is normal. How awesome is that?” she says.
Inside the cozy yet industrial Sip & Sonder coffee shop. Photos by Helen Arase.
Another black-owned cafe featuring healthy food options coming soon to Inglewood is Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen, which aims to open its doors by the end of the year.
The company’s first location opened in View Park last year and is now a thriving community staple. So much so that the owners are building two more locales. The Inglewood location, on La Brea Avenue across from local radio station KJLH, will soon bring a full menu of what the Hilltop owners call “conscious comfort food,” offering veggie bowls and loaded toasts along with short rib grilled cheese sandwiches and beignets.
Hilltop owners Ajay Relan and Yonnie Hagos have a strong connection to Inglewood that led them to open in the neighborhood. “Yonnie Hagos actually grew up around the corner from the location and Ajay is also from the L.A .area,” says Hilltop Marketing Manager Tara King. “So for them both, this is the place that they grew up in. They definitely wanted to invest in their own community.”
Then, there’s Mingles Tea Bar, founded by Lara and Anthony McAuley in 2015, which has made the process of brewing tea into a ritual. Every customer gets their own French press full of loose-leaf tea and hot water, along with a tea timer with a tiny hourglass for each desired strength. Lara, a longtime South L.A. resident, takes the time to explain to each customer how to brew the perfect cup of tea.
The whole place has the feel of a family-run operation. The rooms are hand-painted with bright colors and feature a gallery wall of inspirational phrases. Lara personally selected each variety of tea offered and she serves desserts baked by her mother. She also makes sure to bring every customer into her circle, chatting with them throughout their visit.
“One of my favorite shows that I love to watch, no matter how late it came on, was ‘Cheers,’” Lara says. “And one of the reasons is because they knew everybody’s name, they had conversations. I kind of use that as a blueprint for how you treat customers. Once you come to Mingles, you’re like family, you’re no longer a customer.”
Events at Mingles feel like familial get-togethers and Lara has big plans to expand their roster of events to include intricate tea tastings. Lara says they’re also working on adding a sanctuary garden with a prayer wall.
The Crenshaw Blvd. Mingles Tea Bar aims to be a “Cheers” for the neighborhood. Photos by Helen Arase.
As the city of Inglewood tackles big development projects, these and other small companies are clearing the way for businesses with community-building at their cores.
The Sip & Sonder owners, for example, say it’s important that residents have spaces where they can see that they’re valued above all. “I think a lot of the businesses, especially on Market Street, have that [mindset]. Like, we’re not building these spaces to cater to a stadium,” Thomas says. “We’re building these spaces because the community wanted [them].”
These business owners are feeling hopeful about the changes that the stadium will bring to Inglewood. And although they do expect to make accommodations for more patrons coming in, it’ll be business as usual.
“Inglewood has a lot of great things coming,” McAuley says. “I just hope that it does not be so big that it pushes the people that have been here forever out.”